Carrie Underwood is crying. And that's a good thing
Tears slide down Carrie Underwood's cheeks without messing up her perfectly curled eyelashes or streaking her barely there blush.
"Dang it," she exclaims. "I wasn't going to cry again."
With the year she's had, Underwood has plenty to cry about. In November, she slipped and fell down stairs while taking her dogs out for a walk, breaking her wrist and injuring her face badly enough to require as many as 50 stitches. The accident was an international news story, touching off months of headlines — many speculating on her appearance.
Watch Carrie Underwood perform her latest single at the CMTs in Nashville.
The fall derailed the making of her current album "Cry Pretty," which had been in the process for nearly a year. At the time of her accident, Underwood hadn't recorded vocals, and with the damage to her mouth, it took her months to get back into the studio. Unauthorized pictures of her after the accident ignited a web frenzy with millions of people clamoring to see what she looked like. And when it was time to show her face on television again to debut lead single "Cry Pretty" from her album of the same name, the hype was fevered — and she felt it was for the wrong reasons.
But Underwood isn't emotional over her accident, or the faint scar above her lip. She's slightly uncomfortable because the short fit-and-flare bubblegum pink dress she's wearing isn't maternity wear. She revealed her pregnancy one week prior and quips that now people are reporting she's having a girl because apparently, she's been wearing a lot of pinks. Perched on the edge of an elegant couch in a suite in one of Nashville's boutique hotels, she's adamant that doesn't know the sex of her baby. But, she's not crying about that either.
Underwood is brought to tears over her connection to the music on her new album "Cry Pretty." In stores Friday, the album was co-produced by Underwood — a first for her. She co-wrote nine of its 13 songs, each of them rife with lyrics that reflect both where she is in her own life and her view of the world around her. Her song "The Bullet" is about those left behind when a loved one is killed with a gun, "Love Wins" is a soaring anthem of love and acceptance, and "Kingdom," the song that made Underwood cry, is about the significance of home.
"I feel like I've learned so much about myself and myself as an artist," Underwood said. "I feel like this is the most me I've ever had in a project. This is a project that I've had my hands all over the most. It's just something I'm really proud of. I want people to find something that makes them feel something."
A song 'too powerful not to do'
As a mother to young Isaiah, 3, Underwood doubts she'll ever be able to deliver a live performance of "The Bullet," an emotional, nonpartisan reflection of the damage of gun violence. Written by Nashville songwriting heavyweights Marc Beeson, Andy Albert and Allen Shamblin, lyrics include: "You can blame it on hate or blame it on guns, but mamas ain't supposed to bury their sons."
"That was the worst line to sing," she said, her voice cracking with the pain of understanding. "I have a son. I feel like … it works for people in the military, it works for random stray bullet gang violence, it works for cops. It doesn't matter who is on the other end of it. The thing that matters is that there are real people affected and you … don't think about how many people are beyond (the victim), the moms, the dads, the siblings, the future that isn't there anymore."
The singer has had the song reserved for several album cycles, waiting for the right project on which to include it. This time, in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 fans at a country music festival, she almost let it go. Her greatest fear was that she would seem opportunistic with the song's release, but after careful consideration with her team, she decided to forge ahead, explaining "The Bullet" is "too powerful and too important not to do."
Universal Music Group President Cindy Mabe recognized the controversy the song could ignite, but never wavered in her complete support of Underwood as an artist.
"If I don't have the artists who still want to take chances, who still want to say something … then we're not going to move music forward," Mabe said. "For me, music is everything. It changes you as a human being every day and what you emote and who you become. If I don't have those people to move things forward … we don't even need to be doing this."
Mabe describes “Cry Pretty” as a “grown woman record” that was made from the perspective of a wife and mother. To Mabe, perspective is “everything” in a recording artist.
"This is what we got into it for, and I look into this girl's eyes right now, and what's getting ready to happen, I think, is a massive change," she said. "You get a glimpse of Carrie Underwood that you've never seen before. You've felt her as the narrator and the storyteller, she's showing pictures of things, and they are about strength. But to bring it back full circle to her life, that's what this record does, and I think it's going to surprise people in the best way."
