Is Maren Morris Nashville's Next Breakout Pop Star?

Robbie Klein
Maren Morris photographed on Dec. 15, 2015 at Le Sel in Nashville.

One of the highlights on 25-year-old Maren Morris' sure-footed self-titled EP from 2015 is a song called "80's Mercedes." So it is only natural to scan for a vintage Benz when you're meeting the country singer-­songwriter at a pub in her East Nashville neighborhood. But you'll be disappointed: "No, I have a Prius," she says, perched on a stool. "But I'd love to have a white convertible like Richard Gere's in American Gigolo."

 

Like the rest of her EP, the song is a canny blend of country and pop-culture references, guitars and programming, groundedness and breezy irreverence from a Texas native with a clearly defined vantage point and a delicate nose ring. Her as-yet-untitled Columbia Nashville full-length album is one of 2016's most anticipated country releases, and she's bracing herself for a whirlwind year. "I'm in a window right now," she says. "I'm not in the teenybopper bracket, and I'm not in the 30-plus bracket. The fan response has been really widespread, age-wise."

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After more than a decade of performing at ­honky-tonks, rock clubs and amateur wrestling matches in her home state, the daughter of hair salon owners moved to Nashville three years ago, which was, she says, "exactly the right time." Morris fell in with talented friends, including Kacey Musgraves and Brothers Osborne, started writing for other ­artists and, last summer, self-released five songs to Spotify.

"I wanted to see, in a Russian roulette way, 'Do these songs hold weight to anybody besides me?' " she says. "The response that came in was ­astounding. I thought there was a glitch when they told me that in two or three weeks 'My Church' hit a million streams."

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The stats motivated Columbia Nashville to snatch up Morris and quickly plan an album. "With ­streaming services, the walls have come down a bit on genres," she says. "So I never really set out to make a country record or a pop record. I just wanted to make it mine. And this may seem self-indulgent, but I've been rocking out to the mixes in my car." The Prius, that is.

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of Billboard.