Sugarland – “Little Miss”
Crossover is such a dirty term for country music purists, but a series of genre-busting A-listers–Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood, for starters–have grabbed hold of the format and refuse to lose their grip. Sugarland, who caught the public’s imagination with their winning blend of pop-country, is also intent on helping shepherd in a new era in Nashville, and they aren’t shy about telling us so. The Incredible Machine campaign is so far best known for the duo’s vocal vow to challenge their audience with a new sonic style: Coldplay-meets-country.
Sugarland reigns in their wilder tendencies with “Little Miss,” the album’s second single and a rare bit of self-help that doesn’t ring hollow. Jennifer Nettles, who spends a large part of the album loudly proclaiming victory against pessimism, smartly dials down the vocal acrobatics. Singing from the perspective of a chastened young woman, the goofy fireball gives a moving vocal performance, ditching her pronounced twang for a more tender effort.
“I’ll take less when I always give so much more,” the woman says wearily, a caustic remark aimed at a needy companion. One minute she’s Little Miss Down on Love, and the next she’s Little Miss One Big Mess. As the pressures and problems mount, she seems crushed under the weight of what everyone expects her to be.
Nettles echoes this emotional turmoil while providing a sisterly pat on the back. She encourages this troubled character to embrace her individuality: “Little Miss Who You Are, is so much more than you like to talk about.”
“Little Miss”–with its portrayal of a soured young woman backed by an acoustic arrangement–starts to bear a rough similarity to Pearl Jam’s “Daughter,” a harrowing tale of mental abuse. This story, though, takes a promising turn in its final act. The once-tragic figure morphs into a tough fighter, to the point where her “heart beats wide open and she’s ready now for love.”
A triumphant instrumental part in the bridge–led by an inspired piano section that recalls Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is”–trumpets this shift in mood. “It’s alright,” Nettles repeats three times, letting the hard-won lessons slowly sink in. Spirits lift when she sings, and her voice is a salve for those who have felt the sting of being neglected. Hers is a message that, given the recent spate of teen suicides represented in the media, gains added meaning: “You are loved.”
There’s hope and heart and a whole lot to like about this, one of the year’s best singles and an odd bright spot on Sugarland’s ambitious fourth album. The Incredible Machine may be an unruly mess, but “Little Miss” is a hit.
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