Sunday Open Thread: Not Just a First for Miranda Lambert

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July 19, 2008

The media is picking up on Miranda Lambert scoring her first top ten single. In this Reuters article, Lambert herself is quoted as being shocked that a song this dark broke through:

The lyrics would make rapper Lil Kim proud — “Slapped my face and he shook me like a rag doll, don’t that sound like a real man/I’m going to show him what a little girl’s made of, gunpowder and lead.”

“It was very shocking to me,” says Lambert, who wrote the song with Heather Little. “It’s the most controversial song I’ve put out so far and it gets to the top 10. I thought it would be (last single) ‘Famous in a Small Town’ or something not so threatening.” (“Famous” reached No. 14 in November, topping previous best “Kerosene,” the title track from her 2005 debut album, which peaked at No. 15 in March 2006.)

The song’s subject matter is “a bit rough,” says Bruce Logan, program director for country station WKKT in Charlotte, N.C., but he adds “the audience is smarter than we give them credit for. All the people who love the song aren’t gun-toting crazies about to off a loved one. They enjoy the song for the attitude, performance, and it’s fun.”

I wouldn’t describe it as “fun”, nor the woman in the song as a “crazy” about to off a loved one, but maybe other radio programmers have also been misreading the message, allowing the song to sneak into the top ten, certainly aided by Lambert’s surprise (and deserved) Album of the Year victory at May’s ACM Awards.

But as cool as it is that the strongest new female artist out there is finally getting serious airplay, this isn’t just a first for Miranda Lambert. “Gunpowder & Lead” is also the first domestic abuse song to crack the top ten. That may be surprising to many, since Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” are both signature hits that sold a ton of records, but they peaked at #12 and #13, respectively. Even Rachel Proctor’s “Me and Emily”, which just had the abused wife leaving with her child in tow, stopped outside the top ten. Other major female stars tackled the issue on their albums, including Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Rosanne Cash and Faith Hill, but the songs were never sent to radio.

This seems like a big step in the right direction, and it’s good to see Lambert join the very small ranks of female artists who have top ten hits at country radio these days.

What other songs with controversial topics should have been hits, or deserve a shot today?

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  1. Dan M.No Gravatar says:

    I do think there is a spirit of unconventional fun to “Gunpowder & Lead” in that it tackles a very serious issue by way of pure adrenaline. The track flat-out rocks (you’ve said yourself that it’s a primo head-banger in the shower), and I don’t think Lambert would have written it that way if she wanted it to be a totally solemn take on the topic. That’s not to say that the scenario depicted in the track doesn’t come across as serious or genuinely frightening – it does, and rightly so – but for the listener, it’s also quite exciting to identify with the wronged woman who’s been backed into the corner and is finally taking control of things in this extreme way. It’s fun in the same way it’s fun to see the superhero fall but then rise again to exact justice on his/her supervillain in a good comic-book movie; the stakes are high, the action is intense, and you spend more of your time anxiously wondering what will happen next than you do in the state of euphoria that we usually associate with fun. But once it’s over, the pure rush leaves a pleasant aftertaste of the experience. That’s the kind of “fun” that I think this record embodies and what has allowed it to connect with listeners, and so much the better that it happens to accomplish that while still being an incisive take on an important subject.

    As to whether the character is “a crazy,” it’s clear that she’s at least very, very desperate, and I think you could easily make the case that she’s been driven to a state of insanity (perhaps temporary, perhaps not) by the anxiety of being forced to confront a man who she knows is dangerous and has no business being near her. We should keep in mind that it’s not easy for a completely sane person to deliberately kill another human being, even in self-defense. That the chorus has Lambert’s character declaring boldly that “he ain’t seen me crazy yet” and almost taunting her tormentor with vengeful lines like “I’m going to show him what a little girl’s made of” only seems to cement the theory that she has somewhat “left the building” – whether just in the urgent panic of the moment or somewhere earlier on in life is up for debate. As long as that unmistakable tone of aggressiveness is in the song I think it’s hard to make the case that Lambert’s character’s actions here are 100% defensive.

    That was long, sorry.

