From the beginning, Miranda Lambert—who leads the 2020 CMA Awards field with seven nominations—has been powerfully telling her story in song.
Yes, yes, country songs, love life, long and winding road full of heartbreak and sorrow on the way to lasting happiness.
That may be a familiar tune, but we can't help that it's true when it comes to Miranda Lambert.
The 37-year-old singer-songwriter, leading the 2020 CMA Awards field with seven nominations, has been telling her story in her music throughout her career—and her story has included a whole lotta love and heartbreak, along with the ferocity, resilience and empowerment that Lambert's fans have come to expect from her ballads and more plucky offerings (generally served with a healthy side of cheek) alike.
"Love is a hard road sometimes and it's been a roller-coaster ride for me, but I'm definitely thankful for all the ups and downs because I've had some really good songs come out of it," Lambert, who had resettled in Nashville at the time, told the Tennessean in August 2018. "You've got to take the bad parts and put them on paper and then move on to the happy parts."
She's certainly got the hardware to show for it, including 29 Academy of Country Music Awards (she was named Female Vocalist of the Year for nine straight years), 13 Country Music Association Awards and two Grammys, including a win for Best Country Album in 2015 with Platinum.
And fate also recently penned a happy update to Lambert's story: On Jan. 26, 2019, she married New York police officer Brendan McLoughlin in a small ceremony, but waited until Valentine's Day to share the good news on social media.
"I met the love of my life. And we got hitched!" she wrote. "My heart is full. Thank you Brendan McLoughlin for loving me for…. me. ❤️ #theone."
While basking in the glow of holy matrimony makes it a little tougher to dip into the recesses of one's soul to mine for past sadness, Lambert's latest love story is ongoing and ripe for the sharing, which she already started doing on last year's Wildcard, her seventh studio album.
But if you prefer the emotional roller coaster, Lambert's discography will still get you there.
"I make it my mission every single time I step on the stage that no matter what, no matter where I am, I want to make you feel everything you could possibly feel," Lambert told an audience in Knoxville, Tenn., in March 2018. "I want you to feel sad, mad, happy and nostalgic and really pissed sometimes. That's my favorite."
She continued, "And part of feelings is also heartbreak unfortunately, but fortunately for me, I can use it for my art or whatever. I like to write sad songs. I like to listen to sad songs, so I want to sing y'all one."
With that, she launched into "Tin Man," knowing that a whole bunch of people in that crowd were benefiting from the solidarity and catharsis of swaying in the night to a song about how hard losing love can be on anyone—or anyone with a heart, at least.
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That one's pretty self-explanatory, but a tour of Lambert's lyrics turns up all kinds of messages about what she was experiencing at any given time.
So in honor of her record-setting CMA Awards haul (her 55 nominations through the years makes her the most-ever nominated female artist), her 37th birthday (she's celebrating Nov. 10) and the happiness she's found in "Settling Down" with McLoughlin, here's a guide to the secrets she's been sharing with us in song:
"Lately, I see leavin in your eyes / So nothing you say, will come as a surprise / You don't even have to try to be sincere / Just go on, and leave me lyin' here / And I'll tell my heart / You didn't cause it to break / And I'll tell my mind / That I'm the one that made the mistake / And I'll tell my eyes / They don't even have to cry one tear / Just go on and leave me lyin' here"
Ouch! But Lambert isn't quite sure what she was thinking about—other than sensing the end of a relationship before it comes—when she penned the song that was on her 2001 self-titled independent debut before she even appeared on Nashville Star. But it turned out to be prescient!
"A lot of my songs have come back to me," she told the U.K.'s Songwriting magazine this summer. "One of them was 'Leave Me Lyin' Here.' It was one of the very first songs I ever wrote, on my independent little CD I made. Now, thinking back, I don't know how I wrote that or where I was coming from. Obviously, I was taking from people around me because I hadn't lived enough life for it to have come from my own perspective. Then, as time went on, I couldn't believe that it came out of me then because it struck a chord so much now."
"Sweet like a kiss, sharp like a razor blade / I find you when I'm close to the bottom / You can't appreciate the time it takes / To kick a love I always knew was kinda wrong"
She gives a hint in this track off of her star-making 2005 album Kerosene that she has a little trouble staying away from the guys who may not be so good for her. It's not the first time such a vice would come up.
Meanwhile, the full album came out that March, and she would meet Blake Shelton a few months later.
"I feel like the flowers in this vase / He just brought 'em home one day, 'Ain't they beautiful?' he said / They been here in the kitchen and the waters turnin' gray / They're sittin' in the vase but now they're dead, dead flowers"
The metaphor for a relationship that's lost its bloom is thick in this 2009 song, the lead single off of her fourth studio album, Revolution. At the time she was happily ensconced with future husband Shelton, still just her boyfriend of several years at that point, but Lambert said it was inspired by actual dead Valentine's Day flowers from her past.
