The fact that Miranda Lambert has managed to strike gold at country radio with the singles “White Liar” and “The House That Built Me,” from her stellar third album Revolution, almost seems like something of a miracle. Time and time again, we’ve watched as intelligent, inventive, progressive country music finds no space on the airwaves beside the format’s dominating inanity, turned away by the gatekeepers who possess a near absolute ability to make or break a country artist’s career.
Indeed, your inability to please the radio gods will be your downfall, and will lead to your future day job (or, if you’re really lucky) to your relegation to the Americana underworld. For two decades, these have been the rules—if you toe the musical line, if you walk in step, if you give them a product that doesn’t swerve too far from the center of the road, then maybe (just maybe) you’ll get to play the game.
Nothing has changed. These are still the rules. And that’s what seems so perplexing about this immense success Miranda Lambert has found. Her music sounds like nothing else on country radio. It’s twangy, it’s literate, and it’s full of attitude—all things that typically spell “bad news” in a format that has a deep, almost innate desire to be as unobtrusive and unobjectionable as possible.
By that logic, Miranda Lambert should be just another in a long line of talented artists who don’t fit the mold.
What gives? Divine intervention? How has this young Texan bucked nearly every trend established during a 20-year period on her climb to the top?
She hasn’t. That’s the catch. She hasn’t broken the mold, because the mold isn’t built around music. And, in essentially every other way, she fits it more perfectly than most.
If you’re wondering how or why Lambert’s been granted entry to the palace while so many similar artists before her have been spurned, look no further than the title of her brand new single.
“Only Prettier” is a left-of-center, brilliantly-written alt-country anthem that calls out the mean girl in all of us. “We might think a little differently/But we’ve got a lot in common you will see/We’re just like you,” Lambert proclaims. “Only prettier.”
Lambert’s not the first fiery female to follow in the footsteps of Steve Earle’s less eccentric aesthetics, but she’s the prettiest—or, more to the point, the most relatable. Her music is blisteringly honest, but in the public eye she’s just that rambunctious, drop-dead gorgeous chick we’d all love to have a beer with.
Because of that, a song like “Only Prettier” is an affirmation for Lambert and her enormous social circle. Had it been proffered by a full-fledged Americana songstress or a reject-the-genre Texas honky-tonker, it would have felt like an affront.
Lambert maintains enough of a public profile to keep her on the gossip blogs. She carouses with mainstream stalwarts like Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. And she’s engaged to one of mainstream country’s most entertaining personalities (Blake Shelton). Couple all of that with major label support, and it becomes almost impossible for country radio to ignore her. The fact that her music is actually good? It’s secondary to her celebrity.
That doesn’t make it any less engaging. “Only Prettier” is one of the freshest things to hit country radio in years. So good is her writing, and so focused is her narrative, that the end result is almost incomparable to the kind of songs that will likely sandwich it in playlists. But if this song (and this record) came from the mouth of almost anyone else, it wouldn’t even be a candidate for airplay.
Here’s hoping that it wakes radio up to the fact that the country audience is capable of appreciating quality music that doesn’t pander to the dumbest among us, and here’s hoping Lambert’s mass appeal inspires legions of youngsters to “think a little differently.”