Country music has come a long way in the mainstream, led by the runaway success of artists such as Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen, and the strong support base of the genre’s legacy artists. And with that visibility has come increased scrutiny. Country music now seems like something of a moral and political battleground, a microcosm for some of the central debates of our era.
Whether it’s Jason Aldean releasing a song that seems to promote gun violence, Garth Brooks taking a stand in favor of Bud Light (and by extension LGBTQ rights), Brooks & Dunn’s Ronnie Brooks taking to social media to declare Donald Trump “Innocent!” or Kelsea Ballerini performing alongside drag queens at the CMT Music Awards, the opinions and affiliations of country’s biggest stars are making national headlines. And unlike most other mainstream genres, country is a big tent, with artists espousing a wide variety of views.
While some country stars keep their opinions to themselves, in the interest of avoiding flak from either side, others speak openly about where they stand. Here’s a rundown of where Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, the Chicks and other key names in the genre stand on major issues including LGBTQ rights, gun control, presidential politics and more.
Garth Brooks has been an LGBTQ ally for more than 30 years. Recently, after receiving conservative backlash for serving Bud Light at his Nashville bar amid the scandal over the brand’s ties to transgender TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney, Brooks responded, “Everyone’s got their opinions, but inclusiveness is always going to be me.”
In 1993, Brooks said in an interview with Barbara Walters that his now-late half-sister and touring bassist was a lesbian: “I love her to death. I cannot condemn someone for loving somebody.” The year prior, his song “We Shall Be Free,” which featured lyrics like, “Free to love anyone we choose/When this world’s big enough for all different views,” earned him a GLAAD media award.
As for his views on gun violence, in 2018, Brooks shared a song in support of Florida school-shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez and the then-upcoming March for Our Lives protest. “There might be some cross voices that enter in this march. Be tolerant. Be loving. Do not let hate win,” he continued. “Your generation is the generation for the school shootings. Let’s make sure the next generation is not.”
Jason Aldean has been open about his politics beyond the controversial messaging of “Try That in a Small Town.” In recent history, he wore a Confederate-flag shirt on stage on more than one occasion, praised Donald Trump, supported the GOP, and came out as anti-mask during the pandemic. Aldean responded to the backlash around “Try That in a Small Town,” denying that his video had racist implications but not directly addressing the claims that it seemed to stoke violence.
“In the past 24 hours I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song (a song that has been out since May) and was subject to the comparison that I (direct quote) was not too pleased with the nationwide BLM protests. These references are not only meritless, but dangerous,” Aldean wrote on Twitter. “While I can try and respect others to have their own interpretation of a song with music — this one goes too far…My political views have never been something I’ve hidden from, and I know that a lot of us in this Country don’t agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night. But the desire for it to — that’s what this song is about.”
Back in 2018, he shared a more nuanced opinion about gun control with the Associated Press: “It’s too easy to get guns, first and foremost. When you can walk in somewhere and you can get one in five minutes, do a background check that takes five minutes, like how in-depth is that background check? Those are the issues I have. It’s not necessarily the guns themselves or that I don’t think people should have guns. I have a lot of them.”
Brooks & Dunn
The country duo of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have long been outspoken about their politics. After the Orlando massacre in 2016, Dunn criticized Obama’s comments, posting, “The worst mass murder in American history attributed to Isis and Obama steps up to the microphone and implies that it will stop if guns are taken away.”
Brooks, who has labeled himself as “fairly conservative,” is in favor of states’ rights and doesn’t deem gun control as the best solution to gun violence. “We do have a Second Amendment and it’s something that should be respected and discussed in a civilized way,” he said. Brooks was a vocal George W. Bush supporter, but didn’t reveal his stance on Obama or who he voted for in 2016.
Dunn wasn’t an avid Trump supporter, insisting that America has “always been great” in response to Trump’s campaign slogan, but he spoke out strongly against Hillary Clinton. And recently, Dunn declared Donald Trump “innocent” after the former President walked onstage to the duo’s 2001 song “Going to Prison” at an Iowa rally.
Over the years, Dolly Parton has spoken out about LGBTQ issues. She stood up for marriage equality before it was legalized, and has long celebrated and supported her gay fan base. Parton has not been vocal about gun control, beyond expressing outrage after the 2018 Pulse Nightclub shooting. She supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and recently condemned politicians en masse in a May interview. When a Today Show host read her the lyrics to her recent single “World on Fire” — including the lines “Greedy politicians, present and past/ They wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ’em in the ass” — and asked which politicians she meant, she replied, “All of them, any of them.”
In a November 2023 interview, she commented on a law that prohibits gender-affirming medical care for transgender people under the age of 18 in her home state of Tennessee. She said that she has “some of everybody in my own immediate family and in my circle of employees. I’ve got transgender people. I’ve got gays. I’ve got lesbians. I’ve got drunks. I’ve got drug addicts — all within my own family. I know and love them all, and I do not judge.”
