Not a great way to start a rebuilding effort, folks.
It’s hard to figure out exactly where Lady A stands after a turbulent 2020. On one hand, the trio’s last single “Champagne Night” spent much of the year climbing the charts, eventually grabbing the #1 spot this January and generally putting together a decent showing. On the other hand, however, the band dumped a much better single in “What I’m Leaving For” in favor of an unimpressive Cobronavirus track, and they spent much of the year in an awkward, embarrassing fight with veteran blues singer Anita White over the name “Lady A,” a name the band abruptly switched to in the wake of the George Floyd protests apparently without anyone realizing White had been using the moniker for decades. (Dropping your band’s old name to acknowledge its negative racial connotations is admirable, but stealing your new name from a Black artist makes you look more than a little hypocritical. Seriously, do none of the Lady A members or anyone at Big Machine know how to use Google?) Unfortunately, in an era where dropping a racial slur can apparently increase your record sales, Lady A has mostly been able to brush off its indiscretions and continue with business as usual, closing the book on the Ocean era and releasing their new single “Like A Lady.” On its own, the song is decent enough, with a kinda-sorta throwback sound and a decent mix of fun and empowerment. In context, however, the song feels incredibly tone-deaf, flaunting the freedom of the narrator while the band exercises its own freedom to trample on others and ignore any pain they may cause.
The major surprise of this song is the production, which feels like a 2000s-era banger and delivers a major shot of energy and exuberance. Instead of the same old guitar-and-drum mix we got on “Champagne Night,” there’s a lot more diversity in the arrangement here. The song opens with a prominent fiddle (!) and mandolin, and they remain a major focus of the sound throughout the track (especially on the choruses). The guitars tones are a bit rougher and show off some real muscle on the bridge solo, the banjo does just enough support work to avoid the dreaded ‘token’ label, and the percussion is mostly real (the drum set gets right up in your face, while the synthetic claps are mostly buried in the background). The brighter instruments and slightly-faster tempo help the song create momentum and generate a positive atmosphere, helping the audience to share in the narrator’s confidence and optimism. It’s a solid mix that does a nice job supporting the writing, and it’s a shame that it’s wasted on such a loaded track.
As the title suggests, Hillary Scott handles the primary vocal duties here (Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood are limited to mostly-unnoticeable background work), and she delivers the sort of quality performance you might expect. The song is not terribly challenging from a technical perspective (although there are some faster sections on the chorus that Scott just breezes through), and she brings a sassy, almost playful confidence to the mic that projects a lot of strength and power. Normally, I’d be all on board with this: The narrator is going to do their own thing and doesn’t care who disapproves of their actions…but when “do their own thing” means suing another artist to take away their identity, it makes the callousness of this confidence the most salient part of Scott’s delivery. It’s an unfortunate piece of baggage that weighs down a generally-solid performance, but the trio has no one to blame for this but themselves.
On the surface, the lyrics here are a combination of Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” and Ingrid Andress’s “Lady Like”: The narrator is making their own definition of “lady,” and it mashes up Andress’s casual dressing, straight-talking approach with Runaway June’s penchant for a fun night out. I enjoyed these two tracks, so why am I so unhappy with this one?
- While “Buy My Own Drinks” was a means to an end (the narrator was trying to move on from a failed relationship), this song is nothing but drinking, dancing, and partying because the narrator feels like it. In that sense, it’s no more compelling than the nihilistic Cobronavirus party tracks we were pummeled with back in 2020.
- The context here is inescapable: While I normally celebrate people who have the confidence to live there lives however they want, when you see an act needlessly go after another artist the way Lady A did with with White, this lifestyle starts to look less like freedom and more like privileged entitlement. Suddenly lines like “I’m living my life, I do what I like” and “I might break your heart and not think twice” stop feeling playful and start sounding like a veiled threat. It’s as if the group is telling us “We’re going to do what we want no matter who it hurts, and we don’t care what you think about it,” and given the power imbalance in this conflict, it’s an attitude that’s incredibly off-putting to the listener.
With great power comes great responsibility, and hearing someone champion their freestyle way of life is much less fun when you find out who it hurts.
“Like A Lady” is about as bad of a single choice as Lady A could make right now, as it draws further attention to an unforced error and makes the trio come across like they just don’t care. It tries to step into an already-crowded lane, it wastes a solid effort by both the producer and lead vocalist Hillary Scott, and it ends up highlighting larger structural issues in the Nashville system (white established artists hold a lot of power and can act with near-impunity). It’s not a song I’m interested in revisiting again, but perhaps we should all revisit it anyway, because it’s a reminder that there are a lot of problems in this genre that need to be cleaned up, and we need to start doing something sooner rather than later.
Rating: 5/10. It’s not really worth your time.