Song Review: Maren Morris, “GIRL”

For an “empowering new female anthem,” I kind of wish the message was bit more empowering.

Honestly, I feel bad for Maren Morris right now. Where once the critical buzz around her was positive and complementary, the discussion around her recently has centered on how negative her influence on country music is (Saving Country Music in particular has become a vocal critic). With the book finally closed on her debut album Hero, Morris is now looking to try and change the conversation with “GIRL,” the leadoff single for her upcoming sophomore album. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the song’s acknowledgment of the demons both within and outside the narrator’s mind, the song doesn’t really go beyond saying “Rub some dirt on it and get back in the game,” and Morris and her producer lack the Carrie Underwood-like presence to make that message really stick.

The production gets off on the right foot by opening with a solitary hard-rock guitar, whose dark tone and simple methodical riff gives the song a real sense of unease and instability, reflecting the anxieties and pressures felt by the narrator. The problem is that the song never moves on from this vibe, leaving Morris to deliver her words of encouragement in an overly-serious atmosphere that doesn’t suit the writing at all. Part of the problem is the song’s sparse arrangement: Only a metronomic drum set ever joins the initial guitar, which means that there’s nothing there to inject any brightness or optimism into the track to help drive home the song’s message. Additionally, the slower tempo and simple chord structure loop leaves the song without any energy, and it just kind of plods along stoically from start to finish. It was a great place to start, but a lousy place to finish, and the listener leaves the song feeling a bit short of heartened or consoled.

Morris’s performance seems to suffer from the same case of the blehs that infected the production. She demonstrates impressive range and a solid-but-slightly-stilted flow on the track, but while the vocals have a tired, weary quality that suits the depressing verses, they fail to perk up when the narrator looks to inspire the subject of the song (Morris really steps into the trailing verse lines, but inexplicably steps back again for the punch lines on the chorus). As a result, the narrator comes across as beaten-down rather than encouraging, and the dearth of energy and passion leaves the listener wondering if Morris really believes in the optimism she’s trying to sell. Morris certainly has the charisma to sell a song like this (witness the power she brings on “My Church” or the emotion of “I Could Use A Love Song,” so her flat and uninspiring delivery is a complete mystery to me.

Lyrically, the song is an exhortation to a “girl” (in fact, Morris refers to it a message to herself) to not let the negativity surrounding them to bring them down, and to “pick yourself up off the kitchen floor” and keep moving forward. It’s a nice message at a high-level, but it feels like the narrator isn’t actually offering a solution to the problem at hand—they’re just saying “get back in the game!” like they’re a Little League coach trying to get their left fielder to tough out a skinned knee. Even shallow escapist tunes like Danielle Bradbery’s “Sway” offered more support than this song, because at least they give the aggrieved party some steps to follow! (If Morris is chafing under country music’s current climate, her best bet would have been to bring out a song like Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More” to spell out her leverage over the genre. After all, with the success of “The Middle,” her collaboration with Zedd and Grey, Morris’s case for leaving is even stronger than Ballerini’s!) There are also some jarring perspective shifts during the song (the narrator starts by talking about themselves, them shifts to the third-person to address a “girl,” then dives into some meta-commentary against the powers that be for pitting people against one another), but the lyrics do deserve some credit for at least making the story feel coherent, even if the writing isn’t terribly instructive. Overall, however, I just don’t find myself connecting or sympathizing with the narrator as much as I should, and the writing’s lack of direction is a major reason for this.

“GIRL” ends up falling into the same category as “Female” and “Speak To A Girl,” as it’s a song with a decent message that suffers from below-average execution. The production is not optimistic, the writing is not helpful, and Maren Morris herself is just not inspiring in the narrator’s role. There’s nothing empowering or anthemic about this song, and while all involved probably had good intentions, we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

Rating: 6/10. There might be some inspiration here for you, but don’t bet the farm on it.