Few artists see the success Maren Morris saw this past year. Many work their whole lives to get to where she got and never achieve it.
So when she says all the amazing things that happened this year brought an overwhelming sense of pride, you know why. But for a lot of people outside the industry, they may not quite understand the context of just how difficult it is to be a genre-bending female artist in country music.
So Maren penned an artful, thought-provoking essay explaining what it means to be a woman in country music. And really, what it means to be her.
Morris started performing in Texas before she even hit her teens. She released three albums independently before moving to Nashville to focus on writing, where her career ultimately exploded.
“This past year was one of the most exhilarating and surprising of my life,” Morris says in her Lenny Letter essay. “My debut album went number one, I won my first Country Music Award, I played SNL, and I won a Grammy (OK, I’ll stop sounding like a braggy douche now), all while being in a landscape where the girls in my format were referred to as ‘the tomatoes of a salad,’ meaning just an ‘accessory’ and ‘don’t overdo it by playing too many of them at your station.’ In 2017. Hard to believe, right?”
She even notes that, for all her critical and commercial success, both of her singles died in the top 10.
But what it comes down to, Morris notes, is what it means to be a “successful” woman in country music. And she really hits the nail on the head.
“You either have to sing about being scorned by a lover or sing about thinking a boy is cute and wanting him to notice you,” Morris says. “That’s about as edgy as you can get. On top having to make songs that are down the middle and noncontroversial, there are the aesthetic pressures for a woman to be pretty and sexy but not sexual or have desires beyond winning a guy’s affections.”
Maren notched more Grammy nominations than any other country artist. And still, she faced interviews about her clothes and her hair. Or she deals with a drunken dude at a meet and greet telling her “girls can’t successfully release ballads to country radio.”
And she addresses critics who say her music isn’t country music. To which, she says, “a banjo or fiddle doesn’t make a country song, it’s the core-cutting truth that does.”
Maren’s success originates in her believability. Honesty is a big part of her aesthetic. In fact, she even admits she fears having a “sophomore slump” with her next record.
Morris says that all she wants to do is to keep on growing. “As long as there’s respect and we allow each other to continue growing, we can move into the future in a really inspiring way,” Morris says. “Truthfully, three chords and more.”
Read the essay in its entirety here.