Over the past few years, country music has seen quite an increase in collaborations between some of the format’s biggest and brightest stars.
A hearty amount of the most successful collabs and highest rising songs of the last few years have been duets from artists such as Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood (“If I Didn’t Love You”), Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris (“Chasing You”), Chris Young and Cassaddee Pope (“Think Of You”), and Blake Shelton and Gwen Stafani (“Happy Anywhere”), to name a few.
However, the number of female-driven collaborations has been few and far between before Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde decided to join forces on their recent No. 1 single “Never Wanted To Be That Girl.”
Released in mid-September of 2021, the track is sung from the perspective of two women discovering the man they’re involved with has someone else, and finds the two women considering their own blind spots.
“I was in the middle of writing [29: Written In Stone] and had the idea to have another collaboration,” Pearce shares with MusicRow. “I’ve always loved Ashley, her music and the way she sang, so I just asked her if she would ever write a song with me. I reached out to her and she said yes.
“We had an honest conversation that day and she was trying to be sensitive to what I was going through in my personal life. Through that experience that I had, we were able to talk about something that so many women have been on at least one side of, but in a lot of cases, both sides of.” She continues, “We didn’t really know what we were writing until we had the first verse and the chorus, which is not typical. You don’t usually start writing and form it as you go, but in this case we really did write it from top to bottom. It almost wrote itself.”
“Never Wanted To Be That Girl” saw early signs of success as it became the most added single upon its release to country radio. Only months after its debut, the pair were also able to give a stirring performance of the track at the CMA Awards last November, and took home the Music Event of the Year at the 2022 ACM Awards in March 2022.
As Pearce carefully explains, there are a lot of things that must align for a song to be a single at country radio, and especially so when two artists are involved.
“Every star has to align and, in this case, it really did. Ashley was in a place where she could have it be her single and I wanted it to be my single,” the Kentucky-bred singer-songwriter gushes. “It all felt so meant to be and it’s crazy to see what it has done. It has been so special to see the power of music, honesty and vulnerability, which I think country music does the best.”
In addition to the song’s success at country radio, the single’s accompanying music video has also racked up its own list of nominations, including Video of the Year at the 2022 ACM Awards and Collaborative Video of the Year at the 2022 CMT Music Awards.
The video’s director and Pearce’s photographer, Alexa Campbell, made her directing debut with the picturesque video which brings the song’s gripping story to life in vivid color.
“I got the idea for it when we were in the studio. Carly was about to record the song and I was there filming her,” Campbell recalls. “You can only hear a song for the first time once, so I just remember how it made me feel… I thought of my niece. She is seven and is at that age where she is starting to talk about what she wants to be when she grows up and the type of boys she likes at school. None of our conversations are ever about heartbreak or anything bad happening, though. It really got me thinking about how no little girl ever wants to grow up and have this happen to them.
With the storyline, Campbell wanted to incorporate the theme of Pearce and McBryde looking at themselves in the mirror and not recognizing who they see based on their individual circumstances. All taking place in one night, the pair recognize what was happening and both realize that they deserve better.
“I didn’t want to focus on the guy at all, but I thought he was necessary for the story to progress,” Campbell shares. “I really wanted to be intentional about him only being in the background and really focusing on Carly and Ashley’s emotions.”
She continues, “When it came to the end with them driving and coming together at the stoplight, I had actually overheard Carly’s idea for it. She had said something about them meeting at the grocery store, and I just thought it would be really cool to have them meet at a stoplight because in any kind of small town affair, you probably know who it is or you know of them. I wanted to try to incorporate that really small town feel of even when you’re on a night drive you could see her.”
The smash hit marks only the second female duet to top the country charts in 30 years since Reba McEntire and Linda Davis‘ “Does He Love You” from 1993. It also lived in the top 10 alongside another female duet chart-topper, Elle King and Miranda Lambert‘s “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” further demonstrating the push for female representation in the country format.
“I have felt like [over the last few years] we’ve made such strides. I’ve felt positive about the women that I’m surrounded by in this industry, as well as the ladies that are ahead of and behind me,” Pearce notes. “I think you can see it in the last year with what has happened with me, or the way that this song and Elle King and Miranda Lambert’s song was the first time in the history of country radio that two female collaborations were inside the top 10 at the same time.
“Seeing what’s happening to people like Lainey Wilson, I think it’s a really amazing time to be a female,” she continues. “What we’ve been lacking over the last however many years is that we need to really focus on the music and the art that’s coming through, and not so much on the lack of it. We just need to really give these songs and artists a chance, and I feel like we’re starting to really see that.”
Pearce and McBryde have a packed summer ahead of them as Pearce serves as direct support on Kenny Chesney‘s “Here And Now 2022” tour, which will visit nearly two dozen stadiums and a handful of newly added amphitheaters through August.
Pearce and Campbell also have some plans and projects in the hopper as Pearce continues working on her highly-anticipated next project and Campbell teases new directing credits in the works.
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