Carrie Underwood’s crystalline voice is so bright that it shimmers when she sings, “He is good, so good/And he treats your little girl like a real man should,” during the chorus of “Mama’s Song,” her fourth single from the album Play On. What a simple, but effective lyric—and oh, what a voice.
A deep pride and a strong passion for her soon to be husband pours out as she sings those lines, which are gorgeously juxtaposed against her use of the phrase “little girl.”
Underwood’s never sounded better than she does on those 16 words, and throughout the rest of “Mama’s Song,” the gifted singer endows the track with breathtaking vocal beauty—a subtle, warm warble here, a few notes of jazzy melisma there.
It’s just not enough to save a song that has more than one truly glaring problem, the most obvious of which is that Underwood—along with co-writers Luke Laird, Martin Frederiksen and Kara DioGuardi—seems to be playing a game of “how many clichés can I squeeze into four minutes?”
“Mama’s Song” is a practical dictionary of the most obvious and overused words capable of telling this story, as Underwood—who takes on the role of young bride confiding in, and severing as counselor to, her mother—thanks “Mama” for teaching her “the right things” and giving her “everything [she’ll] need” to get through “this crazy thing called life.”
Once again, Underwood’s music settles for sterile lyrics that tell a story in the most elementary and uninteresting way possible. Was this song written for a sixth-grade audience? I hope not, because they’ll find more creative, engaging lyrics on a Miley Cyrus record.
There are a few instances when great lyrics sneak through. “He makes promises he keeps” is a short but telling and powerful statement. But it’s directly followed by the throwaway line, “He’s never gonna leave.”
And those two lines bring us to what’s really disappointing about “Mama’s Song”—the fact that just like in “All American Girl” there’s a strong undercurrent of female-to-male dependency running through this story.
This narrator is trying to comfort her mother by assuring her that the “little girl” she raised and protected is going to be safe, secure and happy. But the narrator’s justifications for that are dependent on the quality of her man—she’ll be fine because he’s good, not because she’s strong.
There are no references to her strength or her accomplishments, so this narrator is wholly defined by him; she’s defined by how good he is, by his honesty and by hisloyalty. He’s even the answer to her mother’s prayers.
By the third verse, the narrator is talking about watching her own grown child walk down the aisle, hoping that she too will find a good man who is also “never gonna leave.”
But what if he does leave?
Because men do leave. Some of them. Even the good ones, sometimes.
It’s unlikely that Underwood and her cohorts are intentionally threading strings of dependency into her music. Rather, these issues continue to show up because her music is a product of a format and a commercial strand that doesn’t ask its writers, singers or audience to think about things in anything other than the most simple terms
No doubt, this is supposed to be a pretty, innocuous little song about a young woman’s changing relationship with her mother. But what it effectively says is, “Mama, you’ve taken care of me and you did a great job. Now, I’ve met a man and he’s going to take care of me instead.”
And that’s neither a productive message to send to millions of young women, nor an interesting artistic statement.