HOW LAINEY WILSON CONQUERED NASHVILLE ON HER OWN TERMS
By: Melinda Newman
"My give-a-damn was a little busted," says Billboard's 2023 Women In Music Rulebreaker. "I felt like, 'Why not just say what I want to say how I want to say it?'"
By the time Lainey Wilson showcased for BMG Nashville staff in 2018, she was at a crossroads. She had already been in Nashville for over five years after leaving her small Louisiana hometown of Baskin and was struggling to fit in. Her heavily accented, twangy country vocals and Southern swagger weren’t in fashion as the genre leaned more toward pop, but her attempts to accommodate that style weren’t working either. So she doubled down on her tough-but-vulnerable authenticity. With that attitude, she sang, “She’s a soldier/When I hold her/Up in the air” in her defiant “Middle Finger.” “Take that, Nashville,” she thought.
Wilson, now 30, laughs when she remembers that time. “I just got to a certain point where I’d been in Nashville for so long [and] my give-a-damn was a little busted. I felt like, ‘Why not just say what I want to say how I want to say it?’ That’s one of the thoughts that really set me free.”
That fearlessness — and her robust, honest voice — captivated BMG Nashville president Jon Loba, who had been turned on to Wilson by another artist on his roster, Jimmie Allen.
“[She had] this absolute confidence. And it was an amazing vocal and, even at that time, amazing songs,” says Loba, who immediately signed her to Broken Bow Records. “But it was her narrative in between the music [where] you really got a sense of who she was: this strong woman from a small town in Louisiana who did not want to compromise who she was.”
Five years later, Wilson’s refusal to compromise has taken her to the top of the charts and awards show podiums. Her first album for the label, 2021’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, included her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, “Things a Man Oughta Know.” “Never Say Never,” her duet with Cole Swindell, reached No. 1 seven months later. Her current single, “Heart Like a Truck,” from last year’s Bell Bottom Country, and her feature on HARDY’s “wait in the truck” are racing toward the peak of the chart. With six nods, she led all nominees for November’s Country Music Association Awards, taking home new artist and female vocalist of the year. Between supporting slots for Luke Combs — she’ll appear on his stadium tour this spring and summer after opening his 2022 arena tour — she headlined her first large club tour.
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