I’ve always said, one of the greatest moments to witness in a mainstream artist’s career is when they realize they’ve got nothing left to lose. And after years of playing musical politics, they cut lose and do whatever the hell they want to do, devil may care.
Not that Miranda Lambert has been one to adhere strictly to the rules throughout her career. She’s said herself that she only signed on with Nashville knowing she would be able to call most of her own shots. But now that radio is showing signs of ignoring her (and the rest of women for that matter), and she’s reaching that point where biting her tongue or being pragmatic with the power brokers on Music Row results in diminished returns, it might be that time to not give a shit anymore and go soul searching for the next phase in her life and her career.
Let’s not give up on the idea that Miranda Lambert may still have a few more radio hits or hardware to accumulate at awards shows and such. Even if you’re a traditionalist and Miranda isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to not recognize that she’s the more healthy alternative in the mainstream. But let’s face it, it’s a transitional moment for Miranda Lambert, where she’s facing down the new reality of not being the chosen favorite of the industry. And though some of her fans might find this disheartening, for Miranda, it’s empowering.
Miranda Lambert is going to do whatever the hell it is that she wants to do. Those who are willing to hold on for the wild ride? Well climb aboard. Those left in the lurch who would rather watch a more prim and proper Miranda politely adhering to the mores of Music Row to make sure she gets the proper attention from the money changers, it’s been nice knowing you.
That might evidence itself in splitting from her high-profile People Magazine hubby Blake Shelton and dating some unknown east Nashville Americana guy. That might mean making a double album despite the difficult commercial implications, and including a bevy of cool songwriters as contributors in the effort that are outside of the Music Row mindset. It might mean speaking out about the issues facing her and other women in country, regardless of how it might be received in the halls of country music power back in Nashville. Or it might be downsizing from arena shows to amphitheaters so she can get more intimate with her audience, and because frankly, that’s all she can fill to capacity these days.
But that’s the thing: radio play, awards, album and ticket sales—they’re such an arbitrary measure of success, or greatness. Yes, they can be markers for the overall reception for an artist’s work, but what kind of metric are you going to put on being yourself, or doing what you want to do? Sometimes less is more. Sometimes success is disguised as failure. I’m not trying to mince words here and say that it isn’t a shame that country music’s women are finding it so hard these days and are having to resort to downsizing, especially Miranda. But she’s not out there making excuses for herself, and shes not going to let that adversity get in the way of what she wants to do as an artist, or a person. She’s going to take the latitude of not having to be exactly what others want her to be anymore, and use it as newfound freedom.
These were the thoughts that flowed into my head when watching Miranda take the stage last night (8-9) at the legendary Red Rocks venue in Colorado with Texas country heavyweights Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers in tow to perform a Merle Haggard cover of “Sing Me Back Home.” In years prior, Miranda Lambert would have been too big to be able to perform at Red Rocks, which is a bigger honor for most performers than playing the Crunch & Munch Arena in Wherever, USA. She also may not have the opportunity to take time out of her set to play a classic country cover with old friends. In the frenetic and choreographed world of mainstream country, you can’t spare a second on stage that the teenagers in the crowd may find boring.
“I met these guys when I was 17, and playing any shitty gig we could find to play together, right?” Miranda Lambert said as she introduced Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers. “So it’s a really cool thing to get to celebrate this night together with y’all.”
We’re not seeing the new Texas Country version of Miranda, or the Americana version of Miranda. We’re seeing the Miranda version of Miranda. If radio isn’t going to play her songs anyway, then she’ll record whatever the hell she wants. If Live Nation deems her draw to only be worthy of amphitheaters, then she’ll cover Merle Haggard and invite her friends on stage with her.
Because that’s what Miranda Lambert wants to do. Not anyone else.