Miranda Lambert: ‘I’ve Had a Career Based on Songs, Not Hits’
During a revealing sit-down interview at the 2020 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday (Jan. 19), Miranda Lambert opened up about her own definition of success. The 36-year-old shared her thoughts on the importance of getting her music out to listeners, even if country radio doesn't often take her singles to the top of the charts.
“It’s interesting because I’ve had a career based on songs, not hits," Lambert told the audience of country radio programmers and industry members. "The crowd doesn’t know that "Gunpowder [and Lead]" was [No.] 9 and "Little Red Wagon" was [No.] 11 [on the charts], nor do they care. Nor do I care. As long as they hear it, then that helps everybody."
For Lambert, exposure is more important that chart position. Although she released her first major-label single in 2004, Lambert didn't earn her first No. 1 at country radio until 2010 ("White Liar"). And although fan favorites such as "Gunpowder and Lead" and "Tin Man" never made it to the top of the charts, Lambert says it's clear during her live shows that the music is connecting.
However, getting fans to come back tour after tour without new songs earning heavy rotation on country radio supplies a bigger challenge: "I can’t play shows if I’m not heard," Lambert explains.
"I need them to hear new music, because they’ve seen me several times," she continues. "When they’re weighing out, ’Do I go see Luke Combs or Miranda? I’ve seen her several times. He’s new and he’s great.' And they only have money for one ticket.
"It’s nice to have a new song -- or seven -- you can promote," Lambert adds. "That helps.”
Instead of going with what made sense business-wise for the release of her 2016 concept album The Weight of These Wings, Lambert focused on what she needed as an artist. “I needed to make The Weight of These Wings for my sanity and my songwriting ability,” she reflects. “It was dramatic. It was 24 songs, and most of them were sad."
Although the record earned wide acclaimed from critics and fans, The Weight of These Wings did not produce a No. 1 hit (its lead single, "Vice," stalled at No. 2). Instead of keeping with the themes and sounds that were previously embraced by radio, though, Lambert kept her focus on staying true to herself.
"I was a little bit exhausted of always keeping it sassy and headbanging," she explains. "I was tired because I was going through something hard. I wanted to be honest. I’ve always been honest.”
Honesty is the policy Lambert has stuck with throughout her career, standing as an example of an artist who will do things her own way, no matter what. "I’ve never strayed away from exactly who I am," she says.
"At times, it’s not helpful in business for me to just be who I am," Lambert adds. "That’s the only advice I’ve gotten from my mom: She said, 'You just need to know who you are and stick with it.'
"Popular or not, I never cut a song that I was iffy about. I’ve never done something image-wise that I was iffy about," she continues. "If it’s a maybe, it’s a no."
Currently, Lambert is promoting the release of her latest record, Wildcard, which made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Her current single, the hopeful and effervescent "Bluebird," was co-written with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby. According to Mediabase, the single has been steadily increasing in plays across country radio stations in recent weeks: an encouraging sign for Lambert, who hopes that fans will connect with the very personal track.
""Bluebird" is so special," she explains, "so the fact that people are responding and it's getting adds, it means the world to me."
Lambert is currently out on her 2020 Wildcard Tour, which features support from Cody Johnson and Lanco.
Miranda Lambert + 13 More Stars Who Got a Start on Reality Television