Miranda Lambert looks like she's been crying. "It's just allergies," the Texas-born, Tishomingo, Oklahoma, resident says, sniffling and leaning back in a lawn chair behind the main stage at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas. She's dressed in black ripped American Eagle Outfitters jeans, black Freebird by Steven boots, and a gray tank top that reads ON THE ROAD SOMEWHERE. She flattens her newly bobbed platinum hair with her fingertips and roots around in her bag for Claritin and Nasacort. "I'm not afraid of a pill," she jokes. "I have to take them in the mornings because I drink a lot. Advil helps. So does a Bloody Mary."
When asked what defines "a lot," Lambert, 31, bites her cheek and mulls it over. "You know when you have to check those boxes when you go to the doctor? Do you drink every day? Never? Socially? I'm always like, Hmm, the truth or not the truth?" She checks "socially."
Lambert's family has traveled with her to Vegas. Her father, Rick; mother, Bev (who runs her fan club); and younger brother, Luke (a software designer who also helps with the fan club). Her husband, blue-state country-music ambassador and amiable coach of The Voice Blake Shelton, left this morning only because he had his own concert in Hollywood, California. Lambert passes around a photo booth film strip from the night before at her MuttNation Foundation charity ball of the two of them hamming it up, the 6'5" Shelton's head almost entirely cut off in every frame (she's 5'4"). She curls her lip. "Well, at least I look cute."
The record-breaking Grammy and 11-time Country Music Association Award winner ("I'd love to win Entertainer of the Year just for females' sake, because only like five women have ever won it and because I work my ass off ") is idling preshow in Wanda World, the girly, welcoming alcove she assembles backstage at every gig, complete with pink coolers, sun umbrellas, and a 1954 Airstream tricked out with a full bar, sofas, a record player, throw pillows, and, on top, a colossal silver tiara. (A self-described "Airstream hoarder," she also has a '52 and a '75 Argosy.)
"We named her after my grandma Wanda," Lambert explains of the trailer she hauls to every gig. "She has this group of friends called the Yayas, and they are crazy old ladies who just drink and cuss and gamble. Grandma came to Vegas one year to be my date for the ACMs [Academy of Country Music Awards], and I said, 'You need to rest; it's a big night tomorrow.' She snuck out and woke me at 4 a.m. after she won $4,500 playing quarter slots." Lambert started the Wanda-thon in 2009, when she realized there was no place that felt like home on the road. So she created one. "It's not a normal way of life to tour. You get lonely. Wanda is our chill place where we meet before and after shows. It gives rise to a lot of parties and camaraderie." One wall is lined with Polaroids of said revelry, a who's who of country music. "People have puked in Wanda," she confesses with a small shudder. As for sexy times, "we had to make some rules."
Earthy, accessible, and honest, Lambert has been called the new Loretta Lynn. Also, the new Dolly Parton, the new Beyoncé, and so on. It is an odd, reductive curiosity that when a woman reaches enviable heights of success, she is inevitably compared and categorized, as if there are only so many available slots and thus she must be the new version of one already filled. In truth, Lambert is her own brand of awesome, a woman with backyard swagger and a marshmallow heart; a former high school cheerleader who knows her way around a firearm; a softie who weeps at the very mention of an abandoned dog (hence her rescue foundation); and the only celebrity (male or female) ballsy enough to call out not only Chris Brown, but the whole complacency of our country when he appeared on the 2012 Grammys three years after beating then-girlfriend Rihanna, by tweeting, "He beat on a girl...not cool that we act like that didn't happen."
The daughter of two private investigators who made a habit of providing refuge for abused women and children, Lambert understands enough about domestic violence to fill a dozen country albums. "[The song] 'Gunpowder & Lead' came from one of those women," points out her father, Rick. "We didn't hide reality from our kids." A philosophy Lambert has been embracing with her music since she was 17.
"I went to Nashville and tried to sing someone else's songs and couldn't," she recalls. "Even at that age, I was like, I can't sell something that I don't believe. So I started writing my own stuff. I figure, if I'm feeling something, surely to God, other people are, too, but they don't want to say it because it's too embarrassing."
Lambert gladly says it for us, unpacking the dirty laundry of abuse, sexism, aging, and anger, and doing it all not onlywith firebrand feminist conviction, but also Southern charm and gothic humor. It's not her voice or musicianship that sets her apart, but rather her lyrics and, most critically, her empathy. Lambert makes people feel known. To attend a Miranda Lambert concert is to play the scales of emotion, which is why during performances, "she breaks down crying fairly often," Rick says. "She's always been very sensitive."
"Miranda started off extremely shy," her mother, Bev, seconds, explaining she was called to school by teachers concerned about young Miranda's development every year until the fifth grade. "She wouldn't speak. Not a word at school. If she had to order her own food, she'd just not eat."
Lambert largely stayed that way until her freshman year of high school, when Bev put her in the debate club. "It was full-on meltdown, sobbing, bawling, 'Come get me, I'm quitting school,'" Bev recalls. But after Lambert won her debate on Democrat vs. Republican ideals during the 1996 election, "it was the beginning of her whole life changing.
