“This sounds so cliché, but it does feel like I’m waking up for Christmas morning,” says Maren Morris just hours before her sophomore album Girl arrived on Friday (March 8). While it may not be Christmas, Girl does arrive on another important holiday: International Women’s Day, a fitting occasion for the album’s title.
The milestones have racked up steadily for Morris since the release of Hero, her 2016 Columbia Nashville debut from a Grammy win to a top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with her Zedd and Grey collaboration “The Middle.” Girl radiates with the confidence of an artist who has found her path. “I used to not think I had a comfort zone until I started making this record,” she says with a laugh.
Girl showcases various facets of Morris’s voice across the album’s 14 songs, whether it’s R&B, ballads, Southern rock, or the same anthemic country-pop she established on Hero. Her newfound bravery also inspired her to explore a sexier side of her lyricism, as fans will particularly notice on the more risqué Girl tracks “RSVP” and “Make Out With Me.”
Morris detailed the journey that led to Girl in a forthcoming documentary with YouTube Music, but first kicked off the album’s release by partnering with the video streaming service for a special fan event on March 7 in New York, when she sat down with CMT’s Leslie Fram for a Q&A and performed some new tracks. The singer talked with Billboard ahead of the event, sharing some of her personal Girl highlights, how Taylor Swift played into her album release, and what fans can expect from her upcoming Girl World Tour.
Which Girl tracks pushed you out of your comfort zone the most?
There’s a song called “RSVP” that’s very sexual, but like, in a clever way. It’s not just straight up dirty – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s definitely the most confident I’ve ever been with my body, my sexuality and my prowess, and that was fun to tap into. If you do it in the right way and it’s almost silly, it’s believable. That’s my favorite part about those ‘90s R&B jams, they’re so good they’re almost a joke. So we tapped into that.
The people I wrote it with, we were just dying laughing. We were like, “What does RSVP even mean?” We looked it up, and it’s “Répondez s’il vous plaît,” so we worked that into the bridge — it’s me speaking really American French. [Laughs.]
On the other end of that spectrum, the song “Good Woman” was kind of a hard co-write because I have never written such a direct love song where I’m saying, “I will be there for you.” I honestly get chills if something is going to go too cheesy, so I think that’s why I’ve avoided writing a lot of love songs. But then I also have been so inspired by love in the last few years, for obvious reasons [Morris married singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd in March 2018]. I wanted to really open myself up to the idea that I could say these things honestly without being earnest, and I think we were able to achieve that. It’s hard being vulnerable, it’s hard to break that shell. But it ended up being one of the most emotional co-writes and recordings of the album.
Do you think the Maren that wrote Hero would be blown away by the Maren that wrote Girl?
A little bit, yeah! When you think about the development just three, four years can do to someone’s brain and all of these experiences just kind of condensed into a few years, yeah, I think the old me would be kind of shocked that his new one had such a healthy outlook on life and love.
What’s an out-of-comfort-zone thing you did in or out of your career that you’re proud of?
The glowing example would be “The Middle.” Being part of a song like that was risky and a huge comfort zone breach, but I am so glad that I did it because it changed so many things for me in and out of my career. It brought so many more fans into the hemisphere of country music, and on a personal level I met Sarah Aarons in the process, who’s become a really great friend and [was a] co-writer on [Girl]. Having a song on a Target commercial, having small children knowing the words to it, going to South America and people in Buenos Aires are screaming it back to you — there’s just so many experiences wrapped up in this one song that I wouldn’t have been able to have quite the same way if I hadn’t chosen to do it.
You said you wrote most of the album before doing “The Middle.” Which ones came after, and how did that song impact the way the album came together?
I think maybe “Shade” [was written after]. The bulk of the record had been written before I signed on to do the Zedd song, so I definitely knew what I wanted to say. I felt like songs like “Girl” and “Shade” were such great bookends to the album, a great way to wrap everything in between up.
I went into the recording studio last April or May, so all the recordings were done post-“The Middle.” It gave me a fresher lens going into the studio coming off of last year’s Grammys and [witnessing] the whole Zedd world I’d never seen before. Every song you hear kind of affects you in some way and gets in the influences up in your brain, but I think I was a little bit braver going into the studio after seeing the other side of a genre I hadn’t been inside before.
You had listening parties for fans in London, Dallas and Nashville before the album came out. Were you taking a page out of Taylor Swift’s book?
Yeah, I saw that a few years ago Taylor Swift flew in a huge amount of people to her house, and then I saw that Halsey [also] did a listening event for a few fans in a city. I just loved that, because I know as fans of both of theirs that it’d be so fun to be close to this artist you’re influenced by.
I didn’t have fans going into my first record, really, because no one had really heard of me. This time, I have such a loyal fan base that I want to put stock back into. I love that they nerd out over lyrics, and I felt like this was such a pure way to be close to them. I loved doing it in a few different cities, because every crowd was a little bit different and they have different favorite songs that they loved. I was definitely inspired by artists that love their fans that much that they would put their own money in and just throw this little house shindig for them.
——had our final GIRL listening party in Nashville last night. shared some stories + tears. got to fly some of my out of towner fans in and we listened top to bottom to the album which is out in 1 week (holy eff)! thank you to my team for making each party so unique + intimate. ——
Were there any memorable responses to specific songs?
I remember particularly in London – and I think this is because London and the UK are such country music lovers and they have so much respect for the craft of writing songs – they really gravitated towards songs like “To Hell & Back” and “A Song For Everything.” In that particular city, they loved songs like [“A Song For Everything”]. I saw their eyes light up when they were hearing the chorus of that. Dallas was a little more southern, so they loved songs like “All My Favorite People.” It was cool because it was like a little thermometer for each edge of the world.
Your tour starts on March 9 in Chicago – which Girl songs are you most excited to sing?
I’m excited to perform “RSVP,” “Flavor” is going to be really fun. We have some surprises throughout the show for the fans. And then really songwriter-y moments – we did a really amazing arrangement of “I Could Use a Love Song” that I’m excited for people to hear.
Aside from the fact that it’s called The Girl World Tour, what made you want to have an all-female roster?
Putting Raelynn and Cassadee Pope on the bill was important because – well, they’re my friends, so I’d love to see them every night – but also, their music is incredible, and I’m excited for my fan base to see them live every night. And we have to stop just talking about it, we have to do something about it. Now that I’m headlining, I want to pay it forward and give people the same opportunites that people like Keith Urban offered to me in the beginning, and Sam Hunt and Niall Horan. It’s just about giving back.