Carrie Underwood Pushes Her Boundaries And Addresses Gun Violence On 'Cry Pretty'

23 hours ago
Originally published on September 14, 2018 6:48 pm

As the fourth season winner of American Idol, Carrie Underwood is one of the most successful byproducts of the reality talent show. Instead of fizzling out after her win or becoming a footnote within the show's history, Underwood has become maybe the biggest star in modern country music. She has sold over 16 million albums and racking up over a dozen No. 1 Billboard Hot Country Song hits, like "Before He Cheats" and "Jesus, Take the Wheel." Underwood's latest album, Cry Pretty, out now, pushes her creative boundaries and leans into modern R&B, while retaining the Oklahoma singer-songwriter's country roots.

The lines separating country from R&B and pop have always been thin, but lately, that's more true than ever. Underwood's stylistic pivot can be heard on the single, "The Champion," which features Ludacris, so the mix of styles on her new album is no big surprise.

I'm also not surprised by how great parts of this album sound. Underwood's voice owns pretty much anything it touches. Songs like "Drinkin' Alone," is one part drown-your-sorrows country, and two parts Amy Winehouse soul.

What is surprising about Cry Pretty is not just one, but two songs about gun violence. Mainstream country artists used to weigh in regularly on controversial issues — think Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash — but since the heyday of the Dixie Chicks, musicians, particularly in the country genre, seem scared to risk it.

Carrie Underwood is proving to be an exception. She addressed domestic violence in her 2016 hit "Church Bells," and on a new song from this album called "The Bullet," she charts the effect of a man's death on the generations that follow. "The Bullet" doesn't address gun laws, and it doesn't mention the 58 people shot dead at a country music festival in Las Vegas last year. But, unquestionably, it conjures them. As does "Love Wins," a song that rhymes "Politics and prejudice" with "How the hell'd it ever come to this?" It's a good question and one that Underwood doesn't answer. But that's our job. Hers is making massively popular country records, something she does masterfully. The fact that she's engaging an issue most of her industry peers have met with deafening silence, is one more reason to admire her.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Carrie Underwood was the fourth season winner of "American Idol," but instead of becoming a footnote, she's become possibly the biggest star in modern country music. She sold more than 16 million albums and had over a dozen No. 1 hits, including "Before He Cheats."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE HE CHEATS")

CARRIE UNDERWOOD: (Singing) I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats. I took...

CORNISH: Her latest LP leans into modern R&B as well as country, a stylistic pivot you could hear on "That Song We Used To Make Love To."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT SONG THAT WE USED TO MAKE LOVE TO")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Don't want to feel that bass rattle in my bones 'cause once I do, I know it won't leave my alone.

CORNISH: The album is called "Cry Pretty," and our critic Will Hermes sees an artist pushing her creative boundaries. Here's his review.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: The line separating country from R&B and pop have always been thin, but lately that's more true than ever. Carrie Underwood confirmed it earlier this year with her single "The Champion." So the mix of styles and her new album is no big surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT SONG THAT WE USED TO MAKE LOVE TO")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) That song that we made...

HERMES: I'm also not surprised how great parts of this album sound. Underwood's voice is among the few worthwhile things that ever came out of "American Idol," and that voice owns pretty much anything it touches, like this song called "Drinking Alone," which is one part drown-your-sorrows country and two parts Amy Winehouse soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRINKING ALONE")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) We should be drinking alone together. Drowning the pain is better with somebody else who got problems. We ain't going to solve them. But misery loves company. Tonight all I need...

HERMES: What does surprise me about the album "Cry Pretty" is not just one but two songs about gun violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BULLET")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) You can blame it on hate or blame it on guns. But mamas ain't supposed to bury their sons.

HERMES: Mainstream country artists used to weigh in regularly on controversial issues. Think Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. But since the heyday of the Dixie Chicks, musicians seemed scared to risk it. Carrie Underwood is proving an exception. She addressed domestic violence in her 2016 hit "Church Bells." And in a new song called "The Bullet," she charts the effect of a man's death on the generations that follow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BULLET")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Through the son he'll never get to raise, his daughter on her wedding day, wishing it was his hand she was holding, till every heart that's left to break is broken, the bullet keeps on going.

HERMES: The bullet doesn't address gun laws, and it doesn't mention the 58 people shot dead at a country music festival in Las Vegas last year. But unquestionably it conjures them. So does "Love Wins," a song that rhymes politics and prejudice...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE WINS")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) Politics and prejudice...

HERMES: ...With, how the hell did it ever come to this? It's a good question, one that Underwood doesn't answer. But then that's our job. Hers is making massively popular country records, something she does masterfully. The fact she's engaging an issue most of her industry peers have met with deafening silence is one more reason to admire her.

CORNISH: Carrie Underwood's "Cry Pretty" is out now. Our critic Will Hermes is author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE WINS")

UNDERWOOD: (Singing) 'Cause I believe you and me are sisters and brothers. And I believe we're made to be here for each other. And we'll never fall if we walk hand in hand, put a world that seems broken together again. Yeah, I believe in the end, love wins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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