"I wrote it from a love gone bad point of view," Lambert wrote on her website, "but a girl told my mom that the lyrics were exactly how she felt when her dad left her. That really meant a lot to me and was such a different take on the song."
"I carried him around with me, I don't mind having scars / Happiness ain't prison but there's freedom in a broken heart"
The opening track off of 2016's The Weight of These Wings lays out Lambert's lingering heartbreak following her split from Shelton the previous year for all to see.
Because as the band Nazareth said, "Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and marks."
"I can't throw a line but I can reel it in / I can't throw a dart but I can make it stick / The thought of loving you just makes me sick / I don't have the nerve to use my heart"
Lambert has talked candidly about 2016's double album The Weight of These Wings being her post-divorce confessional. But since she had met musician Anderson East by the end of 2015, the concern about getting her heart broken all over again couldn't have been too far from her mind.
"And I don't try to justify the reason I'm not living right / I wear my sadness like a souvenir / I drink too much to fall apart, that's how I fight this broken heart / So what, if I feel comfortable in here"
This was ripped from experience, too, as Lambert acknowledged in 2017 to a small audience at Joe's Bar in Chicago. "I got divorced so I started drinking a little extra," she explained. "Anyways, I found myself in Midtown in Nashville three nights in a row at last call and with the lights coming on, and I'm still sitting there. So I wrote a song about it."
"So I keep the engine running / She'll be my gasoline / She treats my heart like a stolen car / All the while she had the keys / Standing in the line of fire I'll be standing right beside her / I'm her getaway driver"
East co-wrote this one off of The Weight of These Wings with Lambert and veteran country song scribe Natalie Hemby, so trade that stolen car in for a white horse and we know how Lambert escaped her downward spiral.
"Me, I don't ever wanna get too close / Or be held responsible for the pain that you can't see / Somebody once broke me"
East was up to the challenge, though, at least for the duration of what would be a two-year-plus relationship.
"Well I've got me an ex that I adored / But he got along good with a couple road whores / Got my name changed back / I got my name changed back / I don't wanna be a Missus on paper no more / I got my name changed back"
"It's a way of reclaiming your humor after you've been so sad," Lambert explained this 2018 Pistol Annies song in a behind-the-scenes video. "To me, it's celebrating reclaiming part of yourself."
She also jokingly told the Tennessean that year that being part of a trio sometimes was helpful because they could share more dirty details and then point the "that's not my story!" finger at each other.
"I'm a wild child and a homing pigeon / Caravan and an empty kitchen / Bare feet on the tile with my head up in the clouds / I'm one heart goin' both directions / One love and a couple of questions / Am I settlin' up or settlin' down?"
Nothing cryptic about the inspiration for this tune off of 2019's Wildcard that was released as a single just this past September, especially when husband Brendan McLoughlin became Lambert's first-ever co-star in real life to make it into one of her videos. ("I needed a video babe and he was there, so it just worked out," she quipped to ET Canada last month.)
But at the same time, "Settling Down" is an honest discussion with herself about whether taking another shot at committing to forever is the right choice for her. The seed for the song was planted during a conversation she had with her tour bus driver. "We had both been going through a lot in our personal lives," she told Billboard in October. Lambert and the driver concluded that "settling down doesn't have to necessarily mean no more fun or freedom. Maybe it sets you more free and allows for more fun and someone to share it with."
"The needle in the ink, don't need to overthink, it's there for good / Leave me, you'd never, this is forever, knock on wood / Tender in my chest, to hell with the rest, we're right as rain / Rough around the edges, walkin' off the ledges, goin' insane"
Something to get the heart thumping, but in a good way, as she was again inspired by the newfound love in her life.
"In general, on this record and where I am in my life, I drew from a different place," Lambert acknowledged to Songwriting magazine this summer. "By getting a little happier and coming out of a bad time in my life I think it allowed me to show up to writing sessions in a different headspace than I was in before."
Lambert took a break from writing after Wildcard was finished, and then the coronavirus forced a break from touring, so the desire to make music again this summer was real.
"I'm still very much in it," she assured Songwriting magazine in August. "I'm obsessed with it, I love it, I miss it, I start to crave it. I haven't written a song since Wildcard was finished and I'm getting the itch. It's something that I can't not do, I have to do it. I can't explain why that happens; you start to crave it because there's a release in it."
Lasting love is indeed the name of the game these days, and she's perfectly happy to share that with the world, along with whatever other emotions she happens to be experiencing at any given time.
"My job is to be honest," she explained. "I started my career songwriting from exactly my point of view and from my heart, so I feel like from my perspective I give everything in those songs. It's whenever people ask me personal questions and I'm like, 'You know what, all the answers you want to know are right there on the record.'"
She added, "You just have to listen for it. I use it as therapy, that's what we get to do as songwriters. It's an awesome blessing, getting to use our words to heal ourselves and hopefully in the process we'll heal other people, because we're not the only ones going through hard things."
The 2020 CMA Awards airs Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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