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Lainey Wilson Is the Realest Deal

Erick Frost

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.”

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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.

Wilson swept the 2023 CMA Awards, including winning the coveted Entertainer of the Year award.

LAINEY WILSON CMAs

Wilson swept the 2023 CMA Awards, including winning the coveted Entertainer of the Year award.
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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 for 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 “Wait 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.”

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In 2022, Wilson was exposed to a new audience when she was cast in season five 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 an Instagram 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 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.”

Were you encouraged after that?

My mama started kind of paying attention, and then kindergarten graduation rolled around and an opportunity to sing [Robert Carlisle’s 1997 ballad] “Butterfly Kisses” came up, and I got this little cassette player. I was five years old, so of course I couldn’t read at that time, but she would play a line of the song and then we would rewind it on the kitchen floor and then we’d learn another line and then she’d rewind it again. That’s how I learned the song, and that was my first time ever singing in public, at my kindergarten graduation, dressed up like a little butterfly.

Cutting forward a bit, how did you make the leap from “Butterfly Kisses” at school to “I think I can actually do this for real”?

I was nine years old when my parents took me on a family vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Dollywood. That’s really where the dream sparked. After that trip I begged my parents to drive through Nashville and I remember exactly where I was on the interstate when I said, “This is home.” I remember looking at [Nashville landmark] the Batman building and having an overwhelming gut feeling that this was it.

What were some early gigs people would be surprised to hear you had?

I took every opportunity you can imagine. I played every honky-tonk talent search, every kind of Colgate Country Showdown, you name it. In high school my job was impersonating Hannah Montana. I would do four or five birthday parties a weekend. Sometimes I would open up as Lainey Wilson and then I’d run backstage and change into my Hannah Montana wig and do my 15-song karaoke show. I’ve been grinding since I was nine years old. I needed to prove to myself and my family that I’m really serious about this.

When did you make the leap to Nashville?

During the end of high school and into college, I started playing with a band called The Cadillac Kings, and we would play four-hour gigs several nights a week. So at 19 years old I figured, You know what? If I’m really going to do this thing, it’s time for me to head to Nashville. And so, I was going to college. I decided to start taking all of my classes online and I bought a little Flagstaff bumper-pull camper trailer and brought it up to Nashville.

Did you always know you’d be successful? Or did you struggle with self-doubt?

What’s really crazy is I feel like I’ve always had a weird feeling that this is where it was going to end up. I’m a firm believer in speaking it and believing it, and I have put it out into the universe and I have talked to God about it a million times. Sometimes I think you have to pretend to be something that you’re not.

It’s been a journey, though. I’ve been in Nashville for 12 years, but nothing happened for me until year seven when I finally signed a publishing deal and year eight when I signed a record deal. I saw people and new friends who had just moved to town signing deals left and right. No part of me ever wanted to take it away from them, but I wanted it myself. I had faith that my time was coming. Everybody’s timing looks different.

It’s rare that the internet agrees on anything these days, especially the authenticity of artists. But when I was doing my research, it seems the consensus on you is overwhelmingly positive. YouTube comments, Reddit threads, country message boards—all were effusive, calling you “countrier than cornbread” and “the Janis Joplin of country.” I’ve seen women write that they want to be friends with you because you seem so real. What does it mean to be country at its most authentic?

When you grow up somewhere like I did with the kind of people that I did, you can’t help but to be country. You can’t escape it no matter if you move eight hours away like I did. Country music was the soundtrack of our lives. We lived it out. To me, country is being a good person. I think “giving people the shirt off your back” kind of people, the people who don’t take no shit, but the people who will love you and lift you up. When I think about country folks, I think about hard work. I think about people who get up with the sun and then go to bed in the wee hours of the morning. I take being country as a huge compliment because it’s the truth.

Was it surreal to have one of your songs on a national [Dodge Ram] commercial? Sometimes I feel songs are misused when it comes to brand alignment, but this one felt like a sublime partnership.

It was weird. I was cleaning the kitchen one day and I heard it in the distance, and it caught me off guard, but it was freaking awesome. It was a huge moment, a huge deal, and I was very proud of it, too, because you’re writing a song called “Heart Like a Truck,” and you’re writing about going through things and triumph and embracing the scratches and the dents and the bumps along the way, but when you’re sitting there writing a song with your friends, you’re not thinking about, Man, we’re writing this song right here for a truck commercial. Sometimes dreams lead to other dreams that you didn’t even know you had.

I want to talk to you a little bit about your approach to style. Can we talk about the bell-bottoms?

I can talk about bell-bottoms all day.

How did it come to be? Did you set out thinking you need a signature, or do you just fucking love bell-bottoms?

