Luke Combs and Maren Morris are current male and female artists of the year in both the ACM and CMA awards. The pair were slated to talk during the 2021 Country Radio Seminar about their careers and their future trajectories. But Combs and Morris asked to change the topic of the panel interview. Given recent events involving Morgan Wallen and the events of 2020, both artists asked for this change. They wanted to use their platform on the interview to discuss country music’s “personal, artistic and genre-wide accountability.”
Luke Combs takes personal responsibility
Morgan Wallen was caught on video in early February using a racial slur and the rebuke from the industry was swift. Wallen’s label indefinitely suspends him and his music was removed from radio and social media platforms across the board. This action came on the heels of Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album debut at number one and crushing the previous country music streaming record. But Wallen’s actions spotlighted not only him but other country artists’ past actions. Luke Combs is one of those artists.
Luke is working to take opportunities to be a voice on social and political issues. His new song “The Great Divide” with Billy Strings is a call for unity through Combs’s “everyday guy” image and it feels almost like an embrace. This tactic resonates with country music fans that have heard calls for unity without the warmth or comfort of a hug. But photos of Combs from seven or eight years ago surfaced after the release of the song, which had people questioning his motives. The photos showed Combs standing in front of a Confederate Flag and playing a guitar with a Confederate Flag sticker.
Combs did not make excuses. He apologized “for being associated with that” and his past ignorance. “I’ve grown a lot as a man and as a human being, and as a citizen of the world,” but there is “no excuse for those images.”
“I am now aware how painful that image can be to someone else, and no matter what I thought at the time … I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
Maren Morris took action
Neither Maren Morris nor Luke Combs claims to be perfect. In fact, they readily admit that they have much to learn. But in this interview, they wanted to take the public step and promise to strive for inclusivity and to grow as individuals.
Morris began using her platform to advocate for issues she believes in and wants to bring awareness to. During her CMA Awards acceptance speech, Maren took the opportunity to encourage several of country music’s black female artists. Morris confessed “I didn’t really set out to be this activist;” however, “a little late is better than never.”
Morris grew up in Texas. And like Combs spoke about she did not fully comprehend the implications of the use of the Confederate flag. She remembers common catchphrases that were “just terms thrown around; there was no explanation behind it.”
Combs reiterated this “I never considered that up until seven or eight years ago” he admitted. But now that he is aware of the hurt he has caused he is ashamed. “I want people to feel accepted; I want people to feel welcomed by country music and by our community … Hate is not a part of my core values.”
Making a change
Morris made a call to action for herself and her fellow country artists to ban Confederate flags at their concerts. “I feel like the most powerful thing as artists in our position right now is to make those demands … That’s one of the things we can do, is say, ‘Nope, I’m not doing this, get rid of them.'”
Luke also said, “There are so many other things beyond the ‘rebel flag’ that we can do to be proud of being from the South.”
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