Describing herself as “f---ing hammered,” the singer cussed during the traditionally family-friendly show, awkwardly bantered with hecklers and failed to remember the Parton song she was supposed to sing as part of the birthday salute.
“We deeply regret and apologize for the language that was used during last night’s second Opry performance,” the Opry’s account on X (formerly Twitter) said Saturday.
Although angry reactions were widespread among country fans, the statement came in response to an attendee at the Ryman Auditorium performance who wrote on X, “Elle King ruined the night with her horrible, drunk, and profane performance. Dolly Parton would’ve been mortified. For our first time at the Opry, it was a shame we all had to witness that… It was such a disappointment to spend $300 on tickets for a show where one of the artists ruined an entire night.”
In the midst of seemingly forgetting the lines to the Parton song “Marry Me,” King appeared in video clips to be altering the lyrics to “I don’t give a s---” and “I don’t know the lyrics to these things in this f---ing town. … Don’t tell Dolly, ’cause it’s her birthday.” Things didn’t get better when she directly addressed the restless crowd.
“You ain’t getting your money back,” King said in response to angry shouts from the audience. “I’ll tell you one thing more,” she added. “Hi, my name is Elle King and I’m f---ing hammered.’” A bandmate suggested she do an original song instead of a Parton cover, and King reportedly responded, “I can barely play another person’s song, let me see if I can play one of mine.”
The firestorm over King’s appearance quickly spread among country fans. Some saw it as a sign that King is misguidedly cultivating an outlaw image as she moves from past pop-rock successes into country, while others worried for her health, since King has been open in interviews about a history of performing while inebriated.
The popular country music site Saving Country Music wrote that King owes both Parton and the Opry an apology, writing, “We know Elle King was drunk because she admitted as much on stage before overcussing, slurring her words, and screwing up her performance. This feels less badass than something like Johnny Cash kicking out the footlights, or Jerry Lee Lewis dropping an emmer-effer bomb to purposely piss off the pearl clutchers. With Elle King, it just comes across as sad, and perhaps a cry for help.”
Added the site’s editor, who goes by the byline Trigger, “Elle King officially migrated to country music with her last album, 2023’s ‘Come Get Your Wife.’ But if she wants to stay in country, cheesing off the Opry and disrespecting Dolly is probably not the best way to go.”
Reps for King and the Opry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
King has recently enjoyed a series of high-profile TV gigs within the country arena, having become a favorite of broadcast bookers, prior to the reactions to Friday night’s Opry performance (which was broadcast over radio but not part of the show’s TV edition). At the turn of the year, she co-hosted CBS’s well-rated five-hour show “New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash.” Prior to that, in July, she was enlisted as the co-host of ABC’s three-hour prime-time special “CMA Fest.”
The singer made a big splash in country with the single “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” a duet with Miranda Lambert that reached No. 1 on the country airplay chart. A followup duet with Dierks Bentley, “Worth a Shot,” was not as successful, peaking at No. 38. But King has nonetheless been generally received with open arms as she has transitioned into the format, notwithstanding a few of the expected “carpetbagger” quips — especially as she has indicated an eagerness to make a wholesale leap into country.
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2022, King said “I really like to drink and sing” but added, “I don’t want to get as drunk as I used to… I get nervous before I go on stage, [so] I have couple of drinks [first]. Drinking makes me less nervous about hitting the notes when I sing. If I don’t make them, it won’t sting as much.” But, she added, “This (upcoming) tour will be very different for me, because I put being a mother way, way, way above having a good time. And I’ve had enough good times. I want to bring my family on this tour, so maybe talk to me in a year and see where I’m at.”
Reactions to King’s performance have included compassionate as well as angry ones. “I’m sure Dolly’s first thought would be to try to help this woman,” wrote one commenter on the Saving Country Music page. “Yes, she owes people an apology, but nobody gets to that point without things being seriously wrong in their life. This wasn’t someone trying to make themselves look good at somebody else’s expense, this was someone in real trouble making a pretty big mistake.”
Another commenter described a recent appearance at the Rebels and Renegades Festival in California: “I have no problem with folks boozing it up, no problem with weed etc, but the first 10 minutes of the show was her strutting around making a big show of having each band member toke off her joint. I get it, you are having fun. I guess it was just a little over the top. So, filling that role at the Opry really isn’t surprising to me…. That building/institution has hosted enormous talent but it isn’t a totally clean history. Honestly more wish that a friend would respect another friend enough to do the show straight.”
Parton herself did not appear at the Opry tribute shows, which celebrated her 79th birthday. Others participating and causing less of a stir than King included Ashley Monroe, Tigirlily Gold, Dailey & Vincent and Terri Clark. (Lauren Alaina was also booked but canceled not long before showtime, attributing it to snowy Nashville conditions and telling fans on social media, “I live out on country roads & am unable to get off my street. Can’t wait to see y’all at the Opry soon.”)
King has a busy tour schedule lined up through the spring and summer, including a show planned for California’s Stagecoach Festival April 26.