Pushing the envelope is nothing new to the Dixie Chicks. With sass, flash and attitude in spades, they're on a roll - 12 million albums sold, a steady string of No. 1s and a mantel full of awards. Now they're setting the bar even higher with a new single that delivers a chipper take on a dark topic - murder.
For the song and video for "Goodbye Earl," the Chicks light-heartedly serenade the killing of a wife beater, who dies after being poisoned by his battered spouse. In the whimsically gruesome song, the Chicks chirp:
We need a break
Let's go out to the lake, Earl
We'll pack a lunch
And stuff you in the trunk, Earl
Well, is that all right?
Good! Let's go for a ride
For months, concertgoers have cheered wildly whenever the Chicks launch into "Goodbye Earl." Now the trio has enlisted top TV stars - NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz, Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski and Chicago Hope's Lauren Holly - for a zany music video faithfully scripted around the song's storyline of the beaten spouse turning the tables on her husband.
"The song is our attempt to put a Dixie Chicks spin on a serious subject - we do it with humor," declares Emily Robison, after the Los Angeles video shoot. "Sometimes things are more palatable when you treat them with humor."
Despite the chilling nature of the tune, Emily's sister and bandmate, Martie Seidel, believes its message is helpful. "We hope the song will cause women to take charge of their situations and leave bad relationships before any violence occurs. But we're not going to stand on a soapbox by any means."
In the video, the Chicks leave the soapbox behind and go straight for yuks.
Franz protrays the brutal Earl, Krakowski is his abused wife, Wanda, and Holly plays Wanda's high school girlfriend, Mary Anne.
"The character of Earl was as far away from NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz as you can get," says four-time Emmy-winner Franz. "Andy sometimes puts despicable wife abusers away, but this time, despicable wife abuser Earl got put away - permanently.
"I used blue jeans, boots, muscle T-shirts, sleeveless jean jackets, cheesy sunglasses and a big hairpiece that looked like a bad Elvis wig to become Earl."
The Chicks play themselves in the clip - with a twist. "We're invisible to the other characters," explains lead singer Natalie. "In the high school scene, we slide into the frame. During the abuse scene, we're on the couch observing. When Wanda is poisoning Earl, we're right over her shoulder."
By the end of the video, the Chicks become visible to the players in the video, and Earl even comes back from the dead in a big, bizarre Broadway musical finale.
Franz laughs. "I'm decomposing during that scene. I look like I've been in the ground for a while. Worms are coming out of me, my face is all white, my hair is rotting away and my clothes are ripped."
Natalie recalls another of her favorite moments. "When Wanda steps into the law office, there's an advertising poster of the scuzzy lawyer leaning on his desk with big-boobed girls standing on each side. The poster proclaims 'Over 10 million dollars won!'"
Two actors, who play the cops looking for Earl, have a special connection to the video. Adrian Pasdar is Natalie's boyfriend and Michael DeLuise played Franz's son on NYPD Blue.
"Michael and Adrian came in like Andy and Barney," notes Natalie. "They were sort of dumb and dumber. When they dug in the couch looking for clues, they found change and put it in their pockets! We laughed harder in that scene than any other."
The director's first draft of the video script calle for the cops opening a drawer and finding a vibrator. But that didn't fly with the Chicks. "We nixed that," assures Natalie. "Our fans' parents probably wouldn't think that was very funny."