Music

Megan Moroney Makes the Personal Universal on New Album ‘Am I Okay?: ‘I Wrote It to Be Therapeutic’

On the closing song of Megan Moroney’s sophomore major label album, Am I Okay?, out July 12 on Sony Music Nashville/Columbia Records, the Georgia-bred singer-songwriter pulls back the curtain on the off-stage lows that often stand in sharp contrast to the bright smiles, dazzling stage outfits and glittering guitars of the concert stage. “Hell of a Show” was initially a poem Moroney wrote on her tour bus after a performance during a time when the state of her personal life didn’t quite live up to her sparkling onstage aura.

“It’s so common for people to come up after a show and be like, ‘Hell of a show tonight,’” Moroney tells Billboard. “Someone had said that to me, and I had been crying over something going on in my personal life. It stopped me in my tracks. I was like, ‘Well, I do put on a hell of a show. I just did that, and now I’m about to go cry myself to sleep.’ Having that song on the end of the record is about letting my fans know that everything you see is not always the whole story — but it’s also a thank you to my fans for being there, when they didn’t even know how much I needed them to be there for me.”

Since releasing her first EP, 2022’s Pistol Made of Roses, and following it with her major label debut Lucky last year, Moroney has excelled in making the personal universal. That openness has made her one of country music’s fastest-rising female artists. With six nominations, she was the most nominated woman artist at this year’s ACM Awards, taking home the trophy for new female artist of the year.

On the 14-song Am I Okay?, she again turns her personal stories into musical vignettes — as with “No Caller ID,” which debuted at No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 after it was released in January, and climbed into the top 20 on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Moroney and her co-writers had already finished another song that made it to the album, “Noah,” when Moroney again shared her heart with her co-writers, Jessi Alexander, Jessie Jo Dillon and Connie Harrington — telling them, “My ex called me last night. We have to write about it.”

“It took maybe 30 minutes to write ‘No Caller ID,’” Moroney recalls, adding that she began performing it on her headlining Lucky tour last year.

“The album wasn’t done yet, but when I started playing ‘No Caller ID’ [in concert], I realized how urgent it was and how eager people were to have it,” Moroney says — noting that the fanfare over the song also made her realize, “This album might be coming sooner than I think it is.”

Moroney, who initially studied to be an accountant at the University of Georgia, previously worked as an intern for Sugarland singer-songwriter Kristian Bush — who took notice of Moroney’s musical abilities and signed on as her producer. She reunited with Bush for the new album, saying, “He’s a huge part of the sound we’ve created. I love that everything sounds very live. You can tell it’s real people playing the instruments. We go into the studio and we’re like, ‘I’m a songwriter first, so what sounds best to amplify the story I’m telling?’ He’s brilliant, and I don’t see us not working together.”

In 2022, Moroney broke through with the Country Airplay top five hit “Tennessee Orange,” the tale of a star-crossed romance between fans of rival football teams, and followed it with “I’m Not Pretty,” which just climbed to No. 14 on the Country Airplay chart dated July 13. Both are featured on Lucky, which reached the top 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.

“I honestly felt more pressure to make my first [album] than this one. I think I can credit that to just being so freaking busy. I didn’t have time to overthink it,” Moroney says. “There would be things going on in my personal life and I wanted to write about it. I wrote it to be therapeutic, and then I look down and I’m like, ‘Oh, I have a whole album, and all these songs go together.’”

While relatability in love and heartbreak has been a cornerstone of Moroney’s work, so has female empowerment. The new album’s “The Girls” builds on the familiar lyrical terrain of both “I Love Me” from Moroney’s Pistol Made of Roses and Lucky’s “Girl in the Mirror.”

“When I play those songs, I see how they have impacted lives — and it’s surreal, because I had artists like that growing up, like Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert,” Moroney says. “So for me now to be able to be an artist that some girls and women look up to… it’s just very surreal.”

Of “The Girls,” she adds, “I was like, ‘I’m tired of singing about boys. Can we please write a song about my friends?’ It’s an anthem for my friends — but I think my fans are going to take ownership over that one, too, because I get told that my show feels like therapy, or a girls’ night. I’m looking forward to giving them that song, because I know it’s going to be a fun moment live.”

The album also touches on loss (“Heaven by Noon”), the first blushes of new romance (“Am I Okay?”) and recalibrating life post-heartbreak (“28th of June”). Moroney says she assigns a color palette to all of her albums “because I associate colors with emotion.” While the artwork for Lucky was wreathed in gold and green, Am I Okay? is swathed in vivid royal blue.

“When I wrote ‘Miss Universe,’ the oldest song on the album, I was like, ‘That’s my royal blue color,’ and I hoped the rest of the songs I wrote for the album would fit into that blue,” she explains. “I think, ‘Indifferent,’ ‘Am I Okay?’ ‘Man on the Moon,’ all of those feel like that. Royal blue is this powerful color — it can be strong and it can be sad. So, everything in my world is blue right now — my nails are blue. The shirt I have on is blue.”

Moroney’s cinematic, story-driven style of songwriting (and eye for details) also made her a perfect fit for the Twisters: The Album movie soundtrack, for which she contributed “Never Left Me.”

“I hope for more soundtracks,” she says — adding that while she’s already cementing her status as a hitmaker within the country genre, she has aims for a wider global reach as well. “I would love to have, at some point, a really big crossover song, maybe with a pop artist or something. It would depend on the song, but I would love to have a song with Olivia Rodrigo. I need to try to convince her to put out a version of ‘Indifferent’ with her on it.”

As with her previous projects, Moroney is a writer on every track on Am I Okay? Despite her prolific songwriting, she says the prospect of having other artists record her songs is “hard, because so many of my songs are so personal, they might not work for someone else… I feel a little possessive over them. I think I would be better purposefully writing a song for another artist rather than giving another artist one of the songs that I’m just not going to cut.”

This year, the UTA-signed Moroney’s career has also surged on the live front, through both her own headlining Lucky 2.0 shows this year and a key opening slot on Kenny Chesney’s 2024 Sun Goes Down stadium run. Moroney, who recalls watching one of Chesney’s shows at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium while she was in college, is still processing the fact that she’s sharing a stage with one of her childhood musical heroes.

“To be able to open shows for him and watch his show every night, it’s a dream come true,” she says. “He believes in me and what I’m doing, and he lets me know that. Coming from someone like him, that means so much to a new artist like me. He’s given me advice on everything from building a fan base to radio to merch. He’ll text me and say, ‘Hey, did you see the merch numbers?’ He’s very involved and supportive.”

Moroney is grateful she has someone like Chesney’s ear and experience to rely on. “I’ll ask him things like, ‘When you do live performances on TV, what do you do about this or that?’ He’s gone through so much, and it’s definitely helpful to have a veteran as your mentor. I take notes. He’s had so many No. 1s, and he still meets with radio folks before every single show. He’s still working, and that’s why he can sell out the same city eight times in a row.”

Seeing a veteran like Chesney navigate his career has also helped her find balance in her own life. Though “Hell of a Show” was created from a collision of onstage career zeniths and heartbreaking personal moments, Moroney says that now she’s in a place she considers better than okay.

 “I’m in a relationship with my career, and I sleep good at night,” she says. “I’m thriving right now.”

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