Country music needs Carrie Underwood right now.
I don’t know that I would ever have fathomed typing those words a few years ago, when before Taylor Swift made her way onto the scene, and after Shania Twain had ended her reign, Carrie Underwood defined the cutting edge of pushing country music in the direction of pop. She got her start in country music on American Idol, after all. I mean, the horror! On paper at least, she was as much of an adversary to preserving the roots in country music as anyone, despite her powerful voice and Oklahoma upbringing.
But over the years, and as mainstream country music has descended into the slag pit it is today, Carrie Underwood has gone from defining the edge of pop in country, to being one of the final remaining bright spots of talent in the mainstream, one of the few females the mainstream will still give attention to, and moreover, she has proved herself not just a generational talent, but a timeless voice for the country genre, worthy of consideration right beside the other icons of country pop throughout the genre’s history.
Miranda Lambert may be the heart of modern mainstream country music woman, but Carrie Underwood is the the voice of it. And Miranda would tell you that. Miranda Lambert would also tell you that Carrie Underwood is the face of the modern country music woman, which is why the news that Carrie Underwood’s injuries after a fall at her home in November were much more severe than first reported, is that much more disconcerting.
With so many other calamities see sawing the emotions of the American public these days, it was easy to forget about the footnote from the Carrie Underwood camp that in mid November, she fell on some steps outside her home, and suffered “multiple injuries.” Though multiple means more than one, the news centered mostly around her injuring her wrist, even though the fall resulted in at least a slightly-extended hospital stay. Now we’re getting the news that along with her wrist, Carrie Underwood suffered a major injury to her face. This is the information coming out of a personal note that Carrie Underwood sent to the members of her fan club.
“I haven’t been ready to talk about since I have still been living it and there has been much uncertainty as to how things will end up,” Carrie says in the note. “It’s crazy how a freak random accident can change your life … In addition to breaking my wrist, I somehow managed to injure my face as well. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but when I came out of surgery the night of my fall, the doctor told Mike [Fisher, Underwood’s husband] that he had put between 40 and 50 stitches in.”
Just a few days before, Carrie Underwood had delivered the cornerstone performance at the 51st Annual CMA Awards. Just over a month before, a crazed gunman had opened fire upon a crowd of country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, resulting in the largest massacre in modern United States history, with over fifty dead, and over 300 injured.
When the 51st Annual CMA Awards commenced with Darius Rucker singing a dated Hootie and the Blowfish song in what was highly-touted as an “emotional” opener, it looked like mainstream country was going to drop the ball once again at capturing the emotion of moments that music is supposed to. But midway through the presentation, Carrie Underwood took the stage and absolutely stunned, making for not just the marquee performance of the night, but a moment that will likely go down in country music history as one of the most poignant and perfect tribute performances.
And who better to handle that moment than Carrie Underwood? For years now Carrie has been the bright spot at country music presentations, showcasing an absolute cannon for a voice, and the fearlessness to use it to its utmost capability. It’s fair to question some of Carrie’s song selections over the years, or to ask just how country her musical canon is. But if was Carrie Underwood defining the pop edge of country at the moment as opposed to Sam Hunt, Walker Hayes, or even Kelsea Ballerini, country music would be in such an incredibly better state, it would qualify Carrie Underwood for sainthood.
Like Patsy Cline, Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton, and the many before her, Carrie Underwood is a pop voice that should be welcome in country, because it shines a greater spotlight on the genre, and showcases a talent second to none. Pop has always had its place in country. It’s just recently where that place has become so overwhelming it casts shadows over everything else, and is lacking in sheer talent.
This is not to directly compare Carrie Underwood’s talents or contributions to anyone in the past, or to disregard the missteps she has made in her career (“Somethin’ Bad” anyone?). But in an era where the representation for women in the country genre is anemic, the talent level is direly depleted, and the prospects for any woman receiving attention is bleak, we need Carrie Underwood. And not just for gender diversity, but for the amiable candor, the authenticity to herself, and the iconic voice.
Carrie Underwood warned in her note to fans that she’s “not quite looking the same” these days. She says, “I am determined to make 2018 amazing and I want to share things with you along the way. And when I am ready to get in front of a camera, I want you all to understand why I might look a bit different.”
This evokes thoughts of Hank Williams Jr., who almost died after falling off of Ajax Mountain in Montana in 1975, and had to undergo years of reconstructive surgeries to his face, emerging later and looking nothing like himself before the fall. Or recall the stigma Renée Zellweger faced when she emerged after a few years out of the spotlight and with completely reconstructed features.
Maybe it won’t be as bad for Carrie Underwood, and yes these things based on image shouldn’t even matter. But they often do, to the individual, and to the public. People talk, especially when you’re in the public eye as much as Carrie Underwood. There is a reason we never saw Carrie after the birth of her son sporting a post-pregnancy bod. Because the judgements from the cretins in celebrity media would have been incredible.
So it’s dependent on all of us to be adults, no matter what Carrie Underwood looks like after she’s whole. And maybe it will all be fine, and this is just Carrie Underwood worrying. But what we can’t have is this incident affecting the career of Carrie Underwood in any sort of adverse way. And it’s up to fans and the industry to make sure this is the case. Because country music needs Carrie Underwood. Otherwise, who knows who will become the face of country pop? With the collection of unruly artists and opportunistic interlopers looming out there at the moment, the prospect of it being anyone but Carrie Underwood is not very pretty.