Country

Makin' Tracks: Maddie & Tae Own Their Imperfections In Empowering 'Woman You Got'

Maddie & Tae
Joseph Llanes

Maddie & Tae

When the acoustic guitar punches out the final chord in Maddie & Tae's "Woman You Got" five times at the end of the single's three-minute run, it sounds enormously similar to the opening five-chord salvo in Miranda Lambert's "Baggage Claim."

It's an appropriate similarity, given that both songs rip the bandage off personal faults and failures in the context of a relationship. But they're not quite the same song. Lambert's 10-year-old title is a boot to the butt of a lying, philandering playboy from a woman scorned. "Woman You Got" is the newlywed confession of a bride who owns her weaknesses and peculiarities, but also recognizes her strengths and positivities, particularly her unwavering devotion to her man.

That was an easy emotion to capture on the day they met via Zoom with co-writers Laura Veltz ("The Bones," "Speechless") and Mark Holman ("Single Saturday Night," "Simple") on June 21, 2020. It was the four-month anniversary of Tae Kerr's marriage and a day shy of Maddie Font's seven-month anniversary.

"That was really important for us, to write about where we are now and release the music as where we are now," says Kerr. "That's never really been the case. We've always kind of made the music and then released it when we had moved on from that phase, and that actually had a huge hand in why we picked this song to be the first single."

Kerr brought the idea to the table, with the title and direction all mapped out, even if the music and the details were not.

"'Woman You Got' was a title that I had in my notes," says Kerr. "I just thought it would be fun to write a song about knowing that you're good at loving your partner, even though there's a lot of things about you that definitely aren't perfect. It's the power of owning your quirks and your insecurities and your flaws and just being able to hang your hat on your heart for somebody."

Holman developed a track as they kicked in at the very beginning, devoting the opening two lines to a recent marriage to set up the protagonist's proclamation that she may be flawed, but she's worth the investment.

"I think a lot of women can relate to that," says Veltz. "I'm sure there's a lot of men who can relate to that. I think all types of people can relate to like, ‘Hey, I come with baggage. I come with daddy issues. I come with all kinds of stuff that we're going to have to unpack for the rest of time if you really want to be with me.'"

Five lines in, they began to list them in a new section: "I talk smack/I make messes/I win bread/I'm kinda selfish." The result is an eight-line mix of good and bad traits that amounts to one heck of a lengthy pre-chorus that ends with an unusual rhyme scheme: "Don't trust/Me in the kitchen/Don't dare me/I ain't chicken."

"I have chickens in my backyard," conveys Font. "I was like, ‘What if we put something about me playing with my chickens?' And everyone's like, 'That's fricking weird.' I was like, 'I have to put my chickens in the song somehow.'"

The chorus brought a whole new texture to the proceedings, a rolling sort of phrasing that contrasted with the elongated words of the verse and the choppy thoughts in the pre-chorus. In the first three lines, they trip around and twist up "love me" four times and "I know" three times, enhancing the curvy nature of the stanza's opening melody.

"We were definitely using the pop handbook of do not derail from the melody," says Veltz. "And we ripped a page out of the country playbook that says make sure the words make sense. So it was definitely a combination of really, really strict melody and then just trying to make sure it's still a country-sounding lyric."

The second verse underscored the complexity of all the previous traits, and the second pre-chorus added another list of eight good and bad qualities, led by an uncomplicated admission: "I lose my phone."

"On average, I really lose it — where I cannot find it — at least four times a day," admits Font. "I find it in the pantry. I find it in the closet. I found it in a tennis shoe one time. It's a mess."

The second pre-chorus list also included "I like dogs/I'm a collector," a phrase that created another rhyming problem. They solved it by throwing in an obscure word that has likely never appeared in a country hit before: "I ain't perfect/I'm a perfector."

"Maddie and I, we're definitely not perfect people," says Kerr, "but we're kind of OCD."

Ultimately, those frank pre-choruses are what make "Woman You Got" work.

"That's definitely where the color is and the fun of it," says Veltz. "Maddie and Tae are such characters as women. ‘Girl in a Country Song' gave you a real clear indication of how goofy and fun and silly and lighthearted and smart these girls are, and I feel like that list is really just for that."

Holman put together a pop-leaning demo, and everyone on the Maddie & Tae team thought "Woman You Got" was one of the standouts among the 60 songs the duo wrote during quarantine, except for Font. Because she was the lone detractor, they went ahead and recorded it with producers Jimmy Robbins (Kelsea Ballerini, RaeLynn) and Derek Wells (Scotty McCreery, Granger Smith), who was able to salvage the song for her. The original guitar texture felt a little staid, but Wells — a two-time winner of the Academy of Country Music's guitar player of the year award — envisioned a part that matched the singer's complexity.

"He played this acoustic part that is now the backbone of that song," says Robbins. "It's kind of frantic, and it completely changed the feel."



Bryan Sutton brought that part to life on the studio floor, and the crew found ways to create a separate character for the verses, the pre-choruses and the choruses, giving it a sense of motion.

"This one really does have three pretty drastic scene changes," observes Robbins. "I don't know that we talked about that being the intention, but we definitely leaned into it when it felt like the song was presenting the option."

Wells oversaw Justin Schipper's overdub of a tangy steel guitar part, and Robbins handled the final vocal session with Maddie & Tae, who harmonized more loosely than in their perfectionist past. In the end, Font joined the rest of the team in its enthusiasm for "Woman You Got," and Mercury Nashville released it to terrestrial radio via PlayMPE on March 29. It offers listeners a mix of female empowerment and newlywed romance while Maddie & Tae claim their own baggage at the same time.

"We're confident, we're owning the things we are, we're in love," assesses Kerr. "We've never released a single about this unconditional kind of love. And it really does just feel very true to us right now."

This article first appeared in the weekly Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to subscribe for free.