Carrie Underwood gets in touch with the bold side of her artistry with her new single “Drinking Alone.”
This week, Underwood released a music video for the smoldering track, and in the four-minute clip, the superstar acts as a singer in a swanky club, donning a fedora and sequined, sheer black ensemble, making eyes with a heartbroken stranger from the stage. It turns out the singer is a lonely patron herself, later joining him in a corner booth, sipping a glass of whiskey as she croons “We should be drinkin’ alone together/Drownin’ the pain is better/With somebody else who got problems/We ain’t gonna solve ’em/The misery loves company.”
As beguiling as the video is, the real intrigue lies in the song itself. “Drinking Alone” finds Underwood tapping into an R&B sound she hasn’t really experimented with before, mixing jazz flavor with slick wordplay. She doesn’t go over the top with her vocals, belting out the powerhouse notes when need be, but letting the softer tones in her voice really do the talking. The track has long been a standout and fan favorite on Underwood’s acclaimed 2018 album Cry Pretty, pushing her out of the sonic comfort zone that’s largely seen her play it close to the mainstream country line, whereas “Drinking Alone” feels like a significant growth spurt.
The video’s release comes on the heels of Underwood’s killer performance of the track at the 2019 CMA Awards. It was more of a theatrical display, really – oozing with confidence and flawless vocals. The show marked the twelfth consecutive year that Underwood served as host of the awards show, previously sharing duties with Brad Paisley.
This year, the CMA’s tone shifted to shine a spotlight on the women of country throughout the broadcast, pairing Underwood with legends Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire as co-hosts on a night that opened with a tribute to generations of hits recorded by women and featuring performances by the all three of them, along with The Highwomen, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Tanya Tucker and many more.
But the female-centric night ended with Garth Brooks being crowned Entertainer of the Year – one of the highest honors in country music – for the seventh time, an outcome that somewhat rattled the Nashville industry. Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, and Underwood herself were all nominated, with Underwood considered the top contender.
But Entertainer goes beyond touring. Many industry giants (including Miranda Lambert) had voiced their support for the lone woman nominee in the wake of her massive Cry Pretty Tour 360 that had her selling out arenas throughout 2019 and doing her part to support women in the genre by bringing duo Maddie & Tae and trio Runaway June as her opening acts. Cry Pretty is one of the most critically acclaimed albums Underwood has released in her 15-year career, on which she served as producer for the first time, during a season that saw the reserved star opening up about her experience with three miscarriages in a two-year period before welcoming a second son, Jacob, in January 2019. She also continues to cultivate her lifestyle brand Calia and is working on a health-focused book, Find Your Path: Honor Your Body, Fuel Your Soul, and Get Strong with the Fit52 Life, to be released in 2020, and has made impact outside of the genre, as NFL fans know her as the singer of the Sunday Night Football theme song.
Albeit, Brooks was headlining stadiums this year, setting records with ticket sales of 80,000 or more each night, while simultaneously reaching fans in a more personal way with his Dive Bar Tour that sees the superstar performing in intimate dive bars across the country. Still, this truly felt like Underwood’s year. While she’s the first woman to be awarded Entertainer of the Year twice consecutively at the ACM Awards, she hasn’t been able to break that glass ceiling at the CMAs, despite the buzz surrounding her with nominations in 2016 and 2019. While she’s always been at the center of a grand production, the Cry Pretty Tour was a spectacle, taking her show-womanship to the next level with fireworks, moving stages and interactive 360 degree staging that literally put her in the center of the crowd. And speaking as a fan for over a decade, she had me in tears throughout the show, taking us through a “walk down memory lane” segment where she shared her connection to a collection of early fan favorites while also realizing she now has so many hits that she had to perform snippets of several in one take. These are just a few of the factors that proved how much she’s grown as an entertainer since the first time I saw her in concert in 2012.
If you’re going solely based on ticket sales, it makes sense why Brooks was awarded the elite prize. But if you take into consideration the impact of an artist’s branding, how they challenged themselves musically and in their stage show, leading to overall growth as an artist, then Underwood defines the title of Entertainer of the Year.
Underwood is nominated for Favorite Female Artist (Country) and Favorite Album (Country) for Cry Pretty at the 2019 American Music Awards, airing on Nov. 24 on ABC. Here’s hoping she finally gains some long-deserved recognition.