After Maren Morris released her blockbuster debut album Hero in 2016, she embarked on a series of unorthodox cross-genre collaborations that, at a different time in country music, could have easily ended her career. Instead, she scored near-simultaneous hits in dance, country, and pop, and established a new breed of Nashville superstar. “It’s a testament to how much the city has changed,” she tells Apple Music. “It’s become an exciting melting pot.” She is being modest: Much of that change is thanks to Morris.
Her free-spirited sophomore effort continues to push the limits of contemporary country-pop, infusing it with energy and texture from hip-hop, R&B, and psychedelic rock. "I wanted to be braver with production and get really weird with it,” she says. "The lyrics were becoming really assertive and independent and sensual, all these empowering elements. I wanted the music to amplify that.”
As the title suggests, womanhood is a theme, but the album steers clear of rallying cries and hear-me-roar tropes; these songs are more about learning to embrace all sides of yourself. By singing about her conflicting emotions and life experiences, she frames her complexity as a kind of power: She can be both romantic and in charge (“The Bones"), pissed off and poised (“Flavor”), successful and uncertain ("To Hell & Back”). The latter was the first song she wrote on GIRL after wrestling with the explosive success of Hero. “It was the bitter and the sweet going on in my head,” she says. “I opened up to this other person and felt like they accepted all my broken pieces. They didn’t try to fix me.”
At some point, Morris’ independence and progressive point of view caught the attention of Brandi Carlile, a fellow disrupter in Americana and folk. “She wrote me a note about how she’s got two daughters and she’s proud to know they look up to me,” Morris says. The exchange led to their duet, “Common”—a pleading, impassioned ballad about setting aside our differences—and eventually, a supergroup with singer-songwriter Amanda Shires called the Highwomen. (Morris has gently tackled politics before, most notably on “Dear Hate”, her response to the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.)
The album’s other collaboration, “All My Favorite People” featuring the Brothers Osbourne, is Morris off duty. “It’s a slapping, trashy party song but has all these descriptive, intricate lyrics,” she says. “It’s my favorite kind of song to write: airtight and very country.” She co-wrote the song with her husband, musician Ryan Hurd, who gets a playful tribute on “Make Out with Me,” written to mimic a drunken voicemail. “That's one of my favorites,” she says, "because it’s so me."
Just when you think you’ve got Morris figured out, she serves up R&B curveballs (“RSVP”), pop-ified love songs (“Gold Love”), and lighters-in-the-air sing-alongs that hat-tip her influences, which include Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry (“A Song for Everything”). No song packs as much zing as “Flavor,” a growling send-up Morris has dubbed "an F U to your haters.” In her case, they’re mostly online. “This is my middle finger to the trolls, the body-shamers, the slut-shamers, the women-haters, the people who rain on my parade,” she says, pointing out that despite her fame, she still manages her own social media accounts. "I wanted to tell them: You know what, I'm cooking up my own flavor, and you don't have to like it, but I promise you've never tasted anything like it."