I don’t think I have ever been a great big avid fan of country music, if I’m completely honest. Sure I would hear a few songs from time to time, but for me, it wouldn’t be a genre of music that I’d actively seek out and listen to, throughout my years on this earth. If I am being completely honest, I much prefer the safe confines of CCM and pop, compared to the country music that has the great big southern drawl, and the songs full of…well, full of disappointment and heartache, I would surmise, right? Maybe it’s just me, but prior to this week, I had a conception on what country music would be like- songs about relationships, heartbreaks, mess-ups, songs about trucks, girls and guys, having a good time, songs about God and Jesus and faith, songs about…well, anything that would sell records, right?
In the last few years, I started to watch this recently ended show, that was originally on ABC (but then moved to CMT) called Nashville, a TV show that was about the behind-the-scenes look at country music; and followed a fictional country singers venture back into the industry after years out of the limelight. That show was ok in little bursts (definitely not a show to binge-watch, only if you enjoy the soap drama that is highlighted in such a show as this), but what really stood out to me in this TV series was the music- primarily country music that was shown a lot of throughout the years. And so, because of me watching Nashville, I had an idea of what country music was. Nothing totally negative, it’s just something that I wouldn’t necessarily listen to of my own accord if I were to choose actively. And yet, this week my viewpoint of the music genre changed again- for the better. Or maybe I just enjoy this particular artist I’m about to delve into right now, and can appreciate their music, even if as a whole, I am still indifferent to the music genre of country, at large. Understand what I mean? Confused by the lot of it?
Let me just say that American Idol alum and standout country artist (as well as standout artist, full stop!) Carrie Underwood is arguably one of this generation’s most impactful and popular singer/songwriters; an artist that has delivered song after song with the ability to create and cross the boundaries of country, pop and gospel, undertaking each genre with poise and precision. Carrie has risen from an American Idol fan favourite to now a juggernaut within the music industry as a whole. Since her debut album in 2005, to now; we are reminded that country music has a lot to offer than we ourselves even realise, and Carrie and her music is just one bright spark within a whole genre of music often misrepresented and even undervalued in an industry so focused on pop, rock, rap, and everything else. Carrie’s music is at best refreshing, but also at times confronting and even convicting. Carrie’s life in the spotlight is one that she has used well for the good of others and humanity- with her songs impacting millions around the world. She is popular, but also influential, and though at times both popular and influential don’t always line up together, this time they do. Nevertheless, what has transpired is a career full of No. #1 chart-topping singles, but also songs that have meaning and something to say to whomever listens, myself included!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would listen to a country music artist. Never. Just like how I didn’t think I would listen to the operatic pop of Josh Groban, nor the pop-punk of Avril Lavigne; because of my weekly blog posts wherein I divulge influential artists (of which I assert that both Avril and Josh are part of the list!), I have delved into music and genres I probably wouldn’t even have dared to touch, had it not been for this year plus long exercise. And therefore, for me to listen to Carrie Underwood, and also divulge a blog post about her music and what I reckon is important and impactful about her music to not only people as a society but to me as well, has been, and will continue to be an interesting pill to swallow. Because for me, though I knew a few songs of her discography- ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’, ‘See You Again’, ‘Something in the Water’ and her recent song ‘Cry Pretty’ to name a few; had it not been for this blog post, I probably wouldn’t have ventured into her music any further.
Which is a shame, because since listening to her music, quite literally non-stop for the past week or so, I’ve come to appreciate the genre of country music more than before, and though I still wouldn’t actively seek out country music of my own accord to listen to (when there is more variety out there for me to listen to); I have still come to a sense of thankfulness and gratitude, if not for country music, but for Carrie’s music as a whole. A bit of country, a bit of pop and gospel, Carrie’s music tries to minister and impact a variety of different listeners, and I reckon is sort of the female ‘Switchfoot’ or ‘Lifehouse’, dare I say! Much of her discography acts like a diary of personal moments of hope and heartbreak, of life lessons and leaning of faith and hope to get through hard times. All themes that are universal, and songs that often ask the questions that seem to be more taboo, because, as I’ve reiterated before; a song is a license to discuss music that wouldn’t have otherwise been discussed had it not been for the medium of song in general!
