Just a couple of weeks ago, I delved into the realms and musical genres of country music, discussing about Carrie Underwood, and her relevance and influence in today’s society, the history of music as a whole, and just the overall arching umbrella of inspirational music that can encourage and impact. Here we are, just two weeks later, again delving into another country artist- Martina McBride. Never in my own wildest dreams did I ever think I would listen to country music. Sure, I heard a few songs from Carrie Underwood here and there, and I always knew that CCM rockers Third Day somehow skirted the fine line between southern Rock, CCM and country quite a bit. But if you were to let me know a year ago that in a year’s time, I’d be listening to artists like Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride, I’d be laughing, wondering what planet you’re from. Because for me, Martina’s music has only been thoroughly listened to on a regular basis this last week or so- her music, though so iconic and monumental over the years for so many listeners, has somehow been swept by the wayside unintentionally by myself… until now of course! Martina’s career is as long as it is respected and revered- a mainstay and icon in not just country music alone, but in music overall. An eye-opening occasion for myself (I didn’t know country- or even to a lesser extent country-inspired, can be such a positive experience for myself), Martina’s music is a generation behind Carrie Underwood, starting her career in the 1990s, and releasing albums at a steady pace from then till now…and that’s ok. In all serious, Martina’s style is very similar to that of CCM icons Natalie Grant and Amy Grant, and while Martina’s stint in the music industry has led to much success over the years, it has been her extra-album activities, like her love for cooking and the recent unveiling of her new cooking TV programme, that has solidified her standing as one of country music’s reigning singer-songwriters and performers, and all-round inspirational people, after all these years!
Can I be completely honest here? Is this a forum where I can unveil my own true thoughts, about the process that it took for me to get to a place where I’ve embraced my appreciation and maybe even enjoyment for country music, much more than previously thought? Because just a few weeks ago, I was indifferent to the genre at large…and now? It is quite possibly the most underrated genre of them all. Though I know I probably won’t go as far as listen to artists like Dolly Parton or Reba McEntire (then again, ask me in a few months, that could change!), I can safely say that the artists I have listened to- once again Carrie Underwood, country bands Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts, singer-songwriter Keith Urban and now Martina McBride; I’ve come to note- that country as a whole is a genre focused on emotions, and complicated ones at that. While the genre of pop- the overarching overpopulated musical genre of all time- highly consists of songs that the general public seem to eat up- songs about partying, love, relationships, broken-heartedness, sex, drugs, and everything else; country tends to be more heartfelt and in a sense, more raw and real, as I’ve observed of late. And this is exactly true of Martina’s work, even to the point where some of her songs can be interpreted in a variety of different angles- which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather the opposite. Because of the universal application of country songs at large to whomever hears them, we can rest assured knowing that a song that was originally meant to be a country song can easily be read as a southern gospel or even a pop song- and that’s more than ok, maybe even encouraged, which is why I reckon that country as a genre is at times overlooked and underappreciated, because of the wider appeal that it has in music society.
Tackling Martina’s music throughout her more-than-25-year career, was always going to be a steep task. But nevertheless, I was up to it. And as I listened to her music throughout the week, I was immediately reminded, and at times impressed, at how much music I actually knew of (be it the tune, the actual song melody but not the name, or the song, name and everything else associated with it!). Martina’s music, if you have to describe it in one sentence would be this- country, but a mixture of adult contemporary, southern gospel, pop, and radio friendly 1990s feel, all swirled together in a blender, and out pops Martina’s music. So I guess, liken her to artists like Carrie Underwood, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, even 1990s CCM adult contemporary group Avalon and the 1970s powerhouse supergroup ABBA, and then you can probably guess how Martina sounds like. Which is good, that her music seems to cover a lot of musical ground, and it’s a reminder that this big umbrella called ‘country’ is much broader than we all think!
