Maren Morris Credit: Jamie Nelson

Mainstream pop audiences were largely introduced to country singer Maren Morris through last year’s smash hit “The Middle,” her collaboration with Russia-born German producer Zedd and electronic duo Grey. The song—which showed off her powerhouse vocals—went platinum certified in several countries. About a dozen singers, including Demi Lovato and Bebe Rexha, had recorded demos of the track before Morris was selected for the final version—which serves as a testament to her singular chops. But while to some pop fans it might have seemed like Morris appeared out of thin air, the Texas native had already won acclaim across the country-music world, starting with her 2015 Billboard-charting self-titled EP. On her debut full-length, 2016’s Hero, she tells tales of heartache and hope, using her raspy voice and soulful delivery over twangy country mixed with gospel, rock, and other influences. The passionate girl-power songs that make up her second album, Girl, continue to straddle the line between country and pop. The title choice seems deliberate—country has legions of female fans, but as Morris said in a recent Genius video, the genre often requires women to be “superreligious—they need to be super conservative, and never show their body.” Such rules inspired her to write a rebuttal of competition between women: On the title track, the 28-year-old sings, “Draw your comparisons / Tryin’ to find who’s lesser than / I don’t wanna wear your crown / There’s enough to go around” over sparse instrumentation that leaves enough room for her message to ring loud. Another standout is “Common,” a brooding, slow-burning plea for unity with lyrics that could be interpreted as a call for sisterhood—or more broadly, for a divided country to find common ground.   v