Throughout the career, Carrie has always treaded the line of country, gospel and pop, and while many who may be an avid fan of country, an avid fan of gospel, or even an avid fan of today’s version of what pop is considered to be, may question why Carrie may want to discover and undertake a myriad of genres throughout her career; I applaud her reach and diverse genre selection as a whole, knowing that each album and each musical direction that Carrie has travelled in has its purpose, that her music isn’t just for within the country genre, that a listener like myself, who is not in tune with country music at all, can still listen to her music and be inspired and understand that a style like hers cannot be easy to write or even perform. And as we glance through highlighted songs in her discography, we are in awe at how impacting many of her songs are in light of the general public and her ability to converse with listeners and their very soul. ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ is by far Carrie’s most impacting and far-reaching song, and is her most powerful crossover hit, even garnering her some success in the Christian market with many awards and nominations for said year (2005) in which the song was released. Though not written by her at all, Carrie has sung this song with such passion and deliberation, with such intentionality and purpose, as to portray a picture of a woman so down on herself that her cries of desperation are to the Lord Almighty, asking Jesus to take the wheel from her (can be read as physical, since in the song, we see the persona in a car accident, or as metaphorical, as the wheel could mean the wheel of life). Inspiring and uplifting, we are reminded that we too as humans are never too far out of reach, for help; either from our friends of from the Lord God Almighty Himself.
While I reckon it is by far ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ that has made Carrie Underwood’s career thus far, there has been much more inspiring melodies that have reminded us why her music has been as influential as it has been, over the years. ‘Before He Cheats’ and ‘Wasted’, both on Carrie’s album Some Hearts, have been impactful for many young women around the world- ‘Before He Cheats’ being an anthem and a warning- a warning to young men to think twice before they decide to stray from a relationship, and an anthem because of the empowerment given to women to not victimise themselves in difficult relationships but rather take action and express their own disdain and hurt in ways that men can understand; while ‘Wasted’ is a motivational song, not about being wasted and drunk, but rather spending time on things that matter rather on superfluous things that can make us lose track of time and then realise that we’ve wasted our lives on superficial gains. ‘Temporary Home’; an emotional and chart-topping hit on her 2009 album Play On, plays at the double meaning quite well, as the story tells of a persona who is between homes because they are an orphan, and thus, they are in temporary homes until they find a foster home that they can stay for the rest of their childhood. The song also takes on a whole new meaning when we look at the spiritual significance; and remind ourselves that looking at the grander scale of eternity, we as citizens of this earth, are not home yet. Our forever home is in heaven in the presence of Jesus, and that this earth that can feel like our permanent home for a while, is just temporary- and thus this song is a reminder for us not to lose this understanding, and to focus our efforts on what lies ahead- forever in the presence of Christ our Lord.
Carrie also delivers soul-piercing ‘So Small’, and as she imparts to aol.com about the story behind the song and what she wants it to be about, we understand that ‘So Small’ is ‘…a feeling song on how people invest so much of their time and energy into things that aren’t really important. And you don’t really realize that until it’s too late. We’re all guilty of it, as I know I am, of just letting silly things get in the way. The smallest thing can almost ruin my day, and at some point, I realize, ‘Good gracious, Carrie! What are you doing?’ I have a great life, and we need to remember the things that are truly important…’ The hits continue to keep coming- ‘All American Girl’ tells us the message of how we can have a plan and outline of what we reckon our lives can be, but often, life doesn’t go to plan, and what we receive instead can be so much greater and more fulfilling. In the song’s case, the father hoping their child is a boy so that he can have ‘…someone he could take fishing, throw the football and be his pride and joy, He could already see him holding that trophy, taking his team to state…’, but what he received instead (a girl) was far beyond what he could even hope for or imagine. ‘Good Girl’, from the 2012 album Blown Away, is a powerful attempt at an all-out rock song, of Carrie’s attempt at a warning for all the good girls wanting a little spice and zest in ‘bad’ guys, as we understand full well that often, good people and their good intentions can be exploited for gain, in the case of the song, be exploited in a relationship. Carrie uses the song as a warning against type of people who use and abuse- and what more can we ask for than a toe-tapping guitar driven melody full of anthemic vibes and a message we as young people need to have in our hearts? ‘See You Again’ is a heartfelt song about seeing someone again after they have passed away, and firmly alludes to Carrie’s grounded belief in the Christian faith, something that has continued to be expressed openly in her subsequent 2014 radio hit ‘Something in the Water’.
2014 marked 10 years since Carrie’s introduction into music, and a greatest hits album was released in her honour- encompassing powerful songs throughout her first few albums, as well as her 2014 chart-topper ‘Something in the Water’, where she expresses her faith and how her experience with the ‘water’- in blunt terms, her own renewal through Christ and the spiritual water involved in such an inward change reflected outwardly; and her other original song especially recorded for the album, ‘Little Toy Guns’, a song about domestic violence and sung from a child’s POV and how he wishes his family would stop fighting and that the words spoken are just like ‘…little toy guns, no sting, no hurt no one, just a bang bang, rolling off your tongue…’ 2015’s Storyteller followed, and showed us songs like ‘Smoke Break’ (a melody not necessarily about smoking per se, but rather, being stressed out in life to the point where one may even need to consider having a ‘smoke break’ to alleviate stress), ‘Heartbeat’ slows things down a bit and reminds us to find that special someone to be with (in the song’s case, Carrie is singing about her husband), while songs like ‘Clock Don’t Stop’ and ‘What I Never Knew I Always Wanted’, songs that are lesser known on the album, as still nevertheless poignant and heartfelt- the former being a timely and at times confronting reminder that time stops for no man, that the clock doesn’t stop just because we do, for whatever reason; and the latter being a moment of joy exuded and expressed as a result of being in a family and having kids, and that being a parent and loving unconditionally on kids of your own is what can hopefully remind us all of the love Christ has for His church, and the love He indeed has for humanity as well!
