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Track Review

For someone who's just 22, country singer Lauren Alaina has been through a lot.

If her name sounds vaguely familiar, it's likely because she was the runner-up on the 10th season of American Idol back in 2011 as a 16-year-old. Alaina's first album, Wildflower, sought to capitalize on that pop-culture momentum, debuting at No. 5 on Billboard's album chart [WHEN?], and spawning three Top 40 country singles.

And then came nearly six years of relative quiet—six painful years full of personal trials that Alaina has used as an inspiration for her comeback hit, "Road Less Traveled." She summarized that litany of trials in a recent interview with radio.com.

"Everything changed for me in the last six years," she said. "I moved to Nashville, my parents went through a divorce; my dad's an alcoholic, and he went to rehab when my mom asked for the divorce. I had vocal cord surgery. I overcame an eating disorder. There's all these really big, life-changing experiences. And honestly, it was really hard to go through, and it was painful. But it was worth it because I have the record of my dreams. I would've never created this music or written these songs or had this new music without all of these things I went through."

Which Road Are We Taking?

"Road Less Traveled" (co-written with "All About That Bass" singer Megan Trainor) takes obvious inspiration from a similar line in Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken." In Alaina's case, the rejected road in question involves standards of beauty, weight and behavior imposed upon women.

That theme is evident from the beginning of Alaina's song. "Why do you keep on staring?" she asks. "That mirror, mirror, mirror, it ain't fair at all (mmm, mmm)." Then she addresses how our culture strives to set women's identities by what they look like: "Dress sizes can't define, don't let the world decide what's beautiful/No."

From there, Alaina urges a rejection of such cultural ideals when they become damaging. "You won't make a name for yourself if you follow the rules," she sings. "History gets made when you're acting a fool/So don't hold it back and just run it/Show what you got and just own it."

At first blush, Alaina's breezy rejection of rules and her embrace of foolish behavior doesn't seem like particularly wise counsel here. In the overall context of the song, however, what she seems to be advocating for is an embrace of individuality in a healthy way and a rejection of the ways our culture wounds and damages our sense of self.

Speaking with radio.com, Alaina clarified the intent behind those lyrics. "The line, 'You won't make yourself a name if you follow the rules' is one of my favorites in 'Road Less Traveled.' I'm a goofball, and I have this huge personality, and I used to try to hide that. I used to try to kind of dim my light. Now I just embrace my personality, and it's not for everyone, and that's fine, but I think I have to be myself, and I think we all have to be who we really are."

That explanation helps to clarify some other potentially problematic-sounding lyrics later on in the song. The chorus, for example, proclaims, "If you trust your rebel heart, ride it into battle/Don't be afraid, take the road less traveled." Later in the song, she adds, "Don't follow anyone/March to the rhythm of a different drum."

If we hear those lines as a blanket invitation to break rules in the name of just being ourselves, we're in in iffy territory. If we hear them in the context that Alaina herself has suggested, as throwing off the yoke of damaging expectations placed upon us by others and by culture, her "rebellious" admonitions here can be received more positively.

Her intent seems clear by the time we reach the end of the song, where Alaina sings, "Put your hands up, show me that you're one of a kind/Put your hands up, let me hear your voice tonight." That's a message of empowerment and dignity, one coupled with healthy self-acceptance.

A Tale of Three Girls

The video for "Road Less Traveled" reinforces the song's intended theme. Much of the video shows Alaina singing and performing. Throughout it, however, we see three younger depictions of the singer's self—as a young girl, as an early adolescent, and as a young woman—all clearly wrestling with self-image.

The little girl looks at herself in the mirror. The adolescent reads a teen magazine, then pushes her plate of food away. And the young woman again scrutinizes herself critically. In the end, Alaina visits all of them with a gracious smile, as if to pass on the wisdom and perspective of adulthood in seasons where her younger selves needed it most.

It's a lovely set of vignettes about coming to terms with one's own insecurities. Lauren Alaina seems confident and comfortable in her skin. That said, one expression of her confidence here is in a dress with a plunging neckline (much more revealing than the one pictured above), which begs the question of whether she's unintentionally reinforcing the very standards of beauty and sexiness the song and video otherwise seek to critique.

I very much like the spirit of what Lauren Alaina is trying to do here. But in both the song's lyrics and in its accompanying video, there are still some issues to be navigated for young fans who would do well to take Alaina's intended message to heart.

Positive Elements

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Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Reached No. 9 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

Record Label

Mercury Nashville, Interscope, 19




July 11, 2016

On Video

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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