Once she found her voice, Lambert wasn't about to silence it. "Early on, an artist told me, 'Don't be yourself. Perform and be someone else,'" Lambert remembers, widening her eyes. "And I thought, That seems like exactly the opposite of what I should be doing. Then I had people wanting me to adjust my lyrics to be more appealing to the masses or whatever. I said, 'No, that's bullshit.' I'd rather sell four copies of something that'sreal than 4 million copies of something that's fake."
There were also plenty of opinions about her tomboy looks, another part of herself she refused to glamorize. "For years, I'd only wear jeans, boots, and vintage T-shirts. This is who I am! Like it or lump it! I didn't want to make it all about the long hair and eyelashes and tight dresses. I didn't want to be seen. I wanted to be heard."
It is 2 in the afternoon, and Lambert is apologizing for not having her lunch ticket. Her team was supposed to bring her one but didn't, and the backstage lunch lady clearly has no idea she is barring a headliner of the entire festival from entering the mess tent. Lambert says nothing, instead waiting patiently while the woman reluctantly finally allows her to pass.
"It's my resting bitch face," she jokes, about not being recognized. "Nobody bothers me unless I'm with Blake. Then we get swarmed."
After digging into cheese enchiladas, Lambert throws a napkin over her plate to keep from eating more than she wants (then sneaks a chip or two out from underneath). She is proud of her 20-pound weight loss through portion control and exercise, but the focus on her new shape frustrates her. "When you have to walk out there in front of thousands of people, it does feel good to know that your shit's not jiggling. I'm just like anybody else, insecure and scared of look- ing bad or being criticized. But everybody's making this big, giant thing about it. It's way too much focus on women's bikini photos, and I hate it. Why do we care? I want women to love themselves whatever they've got going on.
Even more confounding are the advertising offers Lambert says are pouring in from places that have ignored her for years. "I'm at the same exact place in my career. I have the same exact statements in my music that I've had all this time. So a couple of jeans sizes is all it was?" She wrinkles her nose in disgust. "Why does it have to be that way?"
Lambert says she's been lightening up psychologically, too. "I'm always anxious. I will worry myself into oblivion." This year, she made a conscious decision to check the worry nag at the door. "I was trying to make everything regimented, and it caused too much stress. I learned everything doesn't have to be perfect. That sometimes it's OK to say, 'I don't want to be the boss today. I have PMS. Bother someone else.'" She pauses for a beat. "I like things better flawed anyway."
She tells a story about the previous weekend, when she competed in her first English riding competition, after taking up lessons on a Gypsy Vanner named Sophie that Shelton gave her for her birthday, and was thrown from her horse. "You gotta eat dirt if you're really gonna say you're doing this. But I landed on my feet with the reins in my hand," she recounts with a grin. The bigger surprise? "I fell off and I wasn't embarrassed at all. It was like, Shit, that's part of it."
Shelton marvels at his wife's evolution. "I've seen her grow from a 21-year-old girl trying to make it in country music to this accomplished woman who is literally creating an empire. She's confident now. But she is still out there trying to conquer. Because goddang, she loves it." Shelton, no stranger to being busy, calls her the hardest-working person he knows. (Lambert recently opened the Ladysmith, a B&B in
Tishomingo that she renovated herself. She also runs Pink Pistol country-chic clothing boutiques there and in her hometown of Lindale.) "I don't see how anybody handles as much as she handles. Money doesn't mean much to Miranda. Accomplishing her goals does. You'll never see her in a sports car. If you saw the house we're living in, you'd laugh."
Lambert calls Shelton her "perfect match," if also her opposite. "I'm not sunshine and roses. Blake's the happiest person on the planet. He pulls me out of my darkness." And, she says, contradicting the gossip pages that seem unnaturally vested in the couple's misery, she's never been more content. "Literally everything is the best about being married."
Shelton recently added his own rebuttal to thebreakup gossip via the tweet: "Maybe because the divorce rate is so high the tabloids have just decided to play the odds with me and Miranda.Morons. #eatadick"
"At least come up with a new spin," he moans. "Go back to the baby stuff. There is a possibility she could be pregnant one day. Or I could be drunk in public. That could actually happen. But divorce, that's
outlandish to us."
"Blake says I'm complicated, but, I mean, all girls are," says Lambert.
Shelton recalls the "complicated" comment. "She was like, 'What the hell is that supposed to mean?' But it is the best way I know to describe her. Holy shit, man. That's what I admire about her. Her
complications." He does admit he thinks she takes on too much: "At some point, she's going to need to divvy out some responsibility."
Though she's about to embark on her 30-city Certified Platinum tour this month, Lambert agrees. "Now I make sure I spend good quality time with my husband, where it's just us being normal. It's like, 'Let's go back-roading today, just me and you.'" She pauses. "I think I've shown him I love really deeply."
Back at Wanda, Loretta Lynn is playing on the stereo. Lambert sings along: "If you're lookin' at me, you're lookin' at country." Soon, she will head off to do her own stage makeup, then throw on some leather shorts, boots, and a Rolling Stones T-shirt. She seems relaxed, satisfied even, no longer the girl who once swung her fists at a guy in a bar for insulting her mother.
"I've settled down as far as fire in my eyes, guns ablazin', burning your house down stuff. It's still in there if I need to break it out, but mostly I'm like, 'We're good, you've heard me.' At this stage of life, I sort of go, 'OK, I won't have to scream at you. I'll
just talk to you loud.'"
Go behind-the-scenes of Miranda's cover shoot: