“If I was starting out now, I don’t know if I would make it,” McEntire says.
Reba McEntire’s new album Stronger Than the Truth, out now on Big Machine Records, is a return to the country superstar’s roots. “It’s true to who I am and how I grew up,” the Oklahoma native tells Billboard of the 12-track album she co-produced with Buddy Cannon.
Stronger Than the Truth, her 29th studio album, kicks off with an infectious Western swing number aptly titled “Swing All Night Long With You” and includes heart-wrenching narratives like the stirring piano ballad “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain,” which details a woman struggling with a relationship that ended in infidelity, and “Cactus in a Coffee Can,” a poignant story song about an orphan who meets her drug-addicted birth mother too late in life. McEntire also co-write two songs on the traditional country set (“No U in Oklahoma,” “In His Mind”).
Stronger Than the Truth marks her sixth project with Big Machine and the follow-up to her 2017 Grammy-winning Christian collection Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope. It arrives two days before McEntire returns to host the ACM Awards for the 16th time. Below, McEntire discusses her legacy, writing with Brooks & Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn and the role streaming has played in country music in a new interview with Billboard.
Billboard: Stronger Than the Truth showcases your country roots. While the genre has embraced pop and urban influences lately, why was it important for you to release a more traditional country-leaning project?
Reba McEntire: It’s true to who I am and how I grew up. I don’t like chasing trends, even though I’ve had to do it lots of times in my career. This time, I wanted to record music that made me happy and touched my heart without worrying about where it would or wouldn’t get played.
How did “No U in Oklahoma” come together?
Donna McSpadden, a friend from Oklahoma, had the original title idea and sent it to me. Nothing came to me at first, so I sent it to Kelly Clarkson, Autumn McEntire [her niece] and Ronnie Dunn and still nothing came from it. Ronnie and I ended up being in Mexico together on vacation and we started playing around with the song and it just evolved from there. It was really a fun collaboration with me and Ronnie.
The album has so many poignant story songs. Which song do you wish you had written?
“Cactus in a Coffee Can” [written by Steve Seskin, Allen Shamblin]. It's such a great story song. I love story songs, always have. When you listen to the lyrics, you can just see a video in your head. That’s great songwriting!
It’s your sixth album with Big Machine Label Group. What first attracted you to them?
Scott [Borchetta, Big Machine Label Group president & CEO] and I have worked together for many years, back to my MCA days. It’s been a wonderful partnership and I appreciate all that they’ve done to get my music out there in new, different ways. Everything at Big Machine is centered around teamwork and I really like that.
You’ve had a long and successful career in country music for over four decades now. What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed within the genre?
Oh my gosh, technology — it’s changed everything. Everything is faster, and in many ways, easier than it was when I was starting out. Social media makes it easy for me to stay in touch with my fans and have direct dialogue with them. But on the other hand, because it’s so much faster, artists don’t get as much time to develop. If I was starting out now, I don’t know if I would make it. It was seven years before I had a hit, and artists don’t get that time now.
What are your thoughts on streaming, as it becomes the dominant format?
I think streaming is the future. It’s so easy, and once a listener makes that switch, I don’t think they’re going back. We still have a ways to go with making sure that creators are fairly compensated, but I think we’ll get there.
You’ve worked in music, television, film, theater and retail. How do you view yourself as a businesswoman?
Everything that has my name on it, I am directly involved in. It all goes back to being authentic. The clothes, the boots…they are extensions of me and my personality. It doesn’t work otherwise. As for women trying to get ahead… be different, stand out, and work your butt off. Don’t try to be anybody’s version of you. Be yourself.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be on time, be prepared, and give 110%!
You made a powerful statement during the ACM Awards nominations announcement on the lack of women in the entertainer of the year category. How does country fix the gender imbalance?
Just keep doing what we’re doing… the conversation isn’t going away. Those of us women that have been given the platform and the voice have to keep shining the light on those women that haven’t been given that opportunity. Everything is cyclical, and it will swing back around to the females. I really believe that.