Song Review: Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am”

There’s projecting confidence, and then there’s unnecessarily punching down. This song feels more like the latter.

Callista Clark is a Georgia native and musical prodigy who signed a record deal with Big Machine when she was fifteen, and is finally beginning to make a push to radio with her debut EP Real To Me and her single “It’s ‘Cause I Am.” I’m usually a sucker for a confident, empowering single like this one claims to be, but after listening to it I really don’t see what all the hype is about: This track is middle-of-the-road at best and surprisingly irritating at worst, featuring an uninteresting sound and a performance dripping with smug condescension that doesn’t feel justified and frames Clark in the worst possible light.

There are many things that annoy me about Nashville, but one of them is how they saddle every new act (honestly, it’s getting to be just every act in general) with the same soundalike arrangement that blends into the background and fails to catch the listener’s ear and make the artist stand out from the crowd. The production here falls into the same trap: We open with a drum set and a slick, deep-voiced electric guitar, we get some more-generic electric axes are tossed in for the chorus, a keyboard is buried so deep in the background that it’s barely noticeable, and that’s it. This is the same darn mix we’ve been fed over and over again, and while there’s the slightest hint of an edge here (mostly from the percussion), the arrangement has nowhere near the punch it needs to properly support the writing. (Also, despite the fact that Clark “can play a total of eight different instruments,” she’s only credited as a vocalist on the track—why the heck didn’t they let her play on her own single?) It yet another blown opportunity to let an emerging artist find their own style, and Nashville really needs to rethink their formula and make it less…well, formulaic, at least in the sound.

I’d like to jump to the writing here, because it honestly reminds of Travis Denning’s “ABBY” for all the wrong reasons. It tries to portray the narrator as a strong, confident individual breaking out of a dysfunctional relationship, but it falls on both ends: Lines like “I’m an MVP, you’re little league…and I’m gonna get bored” overshoot the mark and sound arrogant and immature, and when they say “Might be born in the same year, but boy we ain’t the same age” and “If I’m a little too salty, it’s ’cause you’re too sweet,” the image that comes to mind is less a meatheaded Bro only motivated by sex and more an awkward teenager whose biggest fault is being generally clueless. (All of the accusations feel too indirect as well: Instead of saying “you wish I was simple,” provide direct evidence and actually put those words in the other person’s mouth.) It makes the narrator look like the aggressor, bullying their target without providing a strong-enough rationale for doing so, and they lose the audience’s sympathy as a result. People are free to enter and exit relationships however they see fit, but the post-breakup antagonism we get here just feels mean and unwarranted, and it repels the listener more than it drawn them in.

Salvaging this junk would be a difficult task for any artist, and for Clark, whose voice falls somewhere between Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert, it’s simply too big a challenge to overcome. There aren’t any technical issues here (the track really doesn’t test her range, flow, or power), but she replaces Denning’s anger with a too-cool-for-school, holier-than-thou smugness that doesn’t make things sound any better. She seems to be aiming for a level of poise and experience that she just can’t reach yet, and the amount of snarkiness in her delivery undercuts her attempt to sound mature and above the fray. Instead, it reinforces the idea that she’s actually the villain in this story, breaking up on a whim because the other person is simply beneath her. It’s simply not a good look for a debut artist, and makes me completely uninterested in hearing more from her in the future.

“It’s ‘Cause I Am” is the same sort of debut single catastrophe that Lainey Wilson dumped on us back in 2019 with “Dirty Looks”: A new artist brings a soundalike sound and an abrasive attitude to the table, and all the audience can do is hold their nose and say “Really?” Instead of empowering the singer, it demeans them by making them sound childish and petty, and for someone like Calissta Clark (who I’m betting Big Machine is looking to push as the next Taylor Swift), it sets them back rather than setting them up for success. Nashville has a real problem with pushing newer artists these days (although part of this is because the older established players keep purloining the preferred playlist positions), and if they want to help these artists break through, they need to stop forcing them into the same two or three worn-out templates, and do more to showcase their individuality and talent. Otherwise, why move on from old artists when the new ones sound the same?

Rating: 4/10. Pass.