In 2003, the Dixie Chicks were riding an unprecedented high in the wake of the success of the band’s album Home.
Though their previous album Fly was a massive crossover smash, Home was a different animal – one that sold like gangbusters despite its more traditional bluegrass sound. The album even netted them their then-highest-ever spot on the Billboard Hot 100, via the trio’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
Then came the George W. Bush diss heard round the world: While introducing the song “Travelin’ Solider” during a concert in London, Maines said to the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
That quote spread like wildfire, and a backlash began. The group stuck to its guns and posted a follow-up statement on its website that read, “We’ve been overseas for several weeks and have been reading and following the news accounts of our government’s position. The anti-American sentiment that has unfolded here is astounding. I feel the president is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world. My comments were made in frustration and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view. While we support our troops, there is nothing more frightening than the notion of going to war with Iraq and the prospect of all the innocent lives that will be lost.”
But that didn’t stop country radio stations from cutting all Dixie Chicks songs from their playlists, and it didn’t prevent people from lashing out against the girls online.
That’s when they pulled off perhaps the second-most-talked-about moments of their career: In their first big post-controversy interview, Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire appeared nude and covered with epithets (“Dixie Sluts,” “Sadaam’s Angels”) on the cover of Entertainment Weekly in May of 2003.
“It definitely was the most bold thing as a person and as a band we had ever done,” Robison said to EW backstage at last weekend’s Lollapalooza, where her and Maguire’s band Court Yard Hounds played a well-received set. “We’re very modest people, and the thought of us being naked together was like, ‘Ew, I don’t want to be naked with you!’”
Not everybody was on board with the photo shoot. “Our publicist was freaking out and trying to talk us out of it,” explained Maguire. “But it had to be all the way, like with the ‘Sadaam’s Angels’ stuff. Those were real things people were writing to us in e-mails and posting on the web. There were publicists and people at the shoot who were trying to get us to tone that down, but we felt like you can’t go half way when you’re naked.”
Though they were comfortable with the world seeing their skin, the shoot itself was a little harrowing for them. “I had a baby that year, and I was like, ‘This is not fair, y’all,’” Robison said. Maguire added, “And there was a crew there, too—you see the photo, you don’t realize how many other people were there seeing us naked.”
Though 2003 was a game-changer for the Dixie Chicks (some country radio stations still refuse to play their music), Robison and Maguire still stand by everything they went through during that difficult time—including the EW cover. “People say when they’re in the moment and they realize that something is going to be big before it happens,” said Robison. “I felt like we knew the gravity of that shoot while it was happening.”