On the evening of November 15, 2005, a young woman of 22 walked onstage at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden in front a full house of thousands, not to mention a live television audience numbering millions. It was her first such experience on a stage that big, in a venue that massive, with that many eyes – in the room, across the nation and in other countries – watching.
As if all of those factors weren’t enough, she faced other obstacles– she wasn’t a household name like others on the bill…she didn’t have a Top 20 hit to her name…she’d had to scale back her song from its recorded original length. But in the two-minutes-and-thirty-seconds that followed, this young woman armed only with a guitar, a voice, raw talent and sheer conviction managed to claim her spot in country music.
In those two-minutes-and-thirty-seconds Miranda Lambert emblazoned her image on the country music world – not only the tastemakers of Nashville, but on fans of the genre far and wide. She’d made a statement, effectively announcing her arrival, her presence, her intentions. And in the decade that’s followed, that moment at the CMA Awards – seared into the minds of so many – has lived up to its bold promise, those initial flares growing into a career that’s blazed its way into the annals of country music history and produced a catalog of music that’s warmed the hearts of fans.
For all that’s been achieved…all that’s been accomplished…all that’s transpired in the past decade – there was certainly no guarantee it would come to fruition. Miranda wasn’t predestined for success, nor was she always on a clear-cut path toward music stardom and acclaim. Her beginnings were humble – home was Lindale, a small town in East Texas. Dad Rick was a police officer-turned-private investigator, assisted by Mom Bev in his work. Theirs was – and still is – a tight-knit family of four, rounded out by Miranda’s brother, Luke.
Music wasn’t always a goal – early on, it wasn’t even a visible creative outlet. As a teen, her parents allowed her to enter a talent show…and Miranda enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until the following year – at the age of 16 – that she picked up a guitar, asking her dad, who played, to teach her the basics.
By 2003, Miranda found herself in Nashville, part of the inaugural cast of a reality and talent show called Nashville Star. She didn’t win…but the charisma she displayed in reaching third place earned her a record deal, and the shot at making the album that would secure that two-minute-and-thirty-second moment on the 2005 CMA Awards.
Still, there was no guarantee Miranda’s songs or sound would register with fans or at radio. Sure enough, her debut single – a sweet song of youthful love called Me and Charlie Talking – garnered a bit of airplay, but not enough to be a breakthrough. A second song fared about as well. But fans who’d watched the spitfire from Texas on Nashville Star hadn’t forgotten – Miranda’s debut album, Kerosene, opened at #1 on the country charts. It was enough to make some of Nashville notice.
When the ballots were tallied, Miranda’s debut earned her a Horizon (now Best New Artist) Award nomination at the 2005 CMA Awards…and that nomination gave her those two-minutes-and-thirty-seconds that catapulted her into the spotlight.
It wasn’t planned. Though Kerosene had lit up the CMA Awards, and Miranda’s performance had fueled interest in her music – sending many who might’ve missed her album back to check it out (making it her first million-seller) – it still didn’t set the airwaves on fire. Though her highest-charting song to date, it fell short of the Top 10; a decade later, it receives more play than many hits that were technically “bigger.”
While some artists might’ve felt pressure as they began to create the follow up a platinum-selling debut, perhaps the fact that she hadn’t blazed an automatic path to the top actually worked to Miranda’s benefit – not to mention ours as the ones who reaped the rewards of the music she wrote and recorded for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007).
All of the elements that had ignited around her as a result of that two-minute-thirty-second performance of Kerosene seemed to coalesce into a sort of barely-contained blaze on songs like the title track, Gunpowder & Lead (her first Top 10 hit) and Getting Ready. But here, too, was pure story-telling in Famous in a Small Town and displays of vulnerability in More Like Her, “Desperation”) – together, our first clear hint of how Miranda’s music draws from that Loretta-Dolly-Tammy lineage.
What less would we expect from a young woman who admits she “nearly died” when she crossed paths with her idol, Merle Haggard around this time…the same woman who was photographed in a Willie Nelson tank top and an “I Rode The Bull At Gilley’s” t-shirt for her first album – not because a stylist suggested it might be cool, but because it’s who she is.
The album’s success…and radio’s embrace of Gunpowder & Lead’s imagery (“I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun / Wait by the door and light a cigarette”)…stoked Miranda’s confidence. “I knew what the song was…it meant something to me…and it ended up being one of my biggest hits,” she recalls. “That showed me that, as long as it’s honest, people will relate to it.”
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – the album – solidified Miranda’s place in contemporary country music. The Academy of Country Music named it Album of the Year…setting the stage for an unprecedented run she would enjoy in that realm. But if Crazy Ex proved that her debut was no fluke, then Revolution was about to live up to its name and take her career on a 360-degree trajectory.
