About a year ago, country star Maren Morris found herself in an unfortunately relatable type of friendship: You want to be close, but ultimately, competition turns the relationship toxic.
“I was having some trouble with another woman that I’m friends with, but in the course of our friendship, we’ve never been able to stay on the same page for very long,” Morris said in a phone interview. “We’ll be super competitive with each other, and it just eats me up inside.”
So during a songwriting session in Los Angeles, Morris, 28, was in a “weird mood” thinking about the situation: “I wanted to write this letter to her in the form of this song and to say, ‘We are on two different roads. Why are we like this with each other? Why are we constantly at each other’s throats?’ ”
However, about an hour into writing the song (titled “Girl"), the lyrics turned into what Morris calls an “uplifting, tough-love” anthem for herself: While it’s normal to feel anxious about social pressures (“Drawing your comparisons, trying to find who’s lesser than/I don’t wanna wear your crown, when there’s enough to go around”), you have to try to let those moments pass and know you’re going to be fine.
“It was so cathartic because I got to say things in this song I probably wouldn’t have ever said before,” said Morris, who just announced a new tour that will stop in Washington on May 2. “There’s a line in it, 'I don’t like myself right now.’ It’s a really hard thing to admit. But I knew the second I said it, I was like, ‘Okay, I feel a little bit better just saying that.’ . . . I figured if I’m helped and healed, then other people will be, too.”
“Girl,” co-written with Sarah Aarons (Zedd/Morris/Grey’s “The Middle”) and Greg Kurstin (Adele’s “Hello”) and released Thursday to country radio, is Morris’s first single off her highly anticipated sophomore album; a release date hasn’t been announced. Three years ago, Morris experienced an usually quick breakthrough for a new country singer with her critically acclaimed debut album “Hero,” boosted by the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning single, “My Church.”
The years since have been a whirlwind, particularly 2018, as she achieved crossover star status as the vocalist on “The Middle,” with Zedd and Grey. The inescapable dance/EDM track was No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs of the year and has more than 588 million streams on Spotify. The song landed two 2019 Grammy nominations for record of the year and pop duo/group performance.
Morris is up for three additional Grammys: country song and country duo/group performance for her Vince Gill collaboration; the somber “Dear Hate”; and country solo performance for “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” which she recorded for an Elton John tribute.
“I was floored,” she said of her five nominations. “It was so nice to see that three songs I’m nominated for were all risks that paid off and just outside my comfort zone.”
“Girl,” with a rock edge, is also a bit different sonically than her past tracks. As she awaits country radio’s reception of the single, she’s all too aware of the challenges women face on the airwaves; there are typically only a few female artists on the chart. For Morris, one of the most vocal critics of country radio’s gender imbalance, it’s especially notable that her single is bluntly titled “Girl.”
“I was thinking about it when I was choosing this as the first single. It’s kind of ironically hilarious that you can look at the country chart at any given moment and see there are tons of song titles with the world ‘girl’ in them, and they’re all by men,” Morris said. (As Morris’s single was released, the chart included Dustin Lynch’s “Good Girl”; Jason Aldean’s “Girl Like You” and Riley Green’s “There Was This Girl.”) “Wouldn’t it be funny and really taking it to the next level if a girl released a song just called ‘Girl’?”
And now that the song is out in the world, does Morris’s aforementioned friend know she’s the topic of the song?
“No,” Morris admitted. “But she probably will now.”