After a Lucky break, Megan Moroney is poised for country superstardom with Am I Okay?

click to enlarge After a Lucky break, Megan Moroney is poised for country superstardom with Am I Okay?
Cece Dawson photo
Megan Moroney's songwriting has set her up to be a star.

In terms of country debut albums, it's hard to think of many in recent years that can come close to Megan Moroney's Lucky. Marrying commercial and critical success from the jump — cracking the top 10 on the Billboard Country Charts and being named the top country album of 2023 by Rolling Stone — the Georgia singer-songwriter set a pretty high bar for her first rodeo. But listening to Lucky makes it clear why folks of all sorts rave about it.

To put it simply, Moroney's songwriting runs laps around most contemporary pop country acts.

Possessing an innate ability to capture life's swaggering highs and crushing lows with a sweet twang, Moroney's lyricism feels lived-in because she can span that gap so effectively. Lucky's peppy album-opening single, "I'm Not Pretty," is an overflowing cup of confidence with that distinctly Southern "Awww... bless your heart" energy, snarkily taking aim at insecure women who scroll Instagram to hate on their boyfriend's exes in order to mask their own insecurities. But Moroney is also fully aware of how emotionally brutal it can be for ladies out there, getting extremely vulnerable on "Girl in the Mirror," a heartbreaking, slow-burning ballad about not being able to love yourself at all during moments of emotional lows. Humans aren't monoliths, and neither is Moroney's music.

"I think it's just me writing and being authentic to who I am as a person," Moroney says. "I think my friends, or anyone that actually knows me, would say that I do have the confident side. Like my friends go to me when they're going through a breakup, because they know I can hype them up and put the confidence back into them. But I'm also very in touch with my emotions. So when I'm sad, I know how to put it into words in a way that punches you in the gut. I feel like that's very, very human. I think it would be crazy of me to just say, 'Oh, I'm so confident! And I don't care about anything! F--- 'em!' [Laughs] I think it's just real. Some days you're feeling really confident, and then other days you're like, 'Everything is horrible! I know I'm gonna die!' [Laughs]"

But beyond the broad strokes, there are also tons of fascinating little details happening in Moroney's songcraft. This can manifest in creative structuring, like how she responds to her own lyrics on "Lucky" ("Best friend said, 'Meg, you're diving off another deep end. [And maybe I am!] / Are you sure wanna go there, sure you wanna jump back in?' [Hell yeah I do!]"). It can be found in the sneakily protective details, like how the Peach State native and University of Georgia grad's ode to falling for a Tennessee football supporter ("Tennessee Orange") makes sure to include the line "And I still want the Dawgs to win" at the end so that she can safely return to her alma matter without fear of SEC football fanatics.

But perhaps most crucially, Moroney's songwriting doesn't shy away from humor. Her clever lyrical turns of phrase both add a level of reliability that counterbalances her highs and her lows. For example, "Sleep on My Side" is set up like a cute opposites attract song in the vein of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," only to get to the last line of the chorus and realize there's far more hilariously cutting bile from a woman wronged at play — "It's good that we're so different, but when the day is done / I sleep on my side... and you sleep with everyone." And Moroney's fully aware that these inversions are a crux to her music, often being the sonic launching points.

"I definitely think of whatever that twist is first and then make a song out of it," Moroney says. "Like I'll hear someone say something or I'll read something. I tend to write my songs best by having the hook first and then writing the rest."

Perhaps it's not totally shocking that Moroney hit the ground running with her debut album because she has something very few of her contemporaries do: a degree in music business. Her time studying at UGA helped her avoid the pitfalls that many fresh-faced artists encounter.

"I think even a baseline knowledge of all the moving parts of the music industry definitely helps me as a younger artist. It helped me put together a team that works for me," Moroney says. "I think if I hadn't known anything at all, I definitely would have gotten screwed over early on."

While most artists would likely stretch an instant initial success like Lucky into a multiyear album cycle of touring and self-promotion, Moroney's overeager songwriting brain meant fans wouldn't have to wait long for a follow-up. Barely 14 months after Lucky's release, Moroney is back with new tunes in the form of her sophomore LP, Am I Okay?, which conveniently comes out the same day — July 12 — that she swings into town to play the Pavilion at Riverfront Park.

"I think I'm just eager and excited to have the music out," Moroney says. "It's always a mental fight for me to not just post all the songs ahead of time. I know my fans are so excited. I mean, I really didn't put too much pressure on my second album. I heard that 'Oh, your second album is the hardest to write,' and whatever. And honestly, the writing process for this one... I was so busy that I couldn't even think about it. I still write songs because I enjoy it. So in my free time on the road, I just started writing songs. And then one day, I looked down at my notes, and I was like, 'Wait... we have an album.' OK, sure, it's done. Let's put it out and keep it rolling."

Sidestepping any thought of a sophomore slump, Am I Okay? finds Moroney's cleverness still fully intact. The titular album-opening rocking pop country single finds space for both subtle music theory indications she's head-over-heels for a good new guy ("I've been playing less black keys lately") and some innuendo mirth by near rhyme omission ("He says what he means, and he means what he says / And he's funny and he's smart and he's good in..."). In fact, there are more outwardly comedic songs on the new album, including a plea to literally blast a headache of an ex into space ("Man on the Moon") and a silly track about an ex ending up with an actual elite beauty pageant winner ("Miss Universe"). To further mix things up, Moroney even dips her toes into a crunchy Good Charlotte-esque rocker with "Indifferent."

"Aside from the songs that are very sad, which obviously there's a couple of those, the fun songs are just very fun," Moroney says. "And I'm looking forward to touring with the songs and performing them live. That was something that I considered a lot when writing the second album. I know that I've got to put out songs that I enjoy playing live, because I will be playing them live every single night for the next however many years. So songs like 'Indifferent' and 'Man on the Moon' and 'Miss Universe' and 'Am I Okay?', like they're just fun songs. I love sonically how it's a little bit different than Lucky, but there's still definitely a throughline there, because they're only a year apart. I didn't go off the deep end or anything."

All that said, "Aside from the songs that are very sad" is carrying a lot of weight in that quote. It's easy to tell that Moroney is in fact a genuine country singer-songwriter because Am I Okay? is not just a collection of feel-good anthems from an artist basking in their success. In fact, Am I Okay? often feels way sadder than Lucky.

The album is strewn with gut punch songs that aren't afraid to get real and be extreme bummers: tunes about bemoaning manipulative exes ("No Caller ID"), lying to your folks about bad beaus ("Mama, I Lied"), would-be anniversaries that are now "just another Tuesday" after a breakup ("28th of June"), and wanting the best for former lovers but their joy being too painful to hear ("Hope You're Happy"). Heck, even the album closing "Hell of a Show" finds Moroney consumed by melancholy backstage before a sold-out show because she's brutally still hung up on some jerk.

While the machinations of the music industry are always extremely fickle, based purely on talent, Megan Moroney should be a top-tier bona fide country superstar in the very near future. But even if you don't see her name plastered across arena marquees ASAP, it's clear she'll just keep writing songs to get through the highs and the lows life throws her way.

But let's not get too wrapped up in the careerist weeds.

Megan Moroney is spending Am I Okay's release day in the Lilac City.

Let's make it an appropriately rowdy party, Spokane. ♦

Megan Moroney, Logan Crosby • Fri, July 12 at 7:30 pm • $40-$45 • All ages • Spokane Pavilion • 574 N. Howard St. •

Bachman-Turner Overdrive @ Northern Quest Resort & Casino

Wed., July 24, 8 p.m.
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Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...