Musgraves is among the musicians who have shaped the discourse around the recent shootings. Artists are speaking out and doing that thing artists arguably exist to do: put worldly matters in terms “of heart” and “of humanity.” The fascinating reaction to their political speech has demonstrated the specific reach musicians can have. More than anything, though, artists’ reactions to tragedy can end up demonstrating why shutting up and singing isn’t often an option at all.
Demonstrations of discontent have encompassed punchy salvos and reflective fare. Rihanna wrote a lengthy Instagram post criticizing Donald Trump’s refusal to describe the El Paso shooter as a terrorist. Lana Del Rey went into the recording studio and sang a wistful new protest song with a chorus that talks about “looking for my own version of America / One without the gun,” but with verses that mostly, in Del Rey’s meta-nostalgic fashion, just talk about road-tripping.
Among the responses, Musgraves’s does stand out—and not just because, as a country singer hailing from Texas, Musgraves has the ability to reach some listeners who disagree with her about gun control. At Lollapalooza in Chicago on Sunday night, after addressing the weekend’s shootings, she led a chant: “Somebody fucking do something.” She then retweeted a video of that chant with a message of thanks “to everyone still brave enough to come out to festivals like this to see us play.” That thanks was a jarring reminder of why musicians in particular might have an urgent desire to stop this kind of violence. The largest mass shooting in modern American history was at a music festival, specifically a country festival, just two years ago. Artists such as Musgraves are, in a very concrete way, speaking for their own and their fans’ welfare.
Another country-adjacent artist, Alabama’s Jason Isbell, inadvertently set off the one moment of humor to be found amid the recent horrors. On Sunday he tweeted, “If you’re on here arguing the definition of ‘assault weapon’ today you are part of the problem. You know what an assault weapon is, and you know you don’t need one.” Among the replies was this riddle from a user identified as William McNabb: “Legit question for rural Americans—How do I kill the 30–50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3–5 mins while my small kids play?”
That reply got thousands of retweets and replies—Shouldn’t he just build a fence? Is using an assault weapon really wise when your kids are in the yard?—and for a few hours, it was impossible to go on social media without seeing a riff on “30–50 feral hogs.” His question sounded like a joke, but McNabb later said it was an earnest ask based on real situations he has remedied not with an automatic firearm, but with a hunting rifle. In any case, the brouhaha born of a red-state artist speaking out on the topic led to an oddly perfect illustration of a key gun-control argument: There are almost no situations in which a civilian needs an assault weapon. That was exactly the point Isbell was initially trying to make, despite being told by certain followers that it wasn’t his place to say anything. On Monday he tweeted about the inanity of “Shut up and sing” rhetoric: “‘Oh you’re drowning? Sorry. I’m gonna stick to music.’”