June 14th, 2024

Country musician Megan Moroney says she writes sad songs for sad people. It’s making her a star.

By Maria Sherman, The Associated Press on October 26, 2023.

Country musician Megan Moroney poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Not so long before her platinum-selling single “Tennessee Orange” became inescapable on country radio, this year scoring Megan Moroney her first-ever CMA nominations (song of the year and artist of the year), the up-and-comer was attending the University of Georgia. The life of a country musician? It wasn’t supposed to happen.

“It is truly crazy because I went to school to be an accountant,” Moroney tells The Associated Press. “And here we are.”

Fate clearly had other plans. When she was a freshman, Moroney opened for singer John Langston at a sorority event, performing a few Miranda Lambert covers. There, she met Chase Rice, who told her she could open for her at the Georgia Theater – but she needed to write an original song, first.

“So, I wrote my first song, called “˜Stay A Memory,’ and I performed it,” she says. “I didn’t put it out, but maybe one day I’ll tease it.”

After that show, she knew she wanted to move to Nashville and pursue music – but first, she switched her major to focus on music business and interned with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, who’d later produce her stellar debut album, 2023’s “Lucky.”

After graduating in 2020, she moved to Nashville, and in 2022, released a debut EP, “Pistol Made of Roses,” catching the attention of all-star songwriters who she’d eventually work with on “Lucky,” like Lori McKenna, Luke Laird, and Jessie Jo Dillon. The rest is only history because of the strength of her songwriting – “emo cowgirl” music, as she calls it.

That’s evidenced throughout “Lucky” from the deceptively optimistic “Sad Songs for Sad People,” to the Johnny Cash and June Carter-referencing “Why Johnny” to the opener “I’m Not Pretty,” with its Gen Z Taylor Swift -level acuity: “Did you mean to double-tap that Spring Break throwback from 2016 in PCB?,” she sings on the track, a reference to Southeastern Conference (SEC) college football, social media doom scrolling, the devastation of past relationships and the universal experience of “creeping or getting creeped on,” as she puts it.

It’s also apparent on the acoustic self-worth ballad, “Girl in the Mirror,” which follows a simple chord progression and a woman sacrificing her agency in a relationship and learning to reclaim autonomy afterward. “I think “˜Girl in the Mirror’ has the most important message of all the songs on the record,” she says.

It’s the tear-jerker live, too. “That’s the one where girls are hugging their friends, group crying, like, having a full-on therapy session.”

All roads lead to the career-making “Tennessee Orange,” where Moroney, a Georgia Bulldog through and through, puts on University of Tennessee colors for a partner. It’s a football love song, one about the concessions people make in the name of affection and intimacy – and the track that fast-tracked Moroney into the country spotlight.

“It’s, like, not a conventional love song,” she says. “I think people can tell that I don’t write too many of those because I’m just like, not great at it. But it’s like, “˜I’m not madly in love with you, but I will wear a color for you and a shirt because I care about you.’ I think that was just my cheeky songwriting coming through with that one. But yeah, I definitely don’t belong in Tennessee Orange as a Georgia Bulldog.”

For that reason, she didn’t expect “Tennessee Orange” to be her breakout hit. “If I would have thought, like, “˜what is my breakout moment going to be?’ It wasn’t going to be a song that was recorded, mixed, mastered and turned in in 48 hours,” she says.

“That’s the thing about putting out music,” she adds. “You just don’t know what’s going to resonate with people.”

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