Maddie & Tae Celebrate New Life Chapter with Hard-Won No. 1: It's the 'Biggest Icing on the Cake'
Six years after their breakout hit, "Girl in a Country Song," the duo say they've finally reached their stride as they top the charts again with "Die From a Broken Heart"
Considering that Maddie & Tae named their latest album The Way It Feels, it seems only fitting to ask them: What's the way it feels now?
"So frickin' good!" Maddie Marlow exclaims to PEOPLE.
"It's exhilarating, it's peace, it's everything," adds Taylor Dye, the more chill of the two, but no less joyful than her partner.
The cause of all these feels? Their newly crowned No. 1 single, "Die From a Broken Heart," which just chugged its way to the summit after 70 weeks on the charts. To the duo, though, this accomplishment evokes so much more than the delight of seeing their names at the top for the first time in almost six years.
It's also a reflection of what they now know about themselves: they've finally come into their own, not only as artists and songwriters, but also as people.
"The song peaking at No. 1 is like the biggest icing on the cake," says the 24-year-old Dye, "but it really is just the icing because the growth that we've had as humans and as best friends and as artists is the success to us."
Marlow, 25, agrees: "It's more of a win for who we are as humans and our character-building process as women. There is a confidence — when you've gotten through some really tough stuff and come out on the other side stronger — that no one in the world can take away from you."
Their "tough stuff" took years to navigate, as their new autobiographical YouTube documentary, Reframed, attests. After blasting onto the scene at age 18 — scoring their first No. 1 with debut single "Girl in a Country Song" — the two women struggled to forge their own identity amid mixed signals at their label. When the label folded in 2017, they were set adrift and actually feared their career was over at age 21. By the time they were picked up by another label later that year, their confidence was battered — but they hunkered down, determined to find and claim their voice.
The fruits of their labor have been evident over the past year and a half with an EP release in spring 2019, the release of "Die From a Broken Heart" (which was a streaming phenom before it headed to radio), a coveted spot on Carrie Underwood's tour, and this April, the release of their second full-length album, The Way It Feels. The duo co-wrote 14 of its 15 tracks.
Every step, Marlow and Dye say, has given them opportunity for growth.
For Dye, that's meant learning to speak up. "I had a really hard time expressing myself, whether it meant sharing an opinion or even in the [song]writing room," she says. "It's been the biggest challenge for me, but in the best way. I've learned to speak my mind and not be afraid to share my opinion."
Lead singer Marlow also talks about her growth in confidence, which has even pushed her to explore and expand her vocal range. "I think we're just always pushing ourselves," she says. "It's just the whole thing of not getting complacent. That's something we learned from Carrie. She's always learning something new, writing something new, trying something new, and she really inspired us to do that."
Both women say the Underwood tour was a game-changer. "We really learned how to entertain a crowd, how to put a full-blown show together," Marlow says. "We learned moments of connection between the two of us that got the crowd excited."
For Dye, the tour experience "was just falling back in love with performing, in general, and falling back in love with the connection with fans. That connection is real, and that's what I tried to soak up."
COVID-19, of course, has ended their live performances for the time being, but Marlow and Dye aren't dwelling on the downside of their predicament. Both are newlyweds — Marlow married high school sweetheart Jonah Font in November and Dye married songwriter Josh Kerr in February — and they're now enjoying all this unexpected quality time with their husbands.
"I haven't had this much time with my husband since we were in high school dating," Marlow says of Font, who is finishing up his degree in nutrition at Middle Tennessee State. "So we've had the best time, and he's my favorite person to hang out with." (And, she's quick to add, "Tae is a close second.")
Dye declares married life "awesome," and she says she's thankful her wedding occurred right before the pandemic lockdown. "We got to go on our honeymoon [to the Caribbean island of Grenada], and now we're kind of still on our honeymoon," she says. "We haven't left the house in five months. It's been nice."
The two Nashville-area couples are in one another's quarantine bubble, and they still have get-togethers. "Our husbands get along really well," Marlow reports, "so it's just really fun. It's very kumbaya. That's our new favorite word."
Dye and Marlow say they are never out of touch, whether it's texting, sending memes on Instagram or regular songwriting sessions on Zoom. The time off has also given them back an important part of their 10-year friendship.
"When we were like 15 and 16, we'd go out to the lake, play games all night, watch movies, and do, like, best friend stuff," says Marlow. "And we didn't have time for that once the career just skyrocketed. And so now we get to go on the lake again. We get to have dinner dates, play games. It's just fun."
Those teenage years seem like the distant past now. So does that first No. 1 with "Girl in a Country Song," their sassy — and bold — response to the bro-country craze that had overtaken radio airwaves at the time. Six years later, both women now fully realize just how young they were when lightning first struck.
"We talk about it all the time," says Dye. "Like, can you believe we were two 18-year-old girls who just caused a ruckus right out of the gate? I love it, though, because it's just so 'us.' It's something we would do. But yeah, we look back at it and think, what the heck?"
When the song took off, Marlow says, "we were so green. We were still learning the music industry. We just knew we loved country music. And now we have the wisdom of being in the music industry for six years and knowing what things mean, how things work, how we want to be perceived and the art we want to make."
All of which makes this second No. 1 that much sweeter. It's not lost on the two women that their song's exquisite expression of heartbreak — actually inspired by a long-ago breakup Dye experienced — is now filling their own hearts with a sense of fulfillment.
"We're so confident about what we have to offer," says Marlow. "And that's what this song just represents to us — truth, honesty, vulnerability, everything we've ever wanted to exude."
Soon, Marlow vows, she's heading off to get her first tattoo to commemorate the song's success. (The partnership goes only so far: Dye says she'll join her in spirit.)
Marlow plans for the design to be a small heart, on her ankle, with half filled with color and the other half empty. "So it represents, like, the yin and the yang, the positive and negative, the good and the bad — all of that," she says, "and how you have to have it all."
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