Randy Houser has never made explicitly political country music, instead choosing to sing about one-night stands, the cowboy way, and, to quote his biggest hit, how country feels. Despite the charged title of his new single — “Cancel” — Houser maintains that’s still the case. He says the song, released today, is his commentary about a country that he sees as being unable to forgive.
“It happens to be from a straight male Republican standpoint, which I’m sure I’ll get a lot of backlash for,” Houser tells Rolling Stone. “People will think that that’s exactly the way I think and that’s the only way I think. And they’ll be wrong.”
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Houser wrote “Cancel” himself in January and has performed it live here and there since, including at a recent Nashville block party, where its chorus — “Right is right and God is the answer/Living this life the devil wants to cancel” — earned him a reaction just shy of that of the night’s headliner, “Rich Men North of Richmond” songwriter Oliver Anthony.
Bolstered by the response, he was compelled to rush out the song as his new single. The question, however, is will country fans, polarized by the culture wars, listen?
“You’ll have a certain amount of people that won’t even look at it because of the title,” Houser says. “Obviously, cancel culture is a huge topic right now. The song sort of lent itself to being called that. If people skip over it, fine. But I think it’s something that a lot of people get and understand.”
To be clear, the moody, bluesy “Cancel” is more akin to Houser’s 2011 hymn “In God’s Time” than the songs that right-wing audiences drove up the charts in 2023, like Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” and Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond.” There are biblical allusions to a devil on the move (seeking the ruin of souls, perhaps, as in the Christian prayer to St. Michael the Archangel) and lessons to the singer’s two sons not to judge others. Most of all, there’s a sense of Houser’s own wide-eyed dismay at the polarization of talk radio and cable news.
“It’s OK to call things out,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean all-out war with each other over something that you disagree with. We’re tearing our country apart by doing that. I believe in what the Bible says about forgiveness, that we’re commanded to forgive. That’s another thing that my side has to remember as well.”
Houser, who stars alongside fellow songwriters Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon, admits conservatives and liberals are at a standoff right now, but believes there’s a path forward in moderation. “That’s what the song is all about: Stop telling people to shut up, and listen,” he says. “Most of my friends that are on the left side are actually not as far left as you think. And I am not as far right as you would think. There’s a lot of places we meet in the middle. Just treat people fairly and if you see someone needs a friend, be one.”
Regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual identity?
“Definitely,” Houser says. “I’m not here to judge anyone else’s lifestyle or their personal choice. I don’t deal with the same decisions that other people have had to make in their lives. We all know that there’s people who are born a certain way. It’s not anyone else’s job to judge. It’s just like, be cool to people. Be a human.”
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