Elle King's 'drunk and horrible' Dolly Parton tribute faces backlash from fans as Opry apologises

23 January 2024, 09:53

Elle King performs her Dolly Parton tribute
Elle King performs her Dolly Parton tribute. Picture: TikTok/Getty

By Tom Eames

A celebration of Dolly Parton's 78th birthday turned into an unexpected and controversial event during the Opry Goes Dolly show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

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The night took an unexpected turn when Elle King, one of the performers on the bill, delivered a performance that left fans shocked and the Opry issuing an apology.

King, known for her energetic and soulful performances, seemed to struggle through the lyrics of Dolly Parton's 2001 song 'Marry Me'. The situation escalated when she openly admitted to the audience that she had consumed a bit too much before taking the stage.

Amidst her stumbling performance, King humorously pleaded with the crowd not to inform Dolly Parton about the mishap.

"Don't tell Dolly. Holy s**t. I swear to God if you guys tell Dolly," King exclaimed during her set, as captured in fan-filmed videos circulating on TikTok.

The performance continued with King's expletive-laden banter, where she addressed the audience's reaction, expressing disbelief that people had paid for tickets to witness her struggling performance. The tension in the room rose as King declared, "You ain't getting your money back."

"I'm gonna tell you one thing more: Hi, my name is Elle King. I'm f**king hammered," she announced, acknowledging her state.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, King's backing vocalist joined the banter, making jokes about celebrating Parton's birthday with a bottle and suggesting a pivot to perform one of King's own songs.

Post-show, social media erupted with outrage from fans who deemed King's performance disrespectful to Dolly Parton and a violation of the Opry's code of conduct. One audience member described it as "horrible, drunken and profane", and that it had "ruined the night."

The Grand Ole Opry, responding to a tagged complaint on social media, issued an apology for the language used during the second Opry performance.

"We deeply regret and apologize for the language that was used during last night's second Opry performance," the Opry stated.

While Dolly Parton has not publicly addressed the incident, her sister, Stella Parton, took to Twitter to defend Elle King. Stella pointed out a perceived double standard, mentioning that it wouldn't be the first time a performer went on stage "hammered" at the Opry.

She also emphasized the difficulty of memorizing Dolly Parton's intricate lyrics and suggested that those criticizing King would likely face similar challenges.

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"It wouldn't be the first time a Hillbilly went on the stage of the Opry 'hammered,' but I guess it's ok if you're a male but good lord don't ever let a girl behave that way folks!" Stella wrote in a three-part tweet, highlighting the disparities in expectations.

Despite the controversy, Elle King's intoxicated performance at the Opry Goes Dolly show has sparked a broader conversation about gender expectations, artistic expression, and the challenges of paying tribute to an icon like Dolly Parton on a grand stage.