Her return to Music City has done wonders for her social life -- she’s “going out to bars and hanging out, and then having nights with girls writing songs on my porch and going to see shows” -- as well as her creativity. While married to Shelton, she says, “I lived in a small town in Oklahoma. I remember I had to write a song for a Dodge RAM commercial. It was hard. I barely got it out, and I was like, ‘Man, I need some fuel. I have to go fall in love with it again.’ So Nashville does that for me.”
Lambert frequently pops up at Nashville clubs like 3rd and Lindsley to hear favorite artists such as John Moreland (“I listen to him in my bathtub and just cry”) and drives her Wagoneer to shop at Target. She likes road trips, too. She recently went to St. Louis to see Jimmy Buffett (she joined him onstage for “Margaritaville”) and attended a U2 show in Louisville, Ky., with her boyfriend, singer Anderson East, where she says she had a transformative experience.
“Stadium shows are hard. I’m like, ‘Shit, man. I just walked a million miles, I couldn’t get an Uber, and my beer’s hot,’ but I left there feeling uplifted, exhausted and stimulated all at the same time,” she says. “I grew up singing country music and haven’t gone to many rock shows. I didn’t realize just how powerful four dudes up there on this giant stage could be. I couldn’t even see Bono, but I felt every single word of every song.”
Lambert and her younger brother, Luke, were raised in Lindale, Texas, where their parents ran their own private investigation business. At 16, Lambert impressed the judges at a True Value Country Showdown competition, and her father put up $6,000 for studio time in Nashville. She left in tears when she was only offered schmaltzy pop tracks. She returned to Texas, learned to play the guitar and write songs, and after some grueling stints on the Texas music circuit, competed on the talent show Nashville Star, finishing second. She signed with Epic Records in 2005. After years of unabashedly romantic songs from Shania Twain and Faith Hill, country fans immediately latched on to Lambert’s reality-based badassery: Her first album, Kerosene, debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums.
In the 1990s, Reba, Shania and Faith sold tens of millions of albums and notched many hits. But recently, women in country -- badass or otherwise -- have struggled for traction on the country charts. The Tomatogate brouhaha (in which a radio promo man called female artists “tomatoes” in the male-heavy “salad” that’s played on country radio) came and went two years ago, but just this July, Lambert tweeted, “Where are the damn girls?” after a fan posted Billboard’s Country Streaming Songs chart, which showed not a single woman in the top eight. (Lambert herself has two Country Streaming Songs No. 1s, the last in 2015.)
“It sucks. It makes me mad,” says Lambert. “You can print out any top chart, and you’ll see maybe a couple females, or not even one. I’m thankful for my spot headlining festivals. I’ve worked for it -- but I shouldn't be on a whole show with no girls.” Still, she says women “have to bring it, too.” And she believes that men dominating country radio “is just a phase.” “I think there was a time [for women] before, and there will be again, and that doesn't stop any of us,” she says, flashing her boot-strappy, no-nonsense ambition. “I love country radio when they all play me, and when they don’t, I think that sucks.”