Single Review: Jennifer Nettles, “Sugar”

Jennifer Nettles
Written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Jennifer Nettles

A remarkable performance elevates an unremarkable song.

If “Sugar” given a perfunctory performance by a lesser vocalist, I might not enjoy it at all. It’s a bit fluffy, especially for a Brandy Clark co-write. The chorus is a tad repetitive, and I’m tempted to poke a stick at its use of the “sugar and spice and everything nice” cliché.

What makes it work is the conviction with which Nettles delivers it. She sounds like she’s genuinely having fun with the song, such that you can almost hear the grin that was probably on her face when she was recording it. And since the arrangement is not overly cluttered, with a dobro hook injecting a nice swampy groove, Nettles’ infectious performance has plenty of room to shine through.

While I would certainly hope that Nettles’ second post-Sugarland solo project offers a nice balance between sugar and substance,” this “Sugar” should be just sweet enough to tide me over while I wait for it.

Grade: B+


  1. Always glad to see a new review from Ben!

    My initial reaction to this single was pretty much the exact same as yours. After a few more listens, though, it seems to me like there’s more meat to the lyrics than first appears.

    Nettles and Clark have both been vocal on social media about their disgust over #SaladGate and of how the blame for the state of contemporary radio has been directed toward women based upon some specious data analysis. And there’s quite a bit here that looks to challenge that view: Nettles sings that it’s the boys who demand “sugar” and “something sweet,” while she counters that she prefers a little “sting” over things that are saccharine and will create buzz with her voice, which is as formidable here as ever.

    As commentary, it’s not on par with something like The Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone,” but I think this plays as much as a pointed dig at the current radio climate– and as a reaction to the tepid reception the singles from her solo debut received in comparison to, say, that of slight confections from RaeLynn and Kelsea Ballerini– as it does a purely escapist earworm. It tastes like candy– and I do love being able to hear a dobro on a country single these days– but it has some bite to it. I dig it.

  2. I find the song more than a little off putting and cant believe the audacity of the title. Wont support an artist who puts ego ahead of their fans. Get back together with Sugarland and maybe I will reconsider. Until then forget it. This is a song written and produced for a 18 year old to sing not a 40 something mom. The cherry pie cliche would piss me off if it wasnt so icky. Dont be in such a hurry to support women voices in country radio that you blind yourself to crap like this.

  3. It’s a nice catchy song, and I agree there’s more going on here than meets the eye (ear?) at first from a lyrical standpoint. As a breezy first single, it reminds me of “All I Wanna Do” (which ended up being backed up by a very strong, substantial album) and “Stuck Like Glue” (which was…not). We’ll see how it goes.

  4. LOVE this. Nettles has always been a favorite of mine. Definitely agree with Jonathan’s analysis, there is quite a bit of meat to these lyrics.

  5. Leeann your response disappoints me. I have always been a fan of your writing and never commented before because I always agreed. If this song was sung by a man like Jake Owen I believe this website would have been extremely critical but just because it is sung by a woman with a iconic voice it gets a pass. That is not going to solve the problem in country music.

  6. Calvin,
    I’m sorry that my response disappoints you, but I’m surprised if you’re surprised by it. Your comment seemed rather angry that Nettles would dare to step away from Sugarland as if you’re entitled to dictate what she does with her career. For whatever reason, she’s decided to try a solo career, which is her right. It’s not her duty to “get back with Sugarland”, as you stated, which is why I said she wrote this song for people who think as you do.

    Ultimately, it wouldn’t make sense for a man to sing this song, especially with its meaning, since they’re not asked to make the same concessions that women are, so it’d just be weird. So, I’m confused by your point there.

  7. Leeann it is more about the pop style of the song. If you go back to the review of Jake Owen Real Life the complaint there was that the writer liked the song but because it was pop it gets a D. Well isnt that the same here? As to the get back with Sugarland complaint. I loved and respected That Girl because Mrs Nettles was carving out her own identity. This song and its title feels like an attempt to capture the fame and success of Sugarland for her own. That is what makes me angry as a Sugarland fan. First she kicked Kristin Hall to the curb and then Kristian Bush. And now she is even claiming the name of the band. No class.

  8. Calvin,
    I don’t think we’re showing a double standard by being okay with this song and criticizing the Jake Owen song. This song is pop, but it’s definitely still rooted in country. I think most of the writers here enjoy a good piece of pop country ear candy, which is what this song is as far as it’s sound goes. The Owen song has no elements of country in it at all.

    As far as the politics of Sugarland and its past, I can’t really speak to that, because it’s not something that I care about enough to feel passionate about. But saying that Nettles kicked Kristian Bush out of Sugarland is odd, since they’re a duo, so she couldn’t actually kick him out of a duo. They’ve parted ways for awhile, whether it was more her decision or his is unknown, but it is not the same as kicking somebody out of a band, as you seem to be characterizing it.

    Also, I don’t see how she’s claiming the name of the band. She’s more deriding it if anything, saying that people are demanding that she give them sugar, but that’s not all that she has in her.

  9. The baffling part to me is that The Incredible Machine was such a disappointment when Jennifer and Kristian are both putting out quality material as solo artists. It seems their label probably pushed the duo into taking that album in the direction it went since neither seems to be inclined to do that sort of thing when given the control they have individually.

  10. Great insights, Jonathan! Really makes me appreciate the song on a new level.

    Thanks for your feedback. While I freely acknowledge that my personal tastes tend to favor female artists, I do endeavor to hold them to the same standards as the men. As for the song being pop, I think there’s good pop country and there’s bad pop country, and which group this song belongs to is largely a matter of personal taste.

    Also, please bear in mind that we have seven different writers here at Country Universe, each with his or her own unique tastes and insights. So a difference in perspective is to be expected when different songs are reviewed by different writers, as was the case with this song and “Real Life”.

  11. I like this a lot, and agree with the feminist underpinnings being crucial to appreciating the song.

    I would like it more with a lighter production, or at least just a more organic one. It’s already one of those tracks that’s better live:

  12. Wow, rousing some debate, this one.

    I think ultimately the problem is the song is rubbish. It’s repetitive and fluffy to the point that any intended message in the lyric is just diluted to the point where no one cares anymore.

    I have not liked any of Nettles’ post-Sugarland output. Distinctive and rich as her voice is, the acoustic ramblings of “That Girl” just bored me. For what it’s worth I thought Kristian Bush’s solo outing was better, if nothing special either. Just my 2 cents.

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