April 24, 2003 -- The Dixie Chicks went from country music darlings to pariahs after bashing President Bush at a concert in London. Now they speak out on the controversy that looms over their careers.
Just days before the bombing began in Iraq, singer Natalie Maines spoke out against the president. "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," she told fans in London.
Maines later apologized, saying her remark was "disrespectful." But country radio stations across the country yanked the trio from playlists, while some protesters resorted to publicly trashing their CDs to demonstrate against the singers' perceived lack of patriotism.
In an interview airing on Primetime Thursday, Maines and her bandmates Emily Robison and Martie Maguire spoke to ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer about how they feel about the boycott of their music, the personal threats against them, and what led up to Maines' controversial comment.
Maines said she made the remark "out of frustration. At that moment, on the eve of war, I had a lot of questions that I felt were unanswered."
‘We Don’t Plan Things’
The comment was not scripted, Maines said, and it wasn't until the show was over that the band realized there would be a big reaction.
"We don't plan things that we're going to say. And sometimes it backfires," Maines said. "We didn't walk off the stage going, 'Oh my God, I can't believe I said that.'"
But the news media picked up on Maines' comment, generating a wave of backlash against the group. The threesome suffered through threatening letters from fans, boycotts from radio stations, and TV reports of fans crushing their CDs.
Robison recalled how scary it was in the days after the first news reports about Maines' comment. "It was a lot on our shoulders, and a lot on her [Maines'] shoulders. They forget she's a human being " she said.
Robison said Maines was especially concerned about the criticism her grandparents were getting from their friends back home in Texas. "We are pretty tough and we have each other and we stand by each other through thick and thin and we know we're going to make mistakes. But this was colossal," she said.
Is Country a Conservative Genre?
Many celebrities have faced criticism for taking political stands. Pearl Jam included the Bush-inspired "Bushleaguer" on its latest album Riot Act, with lead singer Eddie Vedder donning a mask of the commander-in-chief on stage.
Still, it seemed the reaction to the Dixie Chicks seemed stronger than the reaction to other bands. Maguire thinks that has something to do with the ill timing of her statements — coming so close to the start of the war.
But she also thinks it has something to do with country music. "History tells us that we're very conservative," she said. "I think it's because we're in country music. I don't think it's because we're women. I don't think it's because of anything else."
Through it all, the Dixie Chicks latest album, Home, has sold more than 6 million copies.
The disc, which has been near the top of the album chart for 30 weeks, slid three spots to No. 7 in the week after the controversy began — dropping from 123,000 copies to 71,000.
Now, the band will see what long-term impact the controversy has.
Maines: ‘Don’t Forgive Us for Who We Are’
Ironically, the new album includes an ode to those who send their loved ones off to war, "Travelin' Soldier," which was recorded long before the controversy began.
"I think our fans, and I think people who know us, and even the people who don't know us, know that we come from a real compassionate place. Mistakes are made," said Robison.
Maines said she and her bandmates support the troops "100 percent" and that there's no connection between speaking out against war and not supporting U.S. soldiers doing their jobs.
But what about the statement that caused all this trouble? "Accept an apology that was made," Maines said. "Don't forgive us for who we are."
"No, I'm not truly embarrassed that, you know, President Bush is from my state, that's not really what I care about," Maines says. "It was the wrong wording with genuine emotion and questions and concern behind it."