Parton continued, “I just see how broken-hearted they get over certain things and I know how real they are. I know how important this is to them. That’s who they are. They cannot help that any more than I can help being Dolly Parton, you know, the way people know me. If there’s something to be judged, that is God’s business. But we are all God’s children and how we are is who we are.”
The best-selling artist was embroiled in controversy before making Hot 100 history. In 2021, a video surfaced of him using a racial slur, leading to a suspension from his record label. In the wake of the scandal, when asked if he thought there was a race problem in country music, he said, “I mean it would seem that way. Yeah, I mean, I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”
Wallen has not spoken publicly about LGBTQ issues or his political affiliation, but pre-scandal, in 2018, he responded to news of a shooting with a speech about religion. “I don’t have any answers, but in my personal opinion, I’m a person that has faith and I believe that a lot of people have neglected God,” he said. “We don’t put the Ten Commandments in school anymore. We just neglect everything and people act like the Ten Commandments is something so terrible. I mean, it’s a way to live. I think we all could agree on what they say.”
Nelson has been something of a liberal activist for most of his career. He’s been outspoken about marijuana legalization and is now the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He was a vocal Jimmy Carter supporter in the ’80s and protested the Persian Gulf and Iraq Wars.
Regarding LGBTQ rights, in a 2013 interview, Nelson said love “shouldn’t be discriminated against.” He went on to comment on Supreme Court arguments over same-sex marriage: “It’s ridiculous to me that this is something we’re having a conversation about in this day and age. I thought it was something that was settled a long time ago,” Nelson said. “I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference. People are people where I came from.”
Nelson has a history of endorsing Democratic candidates — Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and more. (He even wrote an apparent anti-Trump song in 2017.) In 2021, the country-music legend headlined a Texas protest rally in support of voting rights.
Carrie Underwood mostly keeps her politics under wraps, but previously came out in support of gay marriage and played a recent benefit show after a Nashville school shooting. Underwood has never identified her political leanings, saying in 2019, “I try to stay far out of politics if possible, at least in public, because nobody wins.” Back in 2012, Us Weekly pointed out that the country star was registered Republican at the time.
Luke Combs is one of the biggest pop stars in the mainstream right now. As such, he’s been fairly tight-lipped about politics. He has never shared his opinions outright about issues like gun control or abortion, nor has he revealed his political affiliation. But he has spoken vaguely about the state of the country. In a 2022 interview with The Independent, Combs said, “Everything is so contentious and heated, and that’s always been super frustrating to me. I think what makes our country great is people’s ability to have their own opinions and have the ability to disagree. Right now, everyone is just so hot about everything, and that adds to the tension that was going on.”
In 2021, Combs’ “The Great Divide,” a song about why our differences should bring us closer together, inspired fellow country artist Margo Price to share old photos of Combs with a Confederate-flag sticker on his guitar. Combs apologized, saying, “There is no excuse for those images. I’m not trying to say this is why they were there and it’s okay that they’re there because it’s not okay. I think as a younger man, that was an image I associated to mean something else, and as I’ve grown in my time as an artist and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, you know, I’m now aware of how painful that image can be to someone else.”
Miranda Lambert identifies as an ally of the LGBTQ community. In a recent interview with GLAAD, the singer said, “I do think we are in a moment of change and I have so much to learn…Being in a family where I am surrounded by LGBTQ people, it has me learning and figuring out how I can be a part of the change and still be the same person I have been as an artist for 20 years.”
Lambert is openly pro-gun and a member of the NRA. “I’m pro on guns and I’m a hunter, so for me, that’s what I use guns for, protection and hunting. I’ve always been that way, it’s the way I grew up,” she said. “But some people don’t feel like they need guns and that’s their prerogative. But I do think that we should each have a choice of one or the other.”
Kacey Musgraves has shown love for the queer community throughout her career, and many consider her to be a gay icon. In 2017, she wrote a “love letter to the LGBTQ community” for Billboard. In 2020, she tweeted, “If you love an LGBTQ+ person and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump in November, that’s an act of violence against them.” Musgraves has also spoken out against gun violence. Following two shootings in 2019, she tweeted, asking her fans to “hold your politicians accountable. Hold the president accountable. Start paying attention to actual ways we can make change happen.”
Back in 2018, Canadian country star Shania Twain said she would’ve voted for Trump in the U.S. election, and then swiftly backpedaled after receiving backlash, tweeting at the time, “I am passionately against discrimination of any kind and hope it’s clear from the choices I have made, and the people I stand with, that I do not hold any common moral beliefs with the current President.”
Back in 1999, Twain signed the “Open Letter to the National Rifle Association,” a full-page ad in USA Today that called for stricter gun control.
