Though she first appeared on the public’s radar as the Season 4 winner of American Idol in 2005, Carrie Underwood quickly eclipsed her reality show roots to become a bonafide superstar in her own right, enjoying a stratospheric rise that has included selling 64 million records, winning seven Grammy Awards, notching 26 No. 1 singles, and creating a catalog of beloved songs that have been streamed more than 2.6 billion times worldwide. Known for her powerhouse voice and small-town-girl-next-door charm, the Checotah, Oklahoma, native, who began singing in church at age three, has co-written many of her songs, including 13 of her No. 1’s hits. But Underwood has admitted that she’s mainly been good at writing stories about other people, “and not great writing about myself.”
That all changed during the 18 months that preceded the September 2018 release of Underwood’s sixth studio album, Cry Pretty. Over the course of writing new songs for the album, the intensely private star experienced a series of personal challenges and didn’t see how she could not write about herself this time around. The result is the gutsy, bold Cry Pretty — Underwood’s most intimate collection of songs to date. “These songs are about what was on my mind and heart,” she says. “I feel like between my last album, Storyteller, and Cry Pretty, there has been a lot of emotional and spiritual growth for me as a person. I have taken more ownership of my thoughts, feelings, wants, and creative abilities, and I wanted that to be reflected on this album.”
Cry Pretty opens with its title track, in which Underwood confesses that she’s “not usually the kind to show my heart to the world” — and then proceeds to do just that over the course of its 13 songs. “So I apologize if you don’t like what you see,” she sings, “but sometimes my emotions get the best of me, and falling apart is as human as it gets…”. Co-written with Nashville heavy-hitters Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose, and Lori McKenna, known as the Love Junkies, “Cry Pretty” is the album’s rallying cry, setting the tone for its candor and authenticity. The song is partly a comment on the expectations society places on women. “In country music, we’re expected to be perfect all the time, look a certain way, act a certain way, and sing a certain kind of song,” Underwood says, “and it’s saying ‘I’m done with other people’s expectations of me. I’m here to fulfill my own expectations for myself.’” “Cry Pretty” is also about Underwood’s experience trying to keep it together while juggling being a mom, wife, and artist and enduring some very dark days.
“I could be having the worst day of my life, but if I have to do interviews, I’ve got to put my smile on and shut that part out and go do my job,” she says. “Being trained that way, it was refreshing to explore the fact that sometimes you just can’t. And instead of being embarrassed or worrying about what people will think, it’s okay if sometimes you can’t keep it together. It’s a song sung by a woman, written by women, about emotions. There’s something so strong and powerful about owning your emotions.”
The remainder of Cry Pretty takes listeners on a journey by covering everything from the enduring effects of tragedies including gun violence (“The Bullet”), to falling into the arms of former lovers (“Backsliding”), to having a breakdown after a break-up (“Ghosts on the Stereo”), to the effects of alcohol abuse on loved ones (“Spinning Bottles”). But the album isn’t all about loss. There are also playful, upbeat songs (“Southbound”) and hopeful songs about loving one another despite our differences (“Love Wins”) and the intimate bliss of a happy home life (“Kingdom”). Even the songs about lost love, like “That Song That We Used to Make Love To” and “Drinking Alone,” are given a unique spin with soulful, R&B overtones.
The album’s fearless variety has earned Underwood rave reviews: Rolling Stone said that Cry Pretty shows “the kind of character more mega-stars should aspire to.” Vulture said that “Underwood offers note-perfect vocal performances and intimate glimpses into the struggles of complicated American women.” And Entertainment Weekly noted that “she’s never sounded more vulnerable” adding that “it feels like Underwood is embracing herself in a new way.”
In addition to revealing more of herself, Underwood took another risk on Cry Pretty. Not only did she co-write nine of its songs, she also co-produced the album with Grammy-winning writer/producer David Garcia (Bebe Rexha, Kip Moore, NF). “It felt like the next step to take even more ownership over my art and be a producer for the first time,” Underwood says. “Working with David, I learned so much, not only about making music, but also about myself as an artist, writer, and vocalist.” Garcia prodded her to focus more on nailing the emotional notes in the song, rather than obsessing about the vocals being technically perfect. “He made me think less and feel more, which was something I’d never done,” she says.
Underwood’s risk-taking has paid off: Cry Pretty is her fourth album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart — making her the first woman to top the all-genre chart with four country albums (Cry Pretty, 2012’s Blown Away, 2009’s Play On, and 2007’s Carnival Ride). It is also her seventh consecutive No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart.
In the midst of all the activity surrounding Cry Pretty — Underwood recently received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, returned for her sixth season as the voice of primetime television’s #1 program, Sunday Night Football, and will co-host the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley for the 11th consecutive year — the singer is gearing up to give birth to her second child and head out on the road for her Cry Pretty Tour 360, which will kick off in May 2019 and visit 55 arenas across North America. She is excited to perform her new songs for fans. “I hope people listen to this album and get a bigger glimpse of who I am because I definitely feel like this project has been a bigger representation of me as a person, an artist, and a creative being.”
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