A little bit of both. I wrote my first song at nine years old, and that was the year that I got my first pair of bell-bottoms. They were blue leopard print. And I remember being very aware of how those made me feel. I felt sassy; I felt like I could do anything. So I get to Nashville and realize very quickly that as a female in country music, you can’t just be a decent singer-songwriter. You’ve got to do something that makes you stand out and stand apart. And for me, I was thinking, What could I do that is still true to me, but is stepping outside the box a little bit?

For me, it was putting those bell-bottoms back on. I decided, All right, if I’m going down to Music Grove, if I’m going to the grocery store, if I’m going back home to Baskin, I’m wearing my bell-bottoms because I’m going to get noticed. And at first a lot of people were like, “Are you really bringing those ugly pants back?” I was like, “You’re dang right.”

Wilson in her signature bell-bottoms at a 2023 event in New York.

A New York Evening With Lainey Wilson

Wilson in her signature bell-bottoms at a 2023 event in New York.
Getty Images

Do you still wear them everywhere?

Not so much anymore because I will say lately, like in the airport, you have to be careful, but yes, there was a time in my life where I made sure that I was making a statement everywhere I went.

Do you get them made? Do you buy them in a store? Tell me details.

There’s an awesome Etsy shop called called CatONine where I get a lot of my show bell-bottoms. They’re Spandex, they make you feel great on your good and bad days, so I love those. Wrangler makes a great pair of bell-bottoms. I grew up wearing Wrangler, so it’s kind of a full-circle moment that we’re getting to work with them now. So my closet’s full of them. You can’t have too many.

Do you think you’ll wear them indefinitely as your career shifts and progresses?

Who knows? I do think that I’ll always pull them out. I’m definitely open to trying new things. I’m not scared of that, but at the end of the day, I’m not hanging them up just yet because they still make me feel good. They make me feel powerful; they make me feel like I can take anything on. So as long as they’re making me feel that way, I’ll keep wearing them.

As a public person who has a lot of demands placed on them, what does self-care look like to you? What are some ways you’re able to relax and be Lainey the person and not so much Lainey the country superstar?

For me, it’s being at home, getting up, making my coffee, sitting on the front porch, watching the cows out in the front pasture, watching the sheep in the backyard. Also, FaceTiming with my nephews, that they’ll keep you real humble. It’s just about surrounding yourself with people who feel like family, too, even if they’re not blood kin. I love bonfires, I love having a glass of whiskey, talking to the Lord, getting grounded, meditating. The truth is these past couple of years I’ve spent very little time at home. And so, you just find ways to make yourself feel at home when you’re not actually there.

Wilson with country icon Wynonna Judd at the 2023 People's Choice Country Awards

lainey wilson

Wilson with country icon Wynonna Judd at the 2023 People's Choice Country Awards
Getty Images

When you first started making some real money, what’s something you splurged on?

Well, I’m getting my house redone right now and I’m very excited about that. I express myself through my music and my clothes, so I feel like I’m getting to do that now with my home. It’s pretty much bell-bottom country. You’re going to walk in and it’s like a farmhouse on the outside and hippie on the inside.

Your 2022 cover of the iconic 1994 pop-rock song “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes showcases your artistry, but also it’s just so much fun to hear musicians reshape iconic songs outside their own genre. Are there any others you’d love to cover?

I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. Truthfully, a lot of their stuff kind of sounds country. I love that grittiness; I love that rawness. At some point in time, me and Miley Cyrus have to work together.

Do you have a favorite country song of all time?

Probably “When You Say Nothing at All” by Keith Whitley. It’s timeless. It could be a hit today.

Who are you listening to right now, outside of country?

I’ve been jamming to some Noah Kahan. I love his stuff. Also, I’m a big Allen Stone fan. I got acquainted with him a couple months back, and I like everything. If it makes you feel something, if it tells a story, count me in.

Lastly, as a woman in music, let alone country, do you find it hard to keep your agency when there are so many opinions about how you should look, act, and present to the world? Where do you get the confidence to speak up for what you want when other people are pushing you in conflicting directions?

It’s going to that deep inner place and pulling from there, just staying true to yourself and staying true to your story. If something pains your spirit, it’s probably not that smart for you to do. You have to be able to lay your head down at night—or look back in 30 years—and be proud of what you do or say. As a female in country music, you do hit some roadblocks, but I’m the kind of person, I just take it and I’m like, “All right, well, watch out, boys, because we’re coming for you all.”

I feel like country music is experiencing a big shift, and I’m proud to be a part of that shift. I think women’s voices are needed, and I think people are going to be talking about this generation of country music like they did back in the ’90s. I think it’s bigger and more important than it’s been in a very, very long time, and I think a lot of it has to do with the Western way of life. Everybody wants to feel grounded and at home, and I think country music makes you feel that way, and I think women voices make you feel that way too.

Perrie Samotin is Glamour’s digital director and host of Glamour’s What I Wore When podcast. Follow her @perriesamotin.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Originally Appeared on Glamour