The Chicks are back, and for me, they came just in time. It had been so long since their freedom-forward harmonies took up space in my playlists that I’d forgotten their empowering influence. In fact, maybe I hadn’t before consciously realized the extent to which The Chicks shaped me, but when their triumphant reemergence after a long, undue absence jolted me right back into the headspace they’d left me in years ago, the familiar feelings and attitudes they elicited shot right back in me.
The contrast between Chicks and no Chicks is noticeable and profound. Hearing their voices in 2020 in the midst of isolation and uncertainty has been a gift. I know I am not the only one relishing in their powerful new album and the rediscovery of the songs that tell us to be daring, stand up for ourselves, know ourselves, and love and live bravely.
Growing up, I wonder, if it weren’t for The Chicks, where I would have heard words that pushed me to find my own Wide Open Spaces to explore, or that playfully supported me in being Ready to Run from the conventional, restrictive expectations that ran rampant in my conservative, south central US hometown. I had many of these songs woven into my life, in the form of pre-race motivation, inside jokes with friends, and even songs I learned in a brief but honest attempt at singing lessons. I still remember a high school friend and I shrugging off criticism of our impromptu duet choice of Goodbye Earl, which was the big controversy because of its lighthearted approach to abusive husband murder. The Chicks’ messages of female power were pervasive in lyrics and performance that was reified by their pervasiveness in pop culture. They seeped into my subconscious in the best possible way.
When The Chicks boycott happened, I somehow missed the impact. I remember liking that Natalie spoke out against the war, but I don’t think I grasped the whole impact of the backlash. I didn’t have their last 2 albums, and their fierce responses in Truth No. 2 performances and Taking the Long Way tracks slid past my notice.
Away playing soccer in college, my Chicks CDs were still in my rotation but were overshadowed by rap and pop music that played in the locker room and at our dive bars and clubs. Looking back now, I wish I kept them at the forefront of my playlist. Their messages and presence would have been just what I needed. Alicia Keys was a good stand in. I remember listening to Superwoman on repeat in times when I needed a boost.
Anyway, The Chicks, like many musicians, faded into history as we all moved on, and I didn’t think twice about it. And then last week I found Gaslighter. How I missed it earlier this year, I don’t know. I blame it on dissertation writing. Once I finally stumbled across it, I listened on repeat for three days. I watched their DCX MMXVI concert on Amazon Prime. I listened to their old stuff and their podcast interview with Zane Lowe. I highly recommend any and all of this to everyone.
With the election coming up on Tuesday, I have felt lately like I just need to keep myself distracted. I try to do the tasks that I can to keep my life on track while my mind runs rampant with worst case scenarios for next week. The Chicks new album offers a bit of perspective in this frontier. It offers an outlet for anger, sorrow, introspection, compassion, and solidarity with current social justice and environmental movements. Again, The Chicks, in their unbreakable three line front, showcase a path that challenges helplessness in the face of abusive power.
To anyone who grew up with The Chicks or followed their career through any transitional moment in life, Gaslighter is our dog whistle. It’s a call to spark that powerful, defiant voice that shaped how we view the world and how we don’t fall into habits of fear and helplessness. The Chicks remind us that our everyday villains will get what’s coming to them and that we can bring about this process by vulnerably opening ourselves up and showing up to confront them. They remind us we’re not alone in the fight against the establishment and that even when we feel pummeled by their attacks, we will rise again stronger and more bad ass than ever.