"I don’t know that I can just waltz out the gate and be like, 'This is a pop record,'" Maren Morris says of her latest album
After a successful foray into the Top 40 last year, Maren Morris left fans wondering if her next album will be country or pop — but like the tunes that shot her to fame, it’s somewhere in the middle.
The Arlington, Texas, native dropped her new single "GIRL," the first track off her second major-label LP, out March 8. The empowerment anthem blends the storytelling of traditional country music with arena-ready guitar chords and Morris’s trademark soulful vocals.
“I was having an issue a friend of mine. We get off the same page sometimes, and I was trying to figure out why are we competing against each other, why are we listening to other people when we should just be going directly to each other — you know, inner friendship drama,” Morris, 28, says of the single.
“I wanted to write the song as a letter to her, almost like a tough love song, from that perspective,” she adds. “Then after an hour of starting to write, I realized, ‘I think I’m writing this to myself.’ Like, I’m the one who needs to get it together and stop being so critical and competitive for no reason.”
And so “GIRL” became a pep talk to herself.
“It’s really for every single person alive that is dealing with that inner critic that tells us that we’re not good enough — and silencing that inner critic,” adds Morris, who will launch her Girl: The World Tour on March 9 in Chicago. “It’s telling everyone to just breathe and reboot and tomorrow is another day, and it’s going to be okay.”
“GIRL” is also the first taste of her next album, her first since she hit the Billboard Hot 100 jackpot with "The Middle," the dance hit she recorded with DJ Zedd and producer duo Grey.
Since the pop smash peaked at No. 5 — and spent a record 33 weeks atop the hot dance/electronic songs chart — “I’ve had a lot of questions from fans: Am I going pop now? But I’m a guest in that world.”
Indeed, Morris’s new record is as sonically diverse as her 2016 breakout Hero, which included the genre-defying country hits “My Church,” “80s Mercedes,” “I Could Use a Love Song” and “Rich.”
“There are songs on this album that are pop-leaning or even kind of ’90s R&B, then there are moments that are very Carole King,” Morris says of her next set. “I’m still very connected to my original roots, which are in my version of country music. I have to do me.”
Adds Morris: “I can’t really try to sound like anyone else or be this pop star — I’m myself. I definitely love pop music, and I’m constantly inspired by it as a songwriter, and I loved being a part of this cataclysm that was ‘The Middle’ for this past year. But I don’t know that I can just waltz out the gate and be like, ‘This is a pop record.'”
That’s not to say “The Middle” didn’t have a tremendous impact on Morris’s career. This year, she was nominated for five Grammy Awards, two of which — record of the year and pop duo/group performance of the year — are for the track. (Songwriters of “The Middle” are also nominated in the song of the year category.)
But Morris says the track didn’t really influence the recording process of her next project.
“The majority of the album was already written before I signed on to do ‘The Middle,'” Morris says.
The singer admits the writing process was difficult this time around, though.
“I had major writers’ block when I was trying to write the first songs of this new phase of mine. That happens when you take time off though. You have to work that muscle out again,” she says.
Initially, the success of the Gold-certified Hero — and its Grammy winner “My Church” — weighed on Morris.
“Attempting to write ‘My Church’ the sequel is just not realistic or productive, so I’m in such a different headspace. I wrote ‘My Church’ four years ago, and so much has happened since then,” she says.
Indeed, Morris wed fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd last March. She toured the world with One Direction alum Niall Horan. She even joined Taylor Swift onstage during the explosive Reputation Stadium Tour.
Those adventures and more experiences in the industry inform the narrative of her next album.
“It’s a yearbook; it’s a time stamp of the last few years of my insanely chaotic existence and love life,” she says. “I’m super proud of it. I’ve listened to it so many times. My husband has listened to it so many times. It’s ready for everyone else to hear it and hopefully connect to these songs. I think they will.”