Song Review: Carly Pearce, “Next Girl”

If you “know what happens next, girl,” why don’t you ever tell us?

Carly Pearce’s career has been a roller coaster ride since her debut in 2017: “Every Little Thing” got the standard debut-single treatment to reach #1, but she was then pushed further and further into the background over time (“Hide The Wine” only made it to #13 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Closer To You” hit a wall at #28) until teaming up with Lee Brice to ride “I Hope You’re Happy Now” back to the top. After a few months of silence, Pearce is back with yet another album (normally I would complain about only getting two singles from her previous discs, especially when her last album was released less than a year ago, but these days I suppose getting an album at all is an accomplishment given the number of EPs that are flying around) and a new single “Next Girl,” sending out a warning about a fly-by-night ex who’s prone to dropping the L-word without really meaning it. It’s okay and all, but okay is all it is: This is a bland track with a lot of missing pieces, and the biggest omission is the emotion and attitude needed to make listeners pay attention in the first place.

Let’s start with the production, which is far too bouncy and upbeat for a track like this one. The foundation is formed primarily by a pair of deep-voiced electric guitars, with some acoustic guitar sprinkled in and a dobro whose role expanded from in-between coverage to backing the verses and chorus. The percussion is a mix of real and synthetic instruments, but it’s not particularly notable except on the closing lines of the chorus, and the YouTube video mentions a synthesizer that’s pretty much invisible. There’s some decent instrumental texture to this mix, but the brighter tones, soft edges, and especially the brisk tempo give it a fun, energetic, and even happy vibe that clashes badly with the lyrics. This thing doesn’t sound like a warning it all; it sounds like a lightweight jam that encourages you to think less and move more. The producer simply doesn’t treat this track with the seriousness it deserves, and as a result, neither does the listener.

This pandemic must have really drained the life out of Nashville: I just knocked Keith Urban for a lifeless performance on “One Too Many,” and Pearce’s performance isn’t much better here. There aren’t any technical issues with her delivery (the range and flow demands are minimal at best), but there are two major pieces missing here: urgency and attitude. I’m not looking for a repeat of Gabby Barrett’s snarl from “I Hope,” but I’d at least expect to hear a bit more seriousness and gravity in her voice. Instead, Pearce comes across as incredibly nonchalant and even positive, making it feel like she’s just wishing the next person luck (“I really hope it works out! BTW, the dude’s a total liar.” Even then, however, her tone doesn’t signal much frustration towards her ex at all). Such an out-of-touch delivery detracts from the song’s core message and makes the listener question the narrator’s believability, and the whole thing ends up feeling way more awkward than it should.

The lyrics here are intended as a heads-up from the narrator to whoever dates their former partner: I’ve seen everything you’re seeing now, it didn’t end well then, and it likely won’t end well now. What’s problematic, however, is how front-loaded the details are: The narrator spends forever talking about how the relationship probably started and how their ex is probably acting, but next to nothing is said about how the story ended beyond the implication that it didn’t end well. I understand that you want to focus on how the relationships compare initially to convince the “next girl” that you’re on the level and establish trust between the two people, but at some point the next girl is going to start asking “what’s going to happen next?”, and the narrator has no answer. The ex is painted as untrustworthy, but there are no examples of the relationship going south that the next person can watch for, and no specific scenes of bad behavior to paint the ex in an unflattering light (they’re basically just called a liar for the entire song). There’s a huge gap in the story that the writers never bothered to fill in (and at a mere 2:44 running time, they certainly had room to do it), and it leaves the song feeling incomplete and unimpactful.

Mediocre ideas can sometimes be executed to perfection, but “Next Girl” feels like a promising idea that was botched at every turn, leaving us with a unimpressive result. Neither Carly Pearce nor the producer try to match the tone of the (half-baked)  writingin fact, it feels like they’re trying to spin it as a fun, enjoyable experience. What ultimately made songs like “I Hope” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” enjoyable was how they allowed the audience to revel in the narrator’s revenge (whether real or imagined), whereas here they tried to inject fun without injecting any feeling to go along with it. Ultimately, this is a forgettable disappointment, and at a time when Pearce has already lost the “Next Girl” title to artists like Barrett, Ingrid Andress, and Ashley McBryde, without better material she runs the risk of being forgotten herself.

Rating: 5/10. Next song, please.