It’s nearing 5 p.m. on a weekday in Brooklyn, and Miranda Lambert is ready to throw some back. She’s been working all day, after all, but not the kind of work she likes—i.e., writing songs, recording them, and playing them live. “The business part, I’m just not that good at it. I don’t even know what a vertical video is,” Lambert says of the video format optimized for viewing on a phone.“But apparently everyone’s doing them.”
Aside from some one-off gigs, it’s been eight months since the 36-year-old country star has been on the job, her most significant stretch of downtime since making that initial trip to Nashville from Lindale, Texas (population 4,818, at last count), at age 17. She’s thankful to be wrapping up this bit of promo for her seventh album, Wildcard (out now), and will be hitting the road once again in a few days.
“I just want to sing my songs and sleep on a bus,” she says of her upcoming two-and-a-half-month tour. But for now, it’s hours in the hair and makeup chair, photo shoots, and being escorted around New York City in a tinted SUV like a glamour queen.
“I’ll never get used to it, honestly,” she says of her status as one of country music’s most enduring and highest-paid female stars. She describes herself as more of a“homing pigeon” who would be just as happy running a dog rescue shelter: “People always ask, ‘What would you do if you didn’t make it as a singer?,’ and that’s it.”
Once we’re settled into a booth in a gaudy Williamsburg diner, Lambert continues, “All of this isn’t who I am. It’s what I do.” She picks up the menu, pretends to look it over, and says, “Let’s drink!” She asks whether the establishment has Tito’s. Unfortunately, they do not, so she settles for a Grey Goose and soda with lime, bending her vowels with a syrupy Texas twang so that “lime” comes out sounding more like lahm. She has to repeat herself and spell out L-I-M-E, and then she’s asked how old she is. “Old enough!” she answers with a laugh. “Seriously? That’s awesome.”
Lambert’s been spending a lot of time in New York City lately—the by-product of marrying Brendan McLoughlin, 28, a native Staten Islander and NYPD cop she met on the set of Good Morning America in November of last year. They tied the knot in a secret ceremony this past January after dating for just a few months. “I totally still have stars in my eyes about [New York City],” she says. “As cultured as I wish I could be, I’m still a small-town girl in a big city. Give me all of it!”
There’s also no mistaking she’s happy. The giddy, can’t-hide-it, goofy sort of happy that only a new relationship—er, marriage—can bring. Frankly, it’s all a bit foreign to those who know her best. As her longtime friend and cowriter Natalie Hemby says, “I don’t really think I’ve ever seen her like this. I told her, ‘Happiness looks really good on you.’ ” And as fans might recall, it wasn’t all that long ago that Lambert’s situation was wildly different.
In 2016, she released a stunning, well-crafted but undeniably somber double album, The Weight of These Wings. “I was going through a shitshow, so I wrote about it,” she says now. People took to calling it a “divorce record,” seeing as it followed her high-profile split from fellow country artist Blake Shelton, and, well, we like simple narratives.
Lambert doesn’t deny that the album was full of sad songs. She says those are her specialty: “I’m a sad-country-song singer.” But there was something deeper happening, Hemby says, something she’s seen happen with a lot of artists who have to fire on all cylinders at all times. “They get that faraway stare in their eyes because they have so much going on in their world, and they can’t take care of all of it,” she says. “So you lose a part of them.”
Lambert granted zero interviews to promote The Weight of These Wings. “I just couldn’t at the time,” she says. “It was just a lot going on. Plus, there wasn’t anything to say.” Right now, though, she’s a woman reborn. She left the “shitshow” behind in small-town Oklahoma and moved to Nashville, where she went out often, had girls’ nights at her house, and took the time to find herself.
“I had to live—to stay out too late and write on bar napkins and shit,” she says. “Now I’m in a new phase of life.” Lambert is back to loving life’s simpler pleasures, like retreating to her 400-acre farm an hour or so south of Nashville, where she’s made room for her new husband alongside her six vintage camper trailers, horses, dogs, cats, and two bunnies. She adds, “It’s like a little redneck heaven out in the middle of nowhere.”
And while she admits that on paper her new marriage might seem unexpected, not least of which because she’s never dated anyone outside the industry before (“I tried that,” she says. “It wasn’t me”), it’s exactly the brand of uncomplicated and uncompromised marital bliss she’s long craved. “And that can be traveling the world or just sitting in a backyard,”she says. Or it can be as easy as, “ ‘Do you want chicken cutlets, chicken parm, or pasta?’ I’m happiest when I can be just the true me and someone will love me for that—nothing else.”
It’s Lambert’s unwavering sense of self that’s long made her one of country music’s most compelling artists. “I’ve never met anyone more authentically sure of themselves,” says Maren Morris, who duets with Lambert on Wildcard’s murderous revenge fantasy “Way Too Pretty for Prison.” “If she’s throwing an awards-show after-party, there’s going to be chicken tenders.”
“Way Too Pretty” is just one of several signature tongue-in-cheek Lambert cuts on an album where social critique is delivered with a wink-wink punch line (see also:“Pretty Bitchin’,” in which she invites listeners to help themselves to the Tito’s in the kitchen of her Airstream trailer, and “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” which recalls Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” with brilliant couplets like “Had a fancy dinner at your mother-in-law’s / Spilled A1 sauce on her tablecloth,” plus the cheeky aside “don’t sweat it—a Tide stick will get it”). Lambert’s trick, however, is placing these fun, relatable songs next to meditative, deeply reflective tracks like “Bluebird” and “Holy Water”—salvation with a side of sin.
“She has that internal compass that a lot of artists just don’t have,” says Wildcard producer Jay Joyce, who met the singer while playing guitar on her 2005 debut album, Kerosene. “She is who people think she is—I don’t think she can do anything that isn’t honest. She’s not capable of bullshitting that well.”
Lambert is also a straight shooter when it comes to the current state of country music for female artists and, more specifically, where she fits into that landscape. AUSC study released earlier this year showed that only 16 percent of artists featured in 500 of the top country songs from 2014 to 2018 were women.
Lambert acknowledges she’s one of a handful of women who’ve found success on country radio, but that doesn’t ease her anxiety about when, or if, her next hit will come. “I couldn’t get anything on my last record played to save my life,” she says, despite the fact that her album debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and number three on the Billboard Top 200. She’s not bitter about it: “You just think you’ve got the formula figured out, and then you don’t.” Still, she says she has “six buses’ worth of people” who count on her having a hit. “And I’d like to have a hit, but without sacrificing my art. So everyday, I wake up and think about it. Every single day.”
One thing she does have control over is who she’s bringing on her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars tour. When Lambert was coming up, “there wasn’t a woman to take me [on tour],” she says. So this time around, she’s recruited some of the genre’s most promising female artists, including Morris, Tenille Townes, and Ashley McBryde, to join her. Though, she adds, “We shouldn’t have had to get this loud to get attention.”
But Lambert won’t let herself get all that worked up. There’s too much joy in her life right now for her to be thrown off course and not enjoy this moment. Besides, who knows when she’ll have downtime again. “They gave me eight months off, and I went and got married,” she says with a laugh. “My manager was like, ‘That’s the last time you’re going to get any free time!’ ”