I think I’ve said this phrase before, and I know I could be sounding like a broken record, but I will nevertheless repeat myself again if it means for us to finally understand what it is that needs to be conveyed- popular and influential don’t always have to go hand in hand. For artists like Carrie Underwood and Avril Lavigne, they do, but most often than not, they’re not. Take Martina’s case for example. Within the confines of country music, Martina’s an icon- a country music singer-songwriter and record producer, at times being touted by many as the ‘Celine Dion’ of country music…but if you are not heavily that into country music as a genre altogether, the name Martina McBride may mean nothing to you. Then again, I’m sure everyone has heard the song ‘This One’s For the Girls’, am I correct? Nevertheless, Martina’s music is heartfelt and emotional, poignant and poetic, at times a little ‘gospel’, even if Martina herself didn’t intend for the song to be sung and interpreted that way. Her success is unparalleled when compared to her fellow artists within country music, and while she herself may not be as known or even accepted outside the genre, Martina’s music has had an impact outside country- at least that is what the radio charts say. Songs like ‘I Love You’, ‘Blessed’, ‘There You Are’, ‘Anyway’, even her popular crossover hit ‘This One’s For the Girls’, have all resonated on radio that is not country, and quite right so. ‘I Love You’ is a love song that shows the listener the changes that can occur in someone’s life when love enters it, while ‘Blessed’ is an anthem of thanks and appreciation, in some ways a quasi-worship song that gives gratitude and thanks to God for giving us riches and blessings far beyond what we can dream or fathom. ‘There You Are’ speaks of a longing for the persona to have a special someone with them during difficult times, with the song itself also being read as how in the middle of our trials and at times, suffering, God is in fact there with us, at times with us not even knowing He is in the first place.
‘This One’s For the Girls’ is a female empowerment song, that unites women of all ages, faiths, creeds and cultures and reminds us all of how special women really are to society, while a song like ‘Anyway’ is for me, arguably one of Martina’s most inspirational. A song that highlights social injustice and the wrongs in this world, Martina encourages us all to do positive things anyway- ‘…you can spend your whole life building something from nothin’, one storm can come and blow it all away, build it anyway, you can chase a dream that seems so out of reach and you know it might not never come your way, dream it anyway, God is great but sometimes life ain’t good, and when I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway…’ and as said by Martina herself, the song holds a special place in her heart:
‘Anyway’ was inspired by many things, among them a poem by Mother Teresa. It was also inspired by real life and the fact that we all face adversity in one way or another. It’s a song about hope, love, perseverance and, mostly, faith. Faith that it’s not always in your hands or things don’t always go the way you planned, but you have to have faith that there is a plan for you, and you must follow your heart and believe in yourself no matter what. The part about believing tomorrow will be better than today was especially meaningful to me to write because I have a tendency to hear the news or read some kind of article, whether it is about terrorism or global warming or whatever, and I get really scared and nervous about our future. So that line is especially helpful and meaningful to me. It helps me remember that we’re all part of a bigger plan and that we must have faith in the future and it isn’t all gloom and doom!?
If ever there is a female country artist that has made the successful attempt at crossover music that impacts not only country radio but also AC/Inspirational Radio as well, then Martina is certainly the artist, for me personally ahead of Carrie. Nothing against Carrie as an artist per se, but hearing both musical styles (even though both Martina and Carrie are indeed country music artists, Carrie has a much more modern southern-twang country sound, as opposed to Martina’s radio friendly country sound that can swing to AC if needed), I’ve come to enjoy as a whole, Martina’s music a little more. Which for me is a little surprising, considering that prior to a few weeks ago, I’d only heard a little bit of Carrie’s music, and even less of Martina’s. Despite for me the rapid upward appreciation of country music, I’ve come to understand that for an artist to be influential, their accolades must reflect an artist whose rise stands across time, while also reminding the general public that their life outside of music is as interesting and even at times impactful, as compared to their music. Martina’s music has been nominated for a variety of awards, but one such award nomination stands out for me- ‘Anyway’ and the nomination the song had for Best Country/Southern Gospel Song at the 2008 Dove Awards. I don’t think Martina was writing and recording in the studio thinking about such an award like this- which makes the song all the more inspirational and empowering. The notion of doing things anyway even with the possibility of things turning out wrong is an essence of faith and trust, in believing that in all things, good or bad, it is all being worked together for our own overall good, regardless of what we may be feeling about life at that moment. Which is why I reckon ‘Anyway’ is by far one of the most poignant songs out of all of Martina’s career thus far. That’s not to say that no other song by Martina has an unintended spiritual element to them, far from it. In fact, looking at Martina’s music career thus far, there’s a lot of lyrics that can be perceived as being spiritual, and that’s ok.
