To say the women of country and Americana had a great year would be an understatement. They were absolutely fantastic the entire year, delivering a variety of fantastic albums. As a whole they outclassed and outperformed male artists. Of course I don’t want to make this a gender thing. At Country Perspective we praise all great music and artists, regardless of gender. The only reason I have separate male artist and female artist of the year awards is it allows me to point out two great artists instead of just one with a unified artist of the year award. Any time I can talk more about great music I take it.
Back to Female Artist of the Year though, it was quite difficult picking a winner. As I said, the ladies killed it this year so the competition was tough for this award. I knew no matter who I picked there would be readers left disappointed. It’s a nice problem to have that so many people care about these artists and speaks how great their music was in 2016. In the end there was one artist I kept coming back to and eventually realizing she was the most deserving. In 2016 she finally got the spotlight she’s deserved after years of being the songwriter behind the stars’ hits. I guarantee that people won’t forget her name now and they shouldn’t because she’s one of the best. So with great pleasure I award Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year to Lori McKenna.
What helped make 2016 such a big year for McKenna of course was the success of “Humble and Kind.” Tim McGraw chose to release it as the second single off of his 2015 album Damn Country Music. The song went #1, has been certified platinum and even got a Oprah approved music video. And one person, Lori McKenna wrote it. This comes after 2015 she helped co-write the hit Little Big Town song “Girl Crush.” But this was even bigger for McKenna. “Humble and Kind” was the first song to reach #1 written solely by one person since Taylor Swift’s “Ours” in 2012. The song went on to win the 2016 CMA Song of the Year, with her only being one of five solo women all time to win the award and the first ever to win it two years in a row. It even went on to win Favorite Country Song at the American Music Awards. Just this week it was nominated for Best Country Song at the 2017 Grammys.
With the song being called “Humble and Kind,” it of course came from a humble place as McKenna wrote it. She says it was written for her family, specifically her five kids, and the lessons she wanted them to know in life. This genuine caring and honesty shines through completely in the lyrics. Everything about the song just makes you feel good inside and is a good reminder for us all to live by. The verse that stands out to me the most though is verse two:
Don’t expect a free ride from no-one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip, and here’s why
Bitterness keeps you from flying
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
I love you ain’t no pick-up-line
So, always stay humble and kind
Particularly the part about love is what is most important. The last few years we’ve heard love, lust and hooking up all get muddled together on country radio. Countless songs seemingly equated these all together, so it’s refreshing to hear McKenna lay out plainly that there’s a difference and the love should never be used as a pick-up line. At the same time the song is essentially saying sleeping with someone if you don’t love them is okay too. You should just be true in your intentions and don’t mix love up with lust.
“Humble and Kind” isn’t the only new music we got from McKenna this year though. We also got a new album from her titled The Bird & The Rifle. This is where you gain an even greater appreciation for her talent. Featuring her own recording of her hit song, the album also contains some other sharply written phenomenal songs on life, love and small towns. There’s the pointed, but well-intended lesson of “Old Men Young Women” where McKenna warns a young woman dating an older man, her ex. She reminisces of old times and old plans on “We Were Cool.” “Giving Up on Your Hometown” sees her illustrating the painful realization many come to about their small hometowns and that you can’t keep things the same forever. Then you have aching love song “Always Wants You,” which is about a woman being unable to shake the love of someone she thought she was over. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you need to hear it.
While there are plenty of other artists with more flash and bigger names, you’re not going to find too many better than Lori McKenna. Just like the song, she’s always taken a humble and kind approach. It’s served her well throughout her career and in 2016 she finally gets the recognition she deserves. It was simply her year and that’s why she’s Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year.