Carrie Underwood is 'the female face of country music'
Underwood has been surprising people since she showed up to audition for "American Idol" in 2004. At 21 years old and dressed in bell-bottomed jeans and her hair in crunchy curls, Underwood cited Martina McBride as her chief influence. She clucked like a chicken and belted Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" to cement her place in "American Idol" and, in the years that followed, country music history. Until then, Underwood had never flown on an airplane. Today the Checotah, Oklahoma, native is married to retired hockey star Mike Fisher and is a seven-time Grammy Award winner who has sold 64 million records and charted 26 No. 1 songs, 13 of which she co-wrote.
No woman has had more No. 1 country radio hits than Underwood since she debuted with "Jesus, Take the Wheel" in 2005, said Lon Helton, publisher of country industry trade publication Country Aircheck.
"She is all you could want in a country superstar," Helton said. "She’s been an ideal role model. Carrie has become the female face of country music. For 13 years, she's been a proven hitmaker for country radio who consistently delivers music listeners want to hear. And, she does it with a humility, integrity and sincerity reminiscent of Country Hall of Famers."
Underwood's track record and influence in the genre make her more determined to write or find and release songs that resonate with her and celebrate love and strength in other women. While Nashville is thick with some of the world's best songwriters, Underwood found it difficult to find songs that were written for women. Because female vocalists represent such a small percentage of artists on country radio — currently six in the top 60 most played songs — songwriters don't frequently write songs in a female voice. Underwood scoffs at the suggestion that merely changing the pronouns rectifies the issue.
"When you're going in to write a song for a male or a female, you have to get in that headspace," she said. "It's hard to be able to cross either way effectively. Anybody that was sending us stuff was like, ‘I wish I had more to send you. They're just not writing songs for women.' So I was like, ‘That's fine. I'll do it myself.' "
"Things felt different" after Underwood's accident
Since she couldn't sing after her accident, Underwood had more time to focus on songwriting. She partnered with Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose to write the album's title track, "Cry Pretty," which became the first country No. 1 song on Billboard's digital song sales chart since 2014. Lindsey, whose relationship with Underwood dates back to "Jesus, Take the Wheel," has six additional songs on the album. With six co-writes, Underwood's co-producer David Garcia also contributed heavily.
"We gravitated to songs that had a little bit of a different perspective than some of the songs on her past records," Garcia said. "Great artists want to keep expanding, and we were allowing the songs to speak. We didn't have any rules. We tried to stay true to ourselves. People don't realize this, but she's just an incredible songwriter."
Underwood leaned on Garcia for support in other ways, too. When she returned to the recording studio after her accident, her mouth felt unfamiliar, and she frequently looked to him for guidance.
"I kept asking David, ‘Is my diction OK?' " Underwood admitted. "It just felt different. Things felt different. But he reassured me all along the way that it was fine."
Now that it's finished, Underwood couldn't be happier with what she and Garcia created. She's anxious for people to hear it and see how these songs land with listeners.
"I want this music to translate in different regions and (resonate with) people who don't just listen to country music, and people that are of different backgrounds," she said. "I want to create something that is good enough for all of them and write things that will transcend my little lane."
Reach Cindy Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-664-2227 and on Twitter @CindyNWatts.
Carrie Underwood is taking 'Cry Pretty' on the road
In 2019, Underwood — new baby in tow — will embark on "The Cry Pretty Tour 360," which features an all-female lineup and will play 55 arenas across the U.S. and Canada between May and October.
Tour support includes up-and-coming country duo Maddie & Tae and country trio Runaway June. As she did on her "Storyteller" tour, Underwood will position her stage in the middle of the arena and play to guests on every side.
"I feel like the 360 thing was easy," the singer said. "I had so much fun on the 'Storyteller' tour. It opened my eyes to everybody else and not just people who are right in front of me."
As for who to take on tour, Underwood said she wanted talented artists and people she enjoys being around — it just so happened they were all women.
"It wasn't like, ‘Let's do an all-female tour,' " she said. "It just happened that way."
"The Cry Pretty Tour 360" will launch May 1 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and visit Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Sept. 27, 2019.
Tickets start at $45 and are on sale now through Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.