On the topic of the LGBTQ community, Twain has spoken out as an ally. Earlier this year in an interview with GLAAD, she supported drag queens amid protests, saying, “I’m very inspired by them. I think we need this inspiration; we need drag queens to share their talent with us.”
With songs like “Made in America” and the post-9/11 “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith isn’t hiding how he feels about his country. Keith was a vocal supporter of George W. Bush, and in 2004 he described himself as “a conservative Democrat who is sometimes embarrassed for his party.” In 2008, Keith announced he had left the Democratic Party and re-registered as an independent. Keith performed at Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
Keith regularly spoke out in support of the military and performed for troops on USO tours. He was an opponent of the “don’t ask don’t tell” ban and an open supporter of marriage equality before legalization. As for gun control, he’s remained fairly impartial and compared the issue to abortion, “It’s such a big, gray world, and with those issues like that — I know how I feel inside, but I don’t know how to fix none of them. I’m not that guy.” More specifically on abortion, he said, “In my heart I don’t like it. But in my mind I agree with a lot of the situations where it should be.”
Reba McEntire has made a point to stay as apolitical as possible throughout her career, but she has been vocal about certain issues. The country star spoke out against anti-drag laws, saying earlier this year, “I mean, we’ve got a real problem in this country, and to be worrying about men wanting to dress up as women?” Back in 2013, she admitted to owning guns, but said people should not own assault rifles. “Way too much power,” McEntire said. “Boundaries are a good idea. They’re safer.”
Tim McGraw is another country star to speak out in favor of gun control. “I grew up being a hunter. I love the Second Amendment. But there are reasonable things we can talk about and reasonable programs that can be instituted in order to keep these things or minimize these things from happening … or at least work towards the issue,” he said in 2017. Back in 2008, McGraw expressed support for Barack Obama in an interview with People: “It’s innate in me to be a blue-dog Democrat.” He and his wife, famed country singer Faith Hill, have been open about their liberal-leaning political views. McGraw also performed at Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Maren Morris has a well-established track record as one of the most visible and outspoken LGBTQ+ allies in country music. Her advocacy made headlines last year when she sparred online with Brittany Aldean over seemingly transphobic comments that the latter made on social media. After she was labeled a “lunatic country music person” during a Tucker Carlson interview with Aldean, Morris co-opted the phrase, selling T-shirts emblazoned with and donating proceeds to organizations benefiting trans youth. When serving as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race earlier this year, she apologized for the genre as a whole and its treatment of the queer community. “Coming from country music and its relationship with LGBTQ+ members, I just want to say I’m sorry,” she said. “I love you guys for making me feel like a brave voice in country music. So I just thank you guys so much for inspiring me.” She also received GLAAD’s Excellent in Media Award earlier this year.
She also spoke out against the 2021 Capitol riot, calling out country spouses such as Aldean for denouncing Black Lives Matter but promoting suspect narratives surrounding the events of January 6, 2021. “And how do some singer’s wives conveniently not know the difference between marching for racial injustice and Nazis breaching our Capitol because their guy didn’t win?” she tweeted.
And she has come out strongly in favor of gun reform. “I don’t think anyone needs to own a semi-automatic or automatic rifle,” she said in 2019. “I mean, the Second Amendment was put in place when it was like, muskets. I don’t think the forefathers were thinking about Route 91 or bump stocks and shit.”
The Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks, have never been shy about making their political opinions known. At a London show in 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, the group’s lead vocalist told 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.” The remarks incited one of the most high-profile music-related controversies of the era, with the band losing both airplay and endorsements.
Ten years later, Maines spelled out her full slate of political views in an interview with USA Today, saying, “I’m pro-gay marriage. Pro-gay everything. I’m pro-choice. I’m liberal on every social aspect, probably. More liberal than people would even believe. But there’s still some of that Texas in me, as far as the gun debate. I wish there were no guns, I’m all for gun restrictions. But I’m also of the mind-set, if nothing changes, I’m getting a gun.”
In the spring of 2023, amid debates over drag bans in Southern states, Kelsea Ballerini made a statement of LGBTQ+ solidarity when she performed alongside drag queens at the CMT Music Awards. “I love performance and I love self-expression and I love inclusivity,” she said after the event.
Later, she elaborated on her allyship in a Nightline interview, saying, “I think that there is so much hate and legislation and so much push against the LGBTQ+ community and especially in the genre I’m in. I just don’t stand for it. I want to be an ally, but I’ve always done it more quietly and I just realized that sometimes in a climate we’re in, sometimes you need to get a little louder.”
Back in 2019, she posted a message in support of Pride, alongside a picture of herself in a rainbow sweater. “[S]sending love to my LGBTQ friends today, this month, and always,” she wrote.