Revolution (2009) found Miranda truly taking control of the creative spirit that burns within her. “It’s a great feeling,” she says of the recording experience. “[But] it’s also scary in a way because I don’t want to let anyone down. I want to keep saying things that people need to hear.” There was little worry of that – this music came with a bit more intent; it almost felt as though she was embarking on a mission…one that she’d “chosen to accept”…realizing so many were looking to her to lead the way. Here was joy in Love Song, pain in Dead Flowers, humor in White Liar and Only Prettier, anger in Maintain the Pain and truth taken from her own life story in Heart Like Mine.
Here, too, was the song that would spend a solid month at the top of the charts, a song she didn’t write but performed in a voice that convinced everyone she’d lived it. The House That Built Me resonated in every way possible…and, in a world where ballads and female voices were becoming few-and-far-between on country radio playlists, it struck a chord, racking up enough airplay to effectively become the Song of the Summer in 2010, a moniker typically reserved for up-tempo, carefree, feel-good numbers. But The House That Built Me was a feel-good song…of the truest, realest kind. It also earned Miranda her very first Grammy Award.
Revolution proved a commercial and critical juggernaut. Named Album of the Year at the CMA and ACM Awards, it also earned a Grammy nod as Best Country Album. White Liar not only became Miranda’s first #1 hit – it also scored Single, Song and Video of the Year nods from the CMA and ACMs…eclipsed only by the nominations – and wins – racked up in those same categories by The House That Built Me. And Miranda suddenly went from having a secure spot among the genre’s annual Female Vocalist of the Year nominees to being its standard-bearer.
“Female Vocalist of the Year.” Even if Miranda could embrace and accept that her name had been added to a list that includes Loretta, Dolly and Tammy – as well as Reba McEntire – she still finds it incomprehensible that her name was again called the following year…and every subsequent year since. “Seven-time ACM and six-time CMA Female Vocalist” – that is Miranda Lambert’s title. In world where we know all of these women as icons and true “Queens of Country,” Miranda – in the record books – reigns supreme in her own right, having earned the honor more times than any of those legends at the CMA Awards and matching McEntire’s long-standing tally in the Academy’s annals.
In 2010, Miranda got to pay homage to the time-honored woman she often draws comparisons to, joining Sheryl Crow and Loretta to sing Coal Miner’s Daughter on a tribute album honoring the iconic entertainer…even as she was completing work on her fourth album, the appropriately titled Four the Record (2011). Again, staying true to herself, Miranda went “on record,” giving fans exactly what they wanted while still challenging herself as a writer and artist. As she had on Revolution, Miranda embraced whatever sound was needed to express the music’s message and tone – unafraid, she continued to include searing guitar where it fit…allowed her longtime production team to maximize volume, even to a point where it bordered on distortion. An album cover showed her walking away from a burning car, its engine block ablaze…there were bullets and guns in Fastest Girl in Town, a threat of items going up flames in Baggage Claim, societal observations in All Kinds of Kinds and the raw pain of loss in Over You. And again, there was a chart-topping debut…Album of the Year nominations and accolades…and award-winning, chart-topping hits like Mama’s Broken Heart.
Leaving her 20s behind, Miranda entered her 30s as the gold standard by which women in country music were being measured. At every turn, from every angle, as a performer, songwriter, vocalist, headlining entertainer. Several platinum-selling singles, every album she’d ever made certified as such by the RIAA, millions of fans lining up and filling stadiums, arenas, theaters and clubs to be entertained by high-energy performances that would end with her platinum tresses tossed and tumbled as she gave herself to the music and the moment. Was there any other title she could have given to her fifth album?
Platinum (2014) was equal parts reminiscent and futuristic. Miranda expressed a longing for the past in songs like Automatic and Another Sunday in the South, a grasp of her present in Priscilla and yet looked ahead in Gravity Is a B**ch, doing it all with her now trademark combined sense of humor and self-affirmed attitude…wrapping her words and phrasing in melodies and musical stylings that ran the gamut from rock to a hint of ragtime. “Time spanning” and “genre bending” are phrases that could’ve been applied – along with “award winning,” as the project racked up Album of the Year honors at the CMA and ACM Awards and earned Miranda her second Grammy – but “trail blazing” may sum it up best.
Just over a decade into a career of commercial success and acclaim, one could easily say that Miranda Lambert sits at the top of her game…if one thought that this is as good as it gets or the best she has to offer.
With a track record that has shown us time and again she is always reaching, growing, seeking, striving, trying to follow her instincts and bring her innate creative energies to light, fueling the passion within her…is there anyone among us who feels she won’t take us – and herself – to new heights with each subsequent musical offering?
Think about it – honesty pervades everything she’s written, everything she sings, everything she does. It fuels her stories, her music, her performances. There is nothing contrived, nothing manufactured, nothing artificial about her. And, to quote another proven lyricist – no less than William Shakespeare, in fact – “Truth will come to light.” For Miranda Lambert, there is no doubt that has been – and always will be – the case.