The first thing Lainey Wilson says when asked about her hometown is that it has no stoplights. It has a lot of cornfields, though. It’s a town full of good, hardworking folks who are there when you need them and there when you don’t. She casually uses the phrase “grace and grit” in conversation. Her Louisiana accent is so potent that there are some words the automated transcription service used to record our interview gets wrong or just leaves out entirely. To talk to Wilson is to witness a bona fide storyteller at work.
For some country music stars, especially those who have come up during the last decade or so, constantly evoking iconography that’s become synonymous with expectations of the genre can feel performative, rote, maybe even a little absurdist. (Luke Bryan can, in case you didn’t know, wrestle hogs and gators with his two bare hands, hot wire your tractor, and salt-cure a ham). But even after a few minutes of conversation over Zoom, it’s clear nothing about Wilson is overly personified—including her down-home locutions and robust twang.
“I think sometimes, especially when people were first getting introduced to me, they heard my accent and immediately thought, “There’s no way this girl could be that country,” she says. “The truth is, you can say anything you want to about me, but when you start talking about my accent, I’m ready to fight somebody because then I start feeling you’re talking about my family.”
Wilson, 31, is largely considered country music’s newest Big Deal, having had a slew of soulful chart toppers and an impressive sweep at the 2024 CMA Awards in November, where she bagged Album of the Year for Bell Bottom Country, Female Vocalist of the Year, Vocal Event of the Year, Video of the Year, and the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year award, making her the first woman in more than a decade to win that particular honor, and only the second since 2000 (Taylor Swift won it twice). To put this into context: country icons such as Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert have yet to take home this award.
What’s striking about Wilson, in addition to her signature bell bottoms (more on that later), is her willingness to embody country at its most authentic but she also possesses a cerebral awareness about what it means to be a relevant artist in 2024 by not boxing herself into the conventions we’ve associated with traditional country singers. Make no mistake: she sings about the wistfulness of first loves, a fifth of Jack, and wild horses, but her perspective and artistry is wider in scope.
Take “Save Me,” a 2023 duet with Jelly Roll, the 39-year-old former rapper who’s known as much for his face tattoos as his introspective country music. The song has been called “life-changing,” “life-saving” and “cathartic.” At its core, the track—originally released solo by Jelly Roll in 2020—is about addiction, desperation, and redemption. With the addition of a female perspective and Wilson’s strong voice, the track keeps its urgency but has become a deeply relatable and heartbreaking love song that drove it to number one on the country charts.
Then there’s “Stay in the Truck,” her haunting duet with country artist Hardy that tackles domestic abuse and vigilante justice, which also sailed to number one on country radio and won Video of the Year at the 2023 CMAs. The song and its visuals are affecting, topical, and socially aware, which had some critics favorably comparing it to the genre’s last golden age, when Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, and Martina McBride often infused their music with stories that went deeper than pickup trucks, cold beer, and bar brawls. “For the abusers, I hope this song haunts them,” Wilson told The Tennessean in 2022. “For the victims, I hope they know they’re not alone.”
In 2022, Wilson was exposed to a new audience when she was cast in Season 5 of Paramount’s hit Yellowstone after some of her original songs were included in the soundtrack despite never having acted. She picked up more new fans in 2023 when her sweeping ballad “Heart Like a Truck” was used in a Dodge Ram commercial. And even more when a video of her ass (yeah, her ass) went viral on TikTok in December after a fan filmed her performing from a very particular angle and the response was effusive, even spawning its own X account and heated Reddit threads, which Wilson gamely embraced. “Whatever brings the people in,” she said in anInstagram post.
(Equally as viral, if arguably less lighthearted, was the vulture-like speculation about her changing look which has generated some abhorrent online headlines, because God forbid we can just let a woman in the public eye exist.)
But the reason people respond most to Wilson is likely because she’s what one Reddit user called “the realest deal.” She’s also a vocal advocate for strong women, a perspective that’s been less prevalent from the genre in its current iteration as it had in the past.
When accepting her award for Best Female Vocalist at November’s CMAs, she shouted out “all the hardworking women that I know, that I don’t know” before saying “for all you little girls watching and for the ones that are here tonight too … I’m getting up every single day and I’m looking at myself in the mirror and saying, ‘I’m beautiful. I’m smart. I’m godly. I’m fearless. If somebody tells me I can’t do it, hold my beer. Watch this.”
Below, Wilson talks about how she got her start, how she holds her ground as a woman in a male-dominated genre, her definition of self care, working as a Hannah Montana impersonator (!!!), whether she thinks her signature bell bottoms will have a permanent place in her closet, and more.
Glamour: How old were you when you realized you could really sing?
Lainey Wilson: I was five and my grandma would pick me and my sister up to stay the night with her. I remember she used to play the song, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” For me, that song was was probably the first that really made me feel something. And I remember belting it in the back of the car. One weekend when she dropped us off, she told my mama, “I think Lainey can kind of carry a tune.” And my mom was like, “Surely not, nobody in this family carries a tune.”
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