When I first listened to and met Maren Morris I described her as a mix of Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and ’90s Sheryl Crow. Musically, I still find truth in that, but as a member of the country music family, she’s becoming her own, open and honest person.
In an open letter to country music on LennyLetter.com, Maren explained exactly what it’s like to be a young female on Music Row in Nashville– a successful one– and it’s chilling to think that in 2017, these conversations are still happening.
First, let’s remind everyone where country music is right now– Lauren Alaina just notched her first No. 1 single, Kelsea Ballerini has scored three No. 1 hits off her debut album (history-making) and Maren’s Hero album and its “My Church” was nominated for every award under the sun, winning a GRAMMY for Best Solo Country Performance. Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert have had good years, but even Miranda Lambert’s chill-inducing “Vice” didn’t make it into the Top 10 of the charts.
Recap: country music has come a long way in the last couple of years, but as Maren points out in her letter, there’s a long way to go.
Maren explained her writing process and influences a little bit, before really diving into the meat, “‘Three chords and the truth’ is the resounding motto for lovers of country music. Whether you write it, play it, or just sing along, our genre has always stemmed from artfully expanding on real-life situations; telling it like it is. In our current 140-character culture, a lyrical slap in the face seems to be more refreshing and necessary than ever.”
She reminded readers that that process and those influences got her a GRAMMY and gig on SNL, but she still heard, “don’t overdo it by playing too many of them [women] at your station.” In 2017.
Maren relayed that being a woman in country music and wanting to tell the truth, her truth, is difficult because, “The frustration I’ve had with the perspective of women in country music (who, until recently, were severely lacking in numbers) is that 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. That’s about as edgy as you can get. On top having to make songs that are down the middle and non controversial, 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, like many women in Nashville has to constantly wonder, “do my male peers have to deal with this?”
Has a labelhead ever told Luke Bryan to cool it with the hip-shakin’, because he’s too sexy and he might sell too many records? Doubtful.
What’s unfortunate is that for one Maren there are dozens more in Nashville just trying to get into the door at a label. And what’s even more astonishing is that like her influences and peers her first two singles barely cracked the Top 10 at country radio.
Maren’s letter was eye-opening and full of more than three chords and the truth. I hope other country music fans will read it and ask if they hold male artists to different standards than women and if so, why?