    As to the open thread, I really want Little Big Town to release “Evangeline” at some point in the promotion of A Place to Land. It’s another Fleetwood Mac knock-off, yeah, but I think it’s one of the better songs about emotional abuse that I’ve heard recently, and I think a lot of people will benefit from hearing it. “It ain’t love if it’s mean” – that’s killer.

  2. gabyNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Dan, “Gun Powder and Lead”, no matter the subject matter is a FUN song listen to. The main character is very sympathetic, and lends itself to the listener headbanging along in total agreement. You don’t just kinda like this song, you totally get into it (much like a “before he cheats” sing along). It seems to me, thats why this song has reached the top 10 while “Famous in a Small Town” and earlier singles did not.

  3. gabyNo Gravatar says:

    I may be mistaking but didn’t Martina’s “Concrete Angels” (a child abuse song) hit the top 10?

  4. ScottNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, Gaby “Concrete Angel” got to #5.

  5. B. JonathanNo Gravatar says:

    I was about to write my take on the subject, but Dan M. echoed my sentiments down to the letter. And rather eloquently, too!

    Color me surprised that this record made the Top 10, but I think it’s a fantastic song. Think the CMAs will bite in a few weeks? Compelling vocal, check. Killer guitar, yes, sir. Creative lyrical imagery, absolutely. It’s easily one of the top five singles of the year.

    Another kudos to “Evangeline”. Just one more example of how LBT deserves a little more mainstream success.

  6. DarbyNo Gravatar says:

    There’s actual a difference between domestic abuse and child abuse (which I didn’t know until I googled it). Making this the first domestic abuse song to become a top ten hit.

    I am a huge “Ran Fan” and I love this song. But even as a fan I had my worries about this song because they only sort of took to Kerosene (which is different, but a little lighter of a song than Gunpowder and Lead) and to see it be the 1st domestic abuse song to hit the top ten is absoulutely amazing to me.

    I really hope the CMA’s nominate this song and her album again. If the ACM’s can nominate “Famous”(which I liked, but not as much as Gunpowder and Lead), then the CMA’s should definately nominate Gunpowder and Lead. CONGRATULATIONS to Miranda again, and hopefully her top ten hits will come more easily now!

  7. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Interestingly enough, they’re sending “More Like Her” to radio next. I would’ve gone with “Love Letters” if it was going to be a ballad.

    I think she’s got a serious shot at Female Vocalist this fall, especially if Carrie breaks through to the Entertainer category.

  8. Dan M.No Gravatar says:

    I would’ve thought they’d have gone with “Desperation” among the ballads, although “More Like Her” is my favorite of them. But this is the first album in a long time where I would’ve been excited about almost any choice of single.

  9. LJNo Gravatar says:

    I have to admit that while I’ve never been much of a Miranda listener, I am impressed with this song. I have counseled domestic violence survivors and her delivery and emotion in this song is so right on.
    With that, I’m kinda surprised that radio took to it… albeit hesitantly apparently.
    Miranda has taken that next step and says things outloud whereas Martina’s “Broken Wing” and “Independence Day” came close. All great songs tho.

  10. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    It’s a fun song, but my favorite Miranda song is still “New Strings”. Kerosene was also better. Congrats to her.. finally some reasonable success on the “charts”

  11. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    It’s extremely rare that you have this sort of thing happening in country music today, and I think the reason is that the powers-that-be are still squeamish about female artists asserting themselves in any way on controversial issues in song. They have no problem with the guys doing it; but with the women, that’s a different story.

    I recall that a lot of country music bigwigs were uncomfortable with Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” and Dolly Parton’s “The Bargain Store” back in the 1970s, since Loretta’s dealt with birth control, and Dolly’s with sex and even, in the minds of some, prostitution. Those were things that were taboo in country music back then, and maybe still are. But country music fans, I think (and hope), are a lot braver and smarter than the industry gives them credit for. They can handle women taking on difficult and controversial subject matter noeadays

  12. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Luckily, Reba had good success with her version of “Fancy.”

    “More Like Her” is probably one of my favorite ballads off Miranda’s album. I’m excited that she’s releasing it next!

  13. DarbyNo Gravatar says:

    That would be so cool if Miranda won Female Vocalist. Almost as cool as her winning Album of the Year.

