Maren Morris isn’t just burning a tree in her two new provocative music videos. She’s burning a bridge with Nashville, and walking away from country music.
On Friday, the five-time Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association winner dropped her double-track EP The Bridge, which marks her move to Columbia Records from the label’s Sony Nashville division. The project features production by pop hitmakers Greg Kurstin (Sia, Kelly Clarkson, Halsey) and Jack Antonoff, who along with his credits for Lorde, St. Vincent, and Lana Del Rey has worked with country-pop-crossover superstar Taylor Swift and on Gaslighter, the most recent album by controversial country disrupters the Chicks.
“These two songs are incredibly key to my next step because they express a very righteously angry and liberating phase of my life these last couple of years but also how my navigation is finally pointing towards the future, whatever that may be or sound like. Honoring where I’ve been and what I’ve achieved in country music, but also freely moving forward,” Morris explained in a statement.
It’s Morris’s video for Kurstin-produced track “The Tree” that shows just how bold that forward move is. The powerful, symbolism-packed clip depicts the singer-songwriter waking up in a decaying, abandoned small town that is decorated with conservative lawn signs declaring “Don’t Tread On Me,” “Go Woke Go Broke,” and “I Believe in God and Guns,” as well as a “From Sunrise to Sundown” welcome sign — a seeming dig at country star Jason Aldean’s recent hit “Try That in a Small Town,” which many critics believed glorified “sundown town” racism and vigilantism.
Morris then wanders in a daze through past tumbleweeds and boarded-up storefronts, looking for signs of life, before approaching a dead tree in the town square, which she attempts to water. When the tree’s thorny roots coil menacingly and painfully around her ankles, she gives up and strikes a match, but — just as she’s about to set the tree ablaze — she realizes that it’s already on fire and “the rot at the roots is the root of the problem.” So, she simply walks away, while the tree and the town around it burns.
“I’m done fillin’ a cup with a hole in the bottom/And screamin’ the truth to a liar/Spent 10,000 hours tryna fight it with flowers/And the tree was already on fire,” Morris sings, addressing the country community that has apparently betrayed her. “I hung around longer than anyone should/You’ve broken my heart more than anyone could/Tryin’ to stop me won’t do you no good/I’ve already planted the seeds.”
In her statement, Morris said “The Tree” is about a “toxic ‘family tree’ burning itself to the ground. Halfway through, I realize it’s burning itself down without any of my help. This song evokes the pain of exhausting all your love and time for this person or ‘entity’ but realizing it’s just a draining, transactional relationship that isn’t nourishing in any healthy way. By the end of the song, I give myself permission to face the sun, plant new seeds where it’s safer to grow and realize that sometimes there IS greener grass elsewhere.”
The other The Bridge video released Friday, for the Antonoff-produced “Get the Hell Out of Here,” is the sequel, as Morris crosses a bridge and finds safety in a green pasture on the other side, while the blazing ghost town in the distance becomes buried in soot and ash. Morris explained that this track is about “being quite literally burned out” and is the “story of me feeling pulled in every direction, needing everyone else’s understanding and acceptance but my own and how self-destructive that ultimately became. I relinquish control of trying to change everyone’s mind or bad behavior and focus on my own power going forward. Doing the right thing can feel lonely at times, but there are more friends than foes, so I finally quit making myself one of them.”
Morris also described “Get the Hell Out of Here” to the Los Angeles Times as “really heavy” and “about disarming that trauma and saying, ‘I can’t bail water out of this sinking ship anymore. It’s so futile. I choose happiness.’”
In her Los Angeles Times interview explosively titled “Maren Morris is getting the hell out of country music,” the self-described “asker of questions,” “hall monitor of country music,” and “status quo challenger” insisted, “I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship to country music. I still find myself weirdly wanting to protect it.” However, she also admitted, “I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over. But it’s burning itself down without my help. … The further you get into the country music business, that’s when you start to see the cracks. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it. So you start doing everything you can with the little power you have to make things better.”
Morris also elaborated to the L.A. Times, “After the Trump years, people’s biases were on full display. It just revealed who people really were and that they were proud to be misogynistic and racist and homophobic and transphobic. All these things were being celebrated, and it was weirdly dovetailing with this hyper-masculine branch of country music. I call it butt rock.” She referred to politically conservative country songs like Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” as a “last bastion,” saying, “People are streaming these songs out of spite. It’s not out of true joy or love of the music. It’s to own the libs. And that’s so not what music is intended for. Music is supposed to be the voice of the oppressed — the actual oppressed. And now it’s being used as this really toxic weapon in culture wars.”
Morris, who told the L.A. Times that “allyship begins with waking up from something really comfortable,” has long been vocal about her liberal political views despite any backlash she has received. In 2020, when she was the top winner at the Country Music Association Awards, she used her time at the podium to champion Black female artists that have broken the color barrier in country, saying, “I hope you know that we see you.” She also been a pro-queer outlier in country music. In 2018, during Pride Month, she penned a “Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community” for Billboard, and in 2022 the Texas-born star conducted an interview with GLAAD in which she said of her upbringing, “It was just always a conversation in our household that we’re all the same, and there is no ‘us and you.’ I think that being instilled in me from such an early age, particularly growing up in the South, was really important. I didn’t realize how important it actually was until I got into my twenties and kind of solidified my adulthood and started working in country music.”
Earlier this year, Morris appeared as guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and emotionally told the show’s contestants, “Coming from country music and its relationship with LGBTQ+ members, I just want to say I’m sorry” — to which one of the Season 15 queens, Mistress Isabelle Brooks, replied, “Just you being here shows you’re an ally.” Two months later, during a speech at a pro-LGBTQ+ concert, she jokingly dared the state of Tennessee, which had just proposed a ban on drag shows, to “f***ing arrest me” for introducing her 2-year-old son to drag queens at that event.
Morris’s most viral political statement, however, was probably her 2022 social media feud with Jason Aldean’s wife, Brittany Kerr Aldean, over a transphobic comment that Brittany had made on Instagram. Morris blasted Brittany as a ”scumbag human” and “Insurrection Barbie,” an exchange had Fox News show host Tucker Carlson describing Morris as a “lunatic country music person.” Morris responded to the flak by selling official “Lunatic Country Music Person” T-shirts, which raised more than $150,000 for the Trans Lifeline and GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program.
“I’ve kind of said everything I can say. I always thought I’d have to do middle fingers in the air jumping out of an airplane, but I’m trying to mature here and realize I can just walk away from the parts of this that no longer make me happy,” Morris, who is currently working on her next full-length studio album with Antonoff, told the L.A. Times this week. However, in “The Tree,” she expresses hope that other country singers will also cross — or burn — the bridge, and will embrace allyship and more enlightened views.
“Ooh, do you hear that?” Morris croons. “It’s the sound of a new wind blowin’/Hope I’m not the only one.”
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