Welcome to the new year, same as the old year.
Megan Maroney is a Georgia native who parlayed a viral Spotify release into a deal with Sony Music late in 2022, and since the song “Tennessee Orange” has already gotten the streaming seal of approval, Maroney and her crew decided to send it to the radio and see how it fared. The song is…well, let’s say that it had the best of intentions, and tried to take a run-of-the-mill love song and make it sound unique. They actually succeeded on that count, but their attempt to tie college football fandom into a love story felt awkward and limiting, and the song really isn’t all that interesting or compelling as a result.
Let’s talk about the lyrics first, because this is the biggest move the writers made to try to elevate an unremarkable tale of newfound love to something more memorable. The narrator, like Maroney herself, is a Georgia native, and they’re breaking the news that they have fallen so hard for a Tennessee Volunteers fan that they’re “wearing Tennessee orange for him.” My main issue with the approach is that the lyrics treat the act of crossing the line between the football programs way too seriously, making it out to be some sort of cardinal sin that disrupts the entire space-time continuum where it’s nowhere near that level. I’m not a college football fan by any stretch of the imagination (and I get that the sport is taken much more seriously in certain regions of the country), but I’ve had a front-row seat to the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for many years, and supporting rival teams is generally treated as a playful difference of opinion, something a couple can needle each other about over the course of the season. Such a split is never taken that seriously, and to treat it as some momentous or even sacrilegious act just feels silly to me. (The use of specific team references also limits the potential audience for the song: If you don’t know the mascots, stadiums, or fight songs of the teams involved, those references won’t make any sense.) Beyond that, the song doesn’t have much to say: The pair loves each other, the narrator is doing unexpected things out of affection, and that’s pretty much it. I suppose the writers deserve a little credit for trying to spice up a tired trope, but their approach leaves a lot to be desired.
Part of the problem is Maroney herself, whose sounds a lot like Kelsea Ballerini but doesn’t have Ballerini’s deft charisma or self-awareness. A song like this one might have worked had it not taken itself so seriously, and was delivered with a twinkle in the eye and a tongue placed firmly in cheek. Instead, Maroney goes all-in on a serious, emotional approach, and while there’s no doubt that she’s fond of the other person, she can sound a little over-the-top when portraying acts like wearing “the hat on his dash” as earth-shattering. (The lyrics also hamstring her by not letting folks who aren’t rabid fans connect with her story, simply because they don’t understand and thus can’t share in her passion.) She’s stuck being sounding too similar to other artists and using references that are too different and thus don’t provide a great frame of reference, and the end result is that she fails to draw in the listener or really make them care about what’s being said.
The production is probably the best thing the song has going for it, but even it has its flaws. The song is a standard guitar-and-drum mix, but it features acoustic pieces almost exclusively, with a soft acoustic axe carrying the melody and a real drum set keeping time. The electric guitars are here, but they’re mostly left in the background, with a steel guitar getting the call for the intra-line riffs and the bridge solo, and the result is a restrained-but-warm mix that stays out of the speaker’s way and provides adequate support for their emotional approach (even if I disagree with said approach). The mix’s rare 3/4 time signature helps it stand out amongst its peers, but when combined with the slower tempo, it makes the sound feel heavier than it should, and the track comes dangerously close to bogging down under its own weight. For lack of a better term, I’d call this a “compliance arrangement”: It does its job to create a serious-but-positive atmosphere for the song to work with, but it doesn’t do anything to expand the song’s audience on its own, which it really needed to do given the track’s shortcomings in other areas. It’s good for what it is, but it needed to be great, and it’s not.
“Tennessee Orange” is an “if you know, you know” kind of song: It’s okay if you hold college football near and dear, and pretty forgettable otherwise. While I appreciate that the folks involved here tried to experiment and shake up the current radio meta a little, their efforts weren’t nearly effective enough to make a difference. The lyrics try to force a football example down our throats like a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak (instead of dropping the ball, they turn it over on downs), Megan Maroney attempts to oversell a connection that she isn’t able to make, and the sound doesn’t bring enough light or energy to the table to make up the difference. It’s yet another fumbled debut from Nashville because it’s not a performance that interests me in hearing more from Maroney, and while there’s probably a considerable overlap between the college football and country music fandoms, I’m not sure it will be enough to keep this song afloat.
Rating: 5/10. If you’re not a football fan, you can pass this one by.