    I have to say as far as her new single, I love all the songs on the album but I prefer “Desperation” over “More Like Her” but they are both great songs…Looking far far far far ahead, “Dry Town” would make an awesome single and the coolest video!

  14. Dan M.No Gravatar says:

    I would love to see Miranda win Female Vocalist (it would definitely help make up for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend not even scoring a nomination last year), but I don’t see her toppling Carrie Underwood’s endless string of #1s, even though the last three have all been rather mediocre songs, IMO. I think “Just A Dream” will probably generate a lot of renewed faith in her. On the other hand, if Taylor Swift makes the ballot (which seems basically inevitable at this point), Carrie could end up splitting the “commercial” vote with her, leaving Miranda to snag a slight plurality and take the title. It’s all going to come down to whether voters want to acknowledge sales or (if I may be so crude) balls. But I have no clue how CMA voting politics work, so this is just all speculation on my part.

    Anyone think Sugarland’s got a shot at sneaking into the Entertainer race? I have no idea how they’re doing on the road, but that’s an act that knows how to generate some serious buzz.

  15. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    I’d love to see some real shakeup in the Entertainer category, with Sugarland and Carrie Underwood joining the race. The other three slots could go to Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley, though I’m sure Rascal Flatts will be in there.

    Female Vocalist will be interesting. I’d say that Underwood, Swift and Lambert are locks for nominations. The final two will go to some combination of Krauss, McEntire, Rimes and Yearwood.

  16. LJNo Gravatar says:

    Kevin… from your keyboard to the voters ballots!
    What with CMA season upon us, I’m looking forward to those threads. Personally, I will be interested to see if they acknowledge “Raising Sand” in the slightest. I would kinda think they almost have to after Plant & Krauss won a CMT award…. and they are “fan driven”.

    Sugarland as Entertainer of the Year? Oh yeah!

    Sorry, I’m getting off topic! I couldn’t help myself. :-)

  17. DarbyNo Gravatar says:

    I personally don’t think that Carrie deserves an Entertainer nomination, but that’s just me. Then again, I also don’t think Swift should be nominated as a vocalist, but she will be anyway. I don’t think Entertainer will happen though, because she isn’t selling out those big arena’s like Chesney, Paisley, Flatts, and Urban. There are just too many headlining men that are thought of first.

    I would say Miranda deserves a nomination because her live shows are absoulutely awesome, but being realistic, she is still playing only fairs and is an opening act. I hope that one day, though, Miranda will be nominated.

    And let’s just thank the lord that fan’s aren’t voting for Entertainer this time. I totally agree with Chesney on that one.

    Just a quick question…Can Crazy Ex-Girlfriend be nominated for this year’s CMA’s? I’m not really sure how that works..And as far as not being nominated last year, if the CMA’s are the same as the ACM’s the album has to have sold like 300,000 albums or an average of 20,000 a week, which I don’t think Miranda was doing (unfortunately)

  18. Kent says:

    Gunpowder and Lead is really the only Miranda Lambert song that I actually enjoy. It’s an exciting, energetic song, and I think that’s the reason that it’s doing so well, among other things. I’m very glad that it made it into the top 10.

  19. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    sugarland’s live show is very good… having LBT open didn’t hurt any. My second favorite concert after the Smashing Pumpkins finale :)

  20. ZachNo Gravatar says:

    about the contriversial songs thing…..

    I would have loved to see “She Thinks His Name Was John” be a bigger hit than it was for Reba, and i agree with Leeann when she says that Reba luckliy had success with “Fancy” ^^

  21. RonieNo Gravatar says:

    Personally I think it’s about time the country music suits take Miranda more seriously, she is unquestionably the most talented female in several genres out there today! WAKE UP! The depth of her ability to write hasn’t begun to be tapped. She’s a force to be reckoned with no doubt. Quite frankly I am tired of the pop country crap!

  22. Philly JeffNo Gravatar says:

    A couple of guys had some very big hits with songs about domestic abuse. Garth did very well with “The Thunder Rolls”, which ended with wife killing husband. To be fair, the domestic abuse angle was more obvious with the third verse (or, better still, when sung by Tanya Tucker).

    And John Michael Montgomery had a pretty big song with “The Little Girl” which ended with husband murdering wife and committing suicide.

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