Miranda Lambert’s made a career out of shooting guns, setting things on fire, and blowing things up—in her songs, anyway. Her first big hit was “Kerosene,” in 2005, a rambunctious ball-buster about a woman who burns down her cheating boyfriend’s house. She followed that breakthrough with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” about a woman who starts a bar fight with her ex’s new date, and “Gunpowder and Lead,” a revenge drama sung from the point of view of a battered woman whose husband has just been released from jail.
“Well, being a born-and-bred Texan I guess I’ve just got that fiery personality as part of my heritage,” Lambert writes in an e-mail interview. “I’ve learned to stand up for myself and not take any crap, so I suppose that self-assertiveness, not necessarily in a violent way, holds true on and off the stage. Plus, there is a certain amount of role-playing with some of my songs—I may have done those things, just in my head!”
Lambert has been, in many ways, the polar opposite of Taylor Swift, the most prominent young female country star of the last decade. Swift is All-American cute; Lambert’s sexy, and a little on the rough side. (In the video for “Kerosene,” she’s wearing a white tank top that reads “Mama Tried.”) Swift is a Pennsylvania transplant who moved to Nashville with her parents as a teenager; Lambert’s from Texas. Swift writes and sings about high school melodrama; Lambert’s subject matter, as her early string of hits indicates, tends to be slightly more incendiary.
They’re not quite as different as they seem at first glance, though. Like Swift, Lambert was something of a prodigy as both a songwriter and a performer. She’s had an eye on the industry since she was a teenager, landing her first recording deal at the age of 16 and fronting the house band at the famous Reo Palm Isle Ballroom in Long View, Texas, while she was still in high school. In 2003, when she was 20, Lambert finished third in the Nashville Star competition, a country-music version of American Idol. And like Swift, whose is essentially a pop star masquerading as a country singer, much of Lambert’s success so far has come from outside Nashville’s traditional fan base. In 2007 she was on the cover of the alt-country magazine No Depression, and she’s an album artist—each of her discs has debuted at the top of the country charts, but she’s only had two top-10 singles—which indicates that she’s not selling records based on airplay.
That’s partly due to the changing nature of Nashville. It took most of the last decade, but country music seems to have finally crawled out of the 1990s; new acts like Lambert, Swift, Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Sugarland, and Lady Antebellum have finally taken over from Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, and Toby Keith.
“This may sound strange, but in country music a lot of artists are very supportive of one another,” Lambert says. “Yes, it’s competitive, but truly it’s just like a large family. There is room for all kinds of artists and as a group we make up a pretty diverse spectrum. I love what Zac Brown Band is doing and Jamey Johnson. I’m a fan of so many artists coming out these days.”
On her new record, Revolution, released in September, Lambert rises above her early promise as a hardcore hell-raiser to show off a more mature, fully formed approach. She still has an incendiary streak—in the song “Maintain the Pain,” the narrator shoots out the radio in her truck, while she’s still driving. There’s also a cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Time to Get a Gun,” a forlorn working-class anthem with unspoken violence seething underneath it, and “Sin for a Sin,” a blistering rocker modeled after “Kerosene.” But she’s more reflective here; even the cheating song “White Liar,” the album’s biggest hit, has a mid-tempo pop sensibility that recalls the Dixie Chicks.
“I think that this record reflects both sides of my personality,” Lambert says. “Because I have the regular 25-year-old small-town girl that likes to make cupcakes and live on a farm, and then I have this rowdy, crazy, head-banging, rock-star-girl side; that is my life on the road. This album is much more revealing into my personal life than my first album, Kerosene, and then the follow-up, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. As a songwriter you can sometimes hide behind the lyrics and not let the listener know the real person behind them. In Revolution I feel like I didn’t hold anything back from my fans. I let them in on every aspect of where I am at in life right now. As I am maturing as a person and an artist I learned that even if it’s scary to reveal yourself to your fans in your music, it’s also freeing at the same time.”