Pop

How Maren Morris Transcends Both Pop And Country

It’s not a question of if you’ll cry at a Maren Morris show, but when.

Seeing Morris perform live for the third time this year, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last weekend, proved that she isn’t just a performer who evokes emotion from a crowd, but one that knows how to adjust her set for different circumstances, too. She gave her audience at the Greek an entirely different show than the set at The Wiltern this past spring, or her festival-stealing slot at Bonnaroo this summer, interpolating snippets of Beyonce’s “Halo” into her own deeply moving ode to resilience, “Second Wind,” and even throwing in a cover of The Cardigans’ cult ‘90s hit “Lovefool” toward the end of the night

Interestingly enough, both of these songs fit in seamlessly with Maren’s own style, though they’re widely divergent in taste, tone, and era, indicating that genre is on its way out and personal narratives rule the airwaves now. Nothing is more indicative of that than this year’s Billboard record-breaking hit “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, and though Maren isn’t anywhere near Nas in style, she embodies some of the same genre-disdaining ideals that he expertly executed on the track.

This dynamic, 29-year-old Texas-bred songwriter quickly took her place as one of the best and brightest lights in country music with her debut album, Hero in 2016 — then, flipped it and reversed it into imminent pop stardom. The towering EDM-crush of 2018’s “The Middle” skyrocketed her past the gold ol’ bounds of country radio — which, surprisingly, accepted her aching ballads and road anthems with open arms — but she didn’t stop there, either. Morris opted to take an even bigger left turn on her sophomore album, Girl, incorporating surfy rock, soul, R&B and yes, pop melodies, into a record that initially came off as a bit scattershot, but comes together slow and sweet as molasses in a live setting.

While every single 2019 show I’ve seen her play kicks off with “Girl,” the massive, feminine power anthem that lead off this whole era, and her other rollicking, playful hit “The Feels” is another early inclusion on each stage, Saturday’s show afforded Maren the chance to showcase some of her more country roots by performing a track off her new posse album with the Highwomen, that is Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby. All of these emerging (or emerged) female country songwriters joined forces to create a collaborative compilation album that defies the expectations placed upon women in their genre, and culminated in a wave of cultural awareness for what is often a pigeonholed genre: Brandi Carlile selling out Madison Square Garden.

Carlile’s show at Madison Square Garden was the same night as Maren’s at the Greek, so she gave her compatriot a shout out and performed The Highwomen song “Crowded Table” on her own, in tribute to the women she created the self-titled record with. Considering it came out just last week, there was probably more than a few fans at the show who learned about that collaborative album via this performance. And, if you’re learning about the album via this review, please, go check it out — it’s a shining example of just how talented the unsung women of country music are, and a testament to just how loud they will sing until they finally get the notice they rightfully deserve.

But, whether she’s covering Beyonce or just singing the part of the Brothers Osborne’s TJ Osborne on “All My Favorite People,” Maren is always more than enough of a force all on her own. Ditching her strappy heels for the back half of the set, she closed out her sold-out show pretty casually, running through the tongue-in-cheek banger “Rich,” her new heartfelt ballad, “The Bones,” the empowering slow-burner “Shade,” and ending the night with a particularly rowdy rendition of Hero favorite and early hit “My Church.”

This sequencing did one of two things: It removed “The Middle” from the pinnacle spot on her setlist, asserting that though this pop moment was an important one in her career, it wasn’t the end all be all for Maren Morris. And secondly, reiterating that who she’s always been is the same as who she is now: a girl blasting the radio, singing — and maybe crying — along, finding her way through the path of the melody. When the writing’s this good, who cares what the genre is?

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