Just this last September (2018), Carrie released her last album to date, Cry Pretty, and though you can read the review of the album here (written by my brother Josh)- what I will say is this. Carrie’s latest effort is nothing short of extraordinary, and with emotion and fervent passion employed through songs like ‘Cry Pretty’ (revealing your true self through emotions you feel, no matter how ugly), ‘Love Wins’ (a song about unity through love and a subtle reminder that love in its purest form unites us all through divides like race, religion and sexual orientation), and even ‘The Champion’ (a duet with rapper Ludacris about overcoming obstacles that was used for the 2018 Winter Olympics); we can see Carrie’s enthusiasm run through a lot on her latest album. It is a snapshot of Carrie’s career as a whole, and an offering of hopeful songs in the midst of the current political situation the world is in right now. Cry Pretty, and by a further extension, Carrie’s whole discography, is a bright light in a dark place, a place of hope and comfort in a world full of disdain and horror. A space where questions are asked, but questions that need to be asked. Not in a way that shakes us to the core, but rather, songs that prod us here and there, for us to take a good look at ourselves and see if the themes that Carrie has discussed in her own music align with our beliefs or not- and if not, then why not…
Much of Carrie’s discography has discussed a myriad of themes that are definitely not present in today’s pop culture, and thus, for an artist of Carrie’s relevance to survive as long as they have, delivering thought-provoking music in the process, is nothing less than a miracle. Carrie has continued to stretch the boundaries of what it means to be a fully committed Christian in a world where there’s nothing but hatred and confusion, condemnation and dismission for the person of faith. She’s been very open and candid in interviews and in her songs about what fuels her career and what is at the centre and core of who she is, and maybe, because of such openness, her popularity isn’t as high as maybe it should be…but that’s ok. Carrie’s influence is nevertheless felt, and though Carrie probably won’t receive as many accolades as artists of today, like Halsey, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, even Selena Gomez and Katy Perry; her music still has merit and worth, and many people, myself included, have been inspired by Carrie’s songs over the years. The country music genre ought to be thankful for Carrie’s music- the genre as a whole has had a positive impact imprinted on it throughout the 2000s and well into the 2010s, and if her new album Cry Pretty is any indication, then Carrie has a lot more to say in her, and just maybe, her best work is yet to come. As Carrie has imparted to us in an interview with EW, vulnerability doesn’t come naturally to her. In her own words- ‘…I know lots of artists that are just open books and you can ask them anything. They sing their hearts and souls. I feel like I’ve never been great at that, just in life even. My husband probably doesn’t know what I’m thinking half the time. I’m just a little harder to read. For me, it’s more comfortable to write about a character than saying, ‘I feel this way. I think this way,’. It puts you in the hot seat, versus if somebody doesn’t like what that character is doing or saying in the song, well, it’s just a character. It’s a safety net between you and the fall…’
‘…I don’t know if I’d tell her, [my younger self] much of anything, because I would want everything to turn out exactly how it has. Every lesson that I’ve learned was an important one and led me to where I am — and I like where I am now…I’m hoping I’m still lucky enough to be making music. I love going on the road and putting together shows I’m proud of, but I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years. I don’t know where I’ll be next week. By the grace of God, I’m just lucky enough to live another day, and that’s good by me…’ If I think of one person that has solidified the country music genre as a genre of music that is worthy enough to take a listen to, even if it is at least only once, is Carrie Underwood. That is who I think about when I do think of country music. Sure there are some big names attached to the genre itself- Keith Urban, Willie Nelson, Lady Antebellum, Dolly Parton, Maren Morris, The Band Perry, Cassadee Pope, Keith Urban, Randy Travis, and Reba McEntire, to name a few. But since listening to Carrie, and admiring all her efforts she’s placed in her music, I’ve come to this conclusion- that Carrie is indeed the artist to represent country music where it stands now. That an artist like Carrie, though she may never be as successful as the majority of the names I’ve just listed, is one such artist that has impacted my own life of late, that her inclusion into this ‘most influential’ list makes a lot of sense. Her crossover success as a pop and gospel artist doesn’t go unnoticed, and her success, in a good way, can hopefully allow other artists to realise that it is ok to cross over into a genre of music that isn’t necessarily the one you’ve been accustomed to.
Does Carrie Underwood make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ and ‘Something In the Water’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!