“Julianna Calm Down”
Written by Jack Antonoff, Natalie Maines, and Julia Michaels
“Julianna Calm Down” is a stunning record that features a Natalie Maines vocal performance for the ages.
The titular Julianna is one of Emily Strayer’s daughters, and all of the other young women that the song speaks to are significant in the lives of the Dixie Chicks. It’s a letter of encouragement to all young women, written with the knowledge of the toxicity that they will need to navigate in a world designed around their husbands, brothers, and sons.
It begins quietly, with Natalie’s voice barely accompanied by instrumentation. It’s as intimate as a mother-daughter conversation gets, and the repeated reminders to breathe suggest talking someone down from the heights of an anxiety attack.
One of the reasons the record is so effective is because the young women are being delivered two reminders at once: that their feelings are valid and worthy of respect, and also that those who would disregard those feelings are watching, looking for confirmation that their efforts to break their spirits have been successful. So breathe, it’ll be okay, but also “put on your best shoes and strut the fuck around like you’ve got nothing to lose…show off your best moves, and do it with a smile so he doesn’t know it’s put on.”
The message is that you’re entitled to broken, but the one who broke you isn’t entitled to the satisfaction of knowing that it’s happened. The record parallels the construction of that facade, as more instruments join in and the tempo picks up, until the joyful moment when it’s all three Chicks singing joyously together to their younger counterparts that they love so much.
I can’t say enough about how masterful Maines is here. Her voice chokes with sympathy at all the right moments, as she’s speaking with calm wisdom and giving nurturing but insistent nudges at other moments. She isn’t just acknowledging the pain. She’s helping to carry it, and is doggedly insistent that her girls will not be crippled by it.
A generation of girls who grew up with the Dixie Chicks as their true north of female empowerment are certain to embrace this message, and share it with their own girls who don’t have nearly enough artists like the Chicks out there today to deliver such a message to them.
Thank God the Dixie Chicks are back. We need them now more than ever.