“Road Less Traveled”
Written by Lauren Alaina, Jesse Frasure, and Meghan Trainor
The great irony of Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled” is that the song’s lyrics rely entirely on clichéd images and turns-of-phrase while attempting to empower individuality and personal expression. From threadbare lines about dress sizes and kicking up gravel to well-trod territory about marching to different drums and trusting one’s “rebel heart,” there isn’t a single novel idea in the song. That Alaina attempts a call-and-response of, “Put your hands up / Show me that you’re one of a kind,” in the bridge only draws attention to the fact that her would-be anthem boasts all the individuality and depth of a motivational cat poster.
That lack of originality extends to the song’s overall structure, as well. The melody of the chorus is nearly identical to that of Berlin’s #1 pop hit, “Take My Breath Away,” just sped up by several beats-per-minute in the hope that no one would notice. The song itself consists of two paper-thin verses– one with the line about dress sizes, the other with the stultifying non-question, “Why do we analyze… the crazy ones?”– alternated with two pre-choruses and four-and-a-half repetitions of the proper chorus. Stucturally, it’s supposed to give the song the feel of an anthem of empowerment, but the overall effect, instead, only highlights how little the song actually attempts to say.
What nearly salvages the single, then, is Alaina’s committed performance. She’s been candid about many of her personal struggles– including a battle with an eating disorder that’s reflected, however briefly, in the lines about perceptions of beauty– and she belts the song with a sense of authority and conviction. Since her days on American Idol, it’s been clear that Alaina has the technical chops to develop into a terrific vocalist– there’s a slight rasp to her vocal tone that gives her singing a distinctive quality. She still struggles with breath control in ways that disrupt her phrasing– the way she leaves the final word hanging when she sings, “the road less traveled on,” in the last line of each chorus, for instance– but there’s even noticeable improvement in that regard here as compared to her previous singles.
Still, when so many other acts on country radio should never set foot behind a microphone at all, Alaina’s areas for improvement are relatively minor. Moreover, it’s the sincerity– her genuine likability– that she brings to “Road Less Traveled” that makes the single work at all. She still needs a truly great song– which, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, “Road Less Traveled” is not– to prove her mettle as an artist and to break even further through country radio’s gender imbalance, but Lauren Alaina remains an act with considerable untapped potential.