Country superstar Carrie Underwood recently released her sixth studio album, Cry Pretty. And she’s calling it her most personal effort yet.
Cry Pretty (which Underwood co-produced, a first for her) has a distinctive new touch when compared with this Oklahoma native’s former work. The sounds range from what we’ve come to expect from American Idol’s most successful alum to pop vibes similar to those of Sam Hunt and Taylor Swift.
As for the lyrical content here, Underwood doesn’t hold back as she sings about love, grief, sex, broken relationships and the memorable moments that life brings.
In songs such as “Low” and “Ghosts on the Stereo,” a woman honestly confesses the heartbreak of losing her man and sings about her healing process. In “Low,” for instance, we hear, “Like a diamond ring without a stone/Like a guitar without a song/Everything that was right is wrong.”
And in “Backsliding,” a woman laments mistakes in a former relationship: “There’s a million reasons why we said goodbye/Why we couldn’t fight it anymore.” In contrast, “End Up With You” tells the story of a woman who’ll do whatever it takes to be with the man she loves: “To the end of the world if you wanted to/Yeah, ’cause you could light up the dark side of the moon.”
Underwood admits weakness in “Cry Pretty.” She sings, “I’m pretty good at keeping it together/I hold my composure for better or for worse/… But sometimes my emotions get the best of me/And falling apart is as human as it gets.” The title track also recognizes that it’s hard to pretend you’re OK when you’re weeping: “You can pretty lie and say it’s OK/You can pretty smile and just walk away/Pretty much fake your way through anything/But you can’t cry pretty.”
“Spinning Bottles” tells a heartbreaking story of a woman who waits in vain for her alcoholic partner to get sober. And in “The Bullet,” a family wrestles with grief after a son is shot and killed (“The camera crews have all moved on/But the wound’s still open/The bullet keeps on goin’”).
Underwood is content and happy in the present, and she’s looking forward to a full future with her husband and children on “Kingdom.” She sings, “It ain’t always pretty as a picture, yeah/And it ain’t a mansion on a hill/It’s perfectly imperfect/ It’s worth more than it’s worth/It’s our life, it’s our heart, it’s our home.”
“The Champion,” featuring Ludacris, is the NFL’s 2018 season anthem. It focuses on pressing forward despite difficult circumstances and being “unstoppable, unshakeable.” “Love Wins” declares that love is a much-needed ingredient in our broken world.
On “Drinking Alone,” a woman tells a man that she will not be going home with him.
Broken relationships are a common theme here, and Underwood’s protagonists don’t always respond to their emotional pain in healthy ways. On “Low,” a depressed woman wallows in misery as she observes that life without her lover is “like a cigarette without a light/ … A broken buzz that’s lost its high.” And on “Ghosts on the Stereo,” we hear, “‘Cause what you don’t know is I’m throwing a party/And everybody tonight is feelin’ alright with some Jack in their Coke.”
“Drinking Alone” features a brokenhearted woman at a bar who spies another lovelorn victim and suggests, “We should be drinking alone, together/Drownin’ the pain is better/ With somebody else who got problems.” And while she won’t spend the night with him, she’s not above making out a bit: “Tonight all I need is a stranger/Lips with a whiskey chaser/And a corner booth kiss to make me forget that he’s gone.”
Sexually suggestive lyrics turn up on quite a few songs too, such as “That Song We Used to Make Love To,” “End Up With You” and “Backsliding.” On the first, a woman puts an intimate song on repeat that makes her remember “where you laid my body down, and then got drunk on me like wine.” And on the latter, she wonders why she keeps “backsliding” into late-night trysts with an ex: “We say we won’t, but then we do the same old thing fallin’ right back in/Say it’s gonna be the last time/Backsliding, I’m backsliding.”
“Southbound” is a summer party song reminiscent of a Sam Hunt party tune. Boats, alcohol and lakeside lust abound here.
Carrie Underwood has never quite fit into a neat package. Her songs can be intimate and personal. Sometimes she cries out to Jesus for help. Then again, other songs might be steeped in stories of revenge and murder, bitterness and rage. You never really know what to expect.
The same can be said for Cry Pretty. Filled with plenty of positive content, Underwood’s achingly honest songs often explore love, loss, heartache and the reality of human emotion. She even looks into the future and vows to build a beautiful life with her husband and children. Great stuff.
Then again, Underwood seems to know she’s got to please her country fan base, too. Which apparently requires adding in dramatic doses of drinking, depression, recklessness and sexual intimacy—stuff that might make some fans of Carrie Underwood shed a metaphorical tear or two themselves.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).