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How Morgan Wallen’s ‘Whiskey Glasses’ became one of the year’s most unexpected hits

Morgan Wallen performs at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville in November. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images for YouTube)

Poor me,” Morgan Wallen wails on the opening line of “Whiskey Glasses,” stretching out the two-word phrase before he repeats it again with a completely different meaning — “Pour me another drink.”

It’s the kind of first lyric that grabs you right away and contains a clever twist, the ideal scenario for any country song. And for “Whiskey Glasses,” one of this year’s most unexpected hits, it has worked out quite well.

Not only has the upbeat breakup anthem gone platinum and earned 125 million streams on Spotify, it landed 26-year-old Wallen his second No. 1 hit: “Whiskey Glasses” topped the country radio charts for three weeks this summer, a rarity in a genre that quickly cycles through the songs at the top of the chart.

“There were a lot of cool things about the song that drew me to it pretty much immediately,” said Wallen, who is nominated for best new artist at Wednesday’s Country Music Association Awards. “The way it has blown up has been really crazy to see.”

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“Whiskey Glasses” was written by Kevin Kadish — best known for co-writing some of Meghan Trainor’s biggest hits (“All About That Bass,” “Lips Are Movin”) and Jason Mraz’s “Wordplay” — and Ben Burgess, who has written for country stars from Dierks Bentley to Jake Owen. While a seemingly unlikely pair, Burgess theorized that’s why “Whiskey Glasses” worked. He dubbed himself, Kadish and Wallen “a crazy trifecta of wild dudes that are all uniquely different in our own way.”

Back in 2015, Burgess walked into a songwriting session with an idea for a song title typed into his phone: “Whiskey Glasses.” He didn’t know what it meant exactly, but Kadish was immediately intrigued. After all, there were lots of songs about beer goggles. Why not write one about whiskey glasses?

“I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been written already,” Kadish said. Although he doesn’t drink, he loved the idea. “People all self-medicate in their own ways.” As soon as he heard it, he started singing the words that would eventually become the chorus: “I’mma need some whiskey glasses, 'cause I don’t wanna see the truth ….”

They determined the song would be about a guy upset about a bad breakup who decided to turn to booze. Suddenly, Burgess had a memory from childhood: If his dad had too much to drink, the next morning, he would lie on the couch and half-sing, half-moan, “Poor Pappy … oh, pour your Pappy a drink.”

“It was a big joke in our house … kind of like a demented lullaby,” Burgess said. Kadish called it “genius and hilarious.” Those lines worked perfectly for the start of the song, which opens with the narrator very depressed. (“I just want to sip till the pain wears off … 'cause I ain’t ever hurt like this before.”) As the track goes on, however, the lyrics become somewhat celebratory (“If I’mma be single, I’mma need a double shot of that heartbreak proof/ and see the world through whiskey glasses”) as the guy realizes that it’s time to move on. And what better way to do that than have (many) shots?

“I think at some point, everybody goes through something that you don’t know how to deal with,” Burgess said. “I think that’s why it’s relatable."

Wallen loved the song as soon as it was pitched to him, and he turned to producer Joey Moi, famous for his work with Nickelback and his help launching Florida Georgia Line into the stratosphere with “Cruise.”

“I’m proud of what we did on the production side — it’s a sad song at its core, but I told Joey, I don’t want this to feel like a sad song,” Wallen said. “And when it comes on, people don’t really seem sad. It’s interesting, it just brings so much joy.”

As Wallen toured the country, he saw how crowds would erupt louder and louder as the song became a bigger hit. Although it was released in summer 2018, the record really broke through this year: In June, it reached No. 1 on the radio.

The success of “Whiskey Glasses” marked a transformative year for Wallen, who embarked on his second headlining tour, opened for Florida Georgia Line on their arena tour and has suddenly found himself on prediction lists for best new artist nominees at the Grammy Awards. “Whiskey Glasses” was his second No. 1 song, but the achievement was especially significant because his first chart-topper, the party-centric “Up Down,” featured Florida Georgia Line. The two share a management company, Big Loud, while Wallen is signed to the relatively new Big Loud Records.

“I’m sure there were some people who thought, ‘Oh, he got a number one just because FGL is on there,” Wallen said. “So it’s cool that … my very next song goes number one. Hopefully it proved I’d like to be around and keep doing this. Especially over this past year, I’ve connected a lot with fans, and seen how much the music we’ve been making means to people.”

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