Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks make the same decision, but with radically different consequences

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2020 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge Lady Antebellum may or may not be Lady A going forward. - KATHY HUTCHINS/SHUTTERSTOCK.
  • Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.
  • Lady Antebellum may or may not be Lady A going forward.

Actions speak louder than words, and earlier this month, Lady Antebellum proved it.

It all started out promisingly enough when the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum — two of the longest-running, and most problematically named, acts in contemporary country music — rebranded themselves in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

For Lady Antebellum, the Nashville act that scored its best-known single “Need You Now” 11 years ago, their new chosen name was Lady A. They excitedly announced the decision on Instagram and were largely applauded for it. It was an unexpected move for a band that had routinely dismissed critics who objected to their name’s controversial connotations, which was never a concern for the conservative country music industry that supported them.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks dropped the Dixie and rechristened themselves The Chicks. Unlike Lady Antebellum, the Texas sister act has had a contentious history with the country radio establishment dating back to 2003. Just days before the invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines famously told a London audience that she and her bandmates were ashamed of George W. Bush being from their native Texas. The comment didn’t go down well back in the States, where the Dixie Chicks were subsequently blacklisted by corporate broadcast networks for the remainder of Bush’s six years in office.

In addition to announcing their change of name, the Dixie Chicks released a new song called “March March,” which is accompanied by a music video that splices together footage of protests from the 60-year history of the civil rights movement. It also lists the names of dozens of racial-violence victims, including George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.

But it didn’t take long before these two parallel storylines moved in diametrically opposite directions, with the Dixie Chicks doing everything right and Lady Antebellum doing everything as wrong as possible.

On July 8, just weeks after proclaiming their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Lady Antebellum filed a lawsuit against a Black woman who has been recording and performing as Lady A for the past two decades.

Will the real Lady A please stand up?

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the two litigants.

Anita “Lady A” White is a relatively obscure artist based in Seattle, Washington. She began using her now-contested stage name years before Lady Antebellum released their first album. Her repertoire leans heavily on the blues, a music that can be traced back to the songs that Black slaves sung while working on plantations in the Deep South.

Lady Antebellum, by contrast, is reportedly the second-richest country act in the world, with an estimated net worth of $47 million. Their name is a reference to the slave-holding pre-Civil War South, and the musical tradition they come out of is overwhelmingly white.

Taken together, Lady Antebellum and Lady A are a textbook case of the imbalance of power in a country torn apart by racial and economic inequality.

The details of what happened after White approached the band are, at this point, sketchy. According to Lady Antebellum, a Zoom meeting was set up between the competing Lady A’s. Afterward, the band once again took to Instagram, this time to announce that the two acts agreed to share the name and perhaps even collaborate at some point.
But don’t count on it. Whatever agreement may or may not have been reached, it’s fallen through in a big way. According to press accounts, White is now refusing to hand over the rights to use her name, unless Lady Antebellum agrees to pay $5 million to her and another $5 million to Black Lives Matter causes.

Lady Antebellum responded quickly. They filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit against White in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee — which happens to be a considerable distance from Seattle — asking the court to affirm the trio’s right to use the name.
After filing the suit, the band proceeded to break the news in a tear-stained statement: “We are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended.”

So what exactly is a declaratory judgement suit? As one attorney not connected to the case told Variety, the singer will now “have to prove that she didn’t just call herself Lady A 20 years ago, but used it in billboards, ticket sales, [and] other things connected with advertising.”

Already, Lady Antebellum’s appropriation of White’s stage name is making it very difficult to find her three albums and two EPs on streaming music services. That includes her new Lady A: Live in New Orleans album, which was released last week to coincide with her 62nd birthday.
Realizing that the evidence of her 20-year-long career was rapidly being erased, White responded on Instagram with a post that now appears to have been taken down.

“How can you say Black Lives Matter and put your knee on the neck of another Black artist?” she asked. “I’m not mad... I am however not giving up my name, my brand I worked hard for. #GodWillFightMyBattle #TheRealLadyA #LadyABluesSoulFunkGospelArtist #TheTruthIsLoud.”

Are Lady Antebellum racists?

It depends on how you look at it. After all, when left-leaning pundits go on cable news, they frequently condemn Donald Trump’s actions as racist, an argument that, in many cases, is hard to refute. But when asked the inevitable follow-up question — “Are you saying that Trump himself is a racist?” — few are willing to take their criticism that far, instead expressing variations of the theme “I can’t speak to what’s in the president’s heart.”

The current controversy raises similar questions about Lady Antebellum. When the band first announced its decision on Instagram, there was little reason to question their motivations. But now that they’ve filed their lawsuit, those words ring hollow.

Consider, for example, these passages from the long, self-aggrandizing Instagram post in which Lady Antebellum first announced their name-change to fans:
  • “We’ve watched and listened more than ever these last few weeks, and our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases Black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday. Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.⁣⁣⁣”
  • “After much personal reflection, band discussion, prayer and many honest conversations with some of our closest Black friends and colleagues, we have decided to drop the word ‘antebellum’ from our name and move forward as Lady A, the nickname our fans gave us almost from the start.”
  • “We feel like we have been Awakened, but this is just one step. There are countless more that need to be taken. We want to do better. We are committed to examining our individual and collective impact and making the necessary changes to practice anti-racism. We will continue to educate ourselves, have hard conversations and search the parts of our hearts that need pruning — to grow into better humans, better neighbors. Our next outward step will be a donation to the Equal Justice Initiative through LadyAID. Our prayer is that if we lead by example… with humility, love, empathy and action…we can be better allies to those suffering from spoken and unspoken injustices, while influencing our children & generations to come.”

click to enlarge The Dixie Chicks became The Chicks, and nobody’s complaining. - FEATUREFLASH PHOTO AGENCY
  • Featureflash Photo Agency
  • The Dixie Chicks became The Chicks, and nobody’s complaining.

Will Lady Antebellum be banned from radio like the Dixie Chicks were?

The short answer is no. Here’s why:

First of all, radio stations have learned not to “ban” records anymore. After all, why publicly court controversy when you can just drop them from your playlists? This practice, which has come to be known as shadowbanning in the social media community, essentially accomplishes the same purpose, but without the economic risk of offending advertisers and listeners.

Secondly, the story has so far gotten surprisingly little media attention. Granted, it’s only been two weeks since the lawsuit was filed, so there’s still plenty of time for right-wing pundits and politicians to score points with their base by screaming “cancel culture” as loudly as they have in support of Confederate statues.

In fact, the controversy may end up helping the band’s career. If, for example, Donald Trump were to get wind of the controversy, he could attack White with the same zeal he currently reserves for energy-saving light bulbs and dishwashers. All of which would win the band favor with Trump’s constituents, who, let’s face it, are a lot more likely to listen to country than the blues.

Still, there are glimmers of hope that Lady Antebellum won’t successfully cancel White’s career.
The hashtag #LadyAntiBLM is now starting to go viral. Plus, there’s always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will send up a bat signal for K-Pop stans, who will help save the day by hijacking official band hashtags like #LadyAntebellum and #LadyA, just as they did with #WhiteLivesMatter, #WhiteOutWednesday and #MAGA.

Or maybe, just maybe, Lady Antebellum will take the reasonable path and change their name to something else. But don’t hold your breath.

In the meantime, if country radio really wants to shadowban somebody, there’s always the Dixie Chicks.

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