‘I Just Call You Mine’ is a song about being blessed to have someone that everyone else calls amazing, but ‘…I just call you mine…’– a song that can be either about a person or about God Almighty Himself, while ‘God’s Will’, from her self titled Martina in 2003, is a personal ‘The-Christmas-Shoes’-esque melody about meeting someone less fortunate, only to realise that they are much more happy and content than you are. ‘When You Love Me’ is a song about the love expressed between a man and a woman, and by extension, the song is a snapshot of what we can see God giving to us unconditionally, as with the song ‘In My Daughters Eyes’, a melody that allows Martina herself to shift perspective about life and her focus, after her daughter is brought into the world. Having kids changes your priorities and allows you to love someone so deeply much more than yourself, that it can actually give an understanding of how much more our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally. In more recent years, Martina’s songs are still full of spiritual imagery, especially songs like ‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’ (a song sung as a devotion to someone with cancer, and is again a song that can be a reminder that God Himself is going to love us through every difficulty we face!), ‘Marry Me’ (a song about marriage and the constant commitment couples need to make on a daily basis- and thus by extension, an understanding of the union between Christ and the church!), and more recently on her most recent album Reckless– the title track.
‘Reckless’ itself caught me off-guard when I heard the song- in a good way. Similar in theme to Cory Asbury’s ‘Reckless Love’, we are reminded that there is a love, be it from our family, or God Himself, that loves us unconditionally whenever we get off-track. Or as the song says- ‘…for trusting me when I wasn’t worth it, forgiving me when I didn’t deserve it, for looking in my eyes and seeing the soul inside and crying, crying, crying, I’m reckless and senseless, I’ve jumped all the fences, abandoned all the rules and crashed like a fool, out of control, so criminal, You could’ve let me drown but You reached your hand out, You met me in the fire, You fanned the flames up higher, could’ve left me for dead but You pulled me from the edge, for loving me the way you do, I know I’m reckless but you must be reckless, too…’ Such poignancy and honesty, ‘Reckless’ is by far one of Martina’s most vulnerable songs, ever, and if these lyrics from the song aren’t Spirit-filled or even God-ordained, if this song isn’t by blunt definition, a worship song of gratitude to God Himself for showing us the love He did when we ourselves were like the prodigal son; then I don’t know what is!
Martina’s career has been full of praise and accolades, and it’s been great to see an artist be so grounded and stay secure in her identity all these years. Her music and message hasn’t wavered, and thus, I applaud her for this. But what is extra amazing is her accolades for things outside of music as well. Working for a variety of charities, Martina has served as a spokeswoman for the National Domestic Violence Hotline as well as for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. It is in this support of these hotlines that awareness of domestic violence and the protection of women in these circumstances are at least discussed by households, and that is a good thing. More recently, Martina has undertaken a charity initiative called ‘Team Music is Love’, and in her own words, she states that ‘…It started a few years ago as a group of fans that asked me if they could wear a T-shirt with my name to walk in a breast cancer walk, and I said ‘of course’ and it has grown from there. Last year, we decided we wanted to give it a better name, a name that sounded as important as it is, so we changed it to ‘Team Music is Love,’ since it’s about spreading love through music. We have done some amazing things over the past few years and we continue to grow and keep giving back…’ Not to mention her cooking show on the Food Network called ‘Martina’s Table’, alongside companion cookbooks available at any place where books are sold; and then you get an artist that is using her own influence because of music, to give back in other ways, finding that music is just one avenue to create influence and impact in society as a whole.
‘…It is hard to believe [I’m here for 25 years]. I’m just happy that I still get to go out there and sing, and that people show up. In some ways, I’m enjoying it more than I ever have, because as you get older I think you appreciate it more. You’re not so quite caught up in the hectic rat race of it all. I toured a long time with babies, so now that they are all older, I can hang with my band and really enjoy it. It’s like a family out there. We’ve been together for so long; and have gone to so many places. It’s just a lot of fun…’ Belief in the song and belief in the artists for singing the song is paramount for me, and as I’ve seen throughout her career, Martina is one such artist whose belief in music and the power of it to provide hope and comfort to people is evident in how she sings her songs. And thus, as we carry about our weeks, let us be immersed in the music of our lives that ask us questions, that challenge us to think outside the box and to believe that the love we have, for our children, for our friends, for fellow men and women, is enough to keep us going in this crazy life, and understand that what we have been given is a love not deserving by a Father in heaven that keeps giving good gifts to us, without anything back in return. An artist that reminds us that country music was never the enemy, but rather, our misconception of it (I myself was susceptible to this notion that country music was all about girls and guys, trucks and having a beer- which was a very broad generalisation!); Martina has crafted a career that is as needed in both the country genre, as well as a the holistic mainstream music genre as well, not to mention in society, full stop! So let us sit back and enjoy Martina McBride and her music, and what is to be offered- who knows, we may be surprised by what is said, all the same- I know I was!
Does Martina McBride make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘This One’s For the Girls’ and ‘Anyway’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!