Carrie Underwood unleashes a pent-up wave of emotions on “Cry Pretty,” the heart-swelling single that debuted early Wednesday morning (Apr. 11). The track, the first fans have heard from the country superstar since a scary fall outside her Nashville home in November that resulted in surgery for a broken wrist and more than 40 stitches in her face, is a raw, rousing ballad about how sometimes letting it all out is what your heart needs.
“I’m sorry, but I’m just a girl/ Not usually the kind to show my heart to the world/ I’m pretty good at keeping it together/ I hold my composure, for worse or for better,” Underwood sings gently over a chugging guitar riff at the song’s outset. As a pedal steel and light drums kick in, she apologizes if you don’t like what you see, admitting that sometimes her emotions get the best of her and falling apart is, well, as human as it gets.
And then, less than a minute in, the chorus explodes with a tsunami of truth that just can’t be contained. “You can’t pretty lie and says it’s okay/ You can’t pretty smile, and just walk/ Pretty much make your way through anything/ But you can’t cry… pretty.” The classic country lament has the feeling of an instant standard, one that could have been sung by Tammy Wynette in the 1960s or Dolly Parton in the 1970s, but which feels uniquely suited to Underwood’s recent personal turmoil as well.
On Tuesday (Apr. 10), Underwood released an open letter to fans updating them on where she is physically, and emotionally, right now. “Physically, I’m doing pretty darn good these days!” Underwood wrote. “My wrist is almost back to normal, about 90% there…and the docs say that last 10% will come in time. And my face has been healing pretty nicely as well. I definitely feel more like myself than I have in a while.” The singer has kept out of the public eye for the most part since the accident, avoiding full photographs of her face until recently and letting fans know that she might “look a bit different” after her treatment for facial injuries.
She also said the break from the public eye allowed her ample time to work on her as-yet-untitled sixth studio album and the single, which is not hard to read as a tale of daunting obstacles overcome from the singer whose glamorous, cover-worthy style is also part of her personal brand. “The title refers to when emotions take over and you just can’t hold them back,” Underwood wrote in the note about the song she co-wrote with Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and Lori McKenna. “It really speaks to a lot of things that have happened in the past year and I hope when you hear it, you can relate those feelings to those times in your life. It’s emotional. It’s real. And it ROCKS!”
And she wasn’t bluffing. The four-minute song digs deep into the difficulty of “dressing up” heartache with fancy rhinestones and lace when all you want to do is break down and cry, building to a sky-high crescendo in the final minute, where Underwood unleashes the full, soulful power of her voice. In a gut-punch line that feels deeply autobiographical, Underwood sings that it doesn’t matter if you’re in a crowd, or home all alone, “It’s all the same when you’re looking in the mirror/ A picture of pain, so let it flow like a river.”
Underwood’s next tour in still in the works, but her comeback performance will take place at this Sunday’s (Apr. 15) ACM Awards, where viewers can hear her new single live for the first time.
Listen to the the song below.