LOS ANGELES (AP) — Not so long before her platinum-selling single “Tennessee Orange” became inescapable on country radio, this year scoring Megan Moroney her first-ever CMA nominations (song of the year and artist of the year), the up-and-comer was attending the University of Georgia. The life of a country musician? It wasn’t supposed to happen.
“It is truly crazy because I went to school to be an accountant,” Moroney tells The Associated Press. “And here we are.”
Fate clearly had other plans. When she was a freshman, Moroney opened for singer John Langston at a sorority event, performing a few Miranda Lambert covers. There, she met Chase Rice, who told her she could open for her at the Georgia Theater — but she needed to write an original song, first.
“So, I wrote my first song, called ‘Stay A Memory,’ and I performed it,” she says. “I didn’t put it out, but maybe one day I’ll tease it.”
After that show, she knew she wanted to move to Nashville and pursue music — but first, she switched her major to focus on music business and interned with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, who’d later produce her stellar debut album, 2023’s “Lucky.”
After graduating in 2020, she moved to Nashville, and in 2022, released a debut EP, “Pistol Made of Roses,” catching the attention of all-star songwriters who she’d eventually work with on “Lucky,” like Lori McKenna, Luke Laird, and Jessie Jo Dillon. The rest is only history because of the strength of her songwriting — “emo cowgirl” music, as she calls it.
That’s evidenced throughout “Lucky” from the deceptively optimistic “Sad Songs for Sad People,” to the Johnny Cash and June Carter-referencing “Why Johnny” to the opener “I’m Not Pretty,” with its Gen Z Taylor Swift -level acuity: “Did you mean to double-tap that Spring Break throwback from 2016 in PCB?,” she sings on the track, a reference to Southeastern Conference (SEC) college football, social media doom scrolling, the devastation of past relationships and the universal experience of “creeping or getting creeped on,” as she puts it.
It’s also apparent on the acoustic self-worth ballad, “Girl in the Mirror,” which follows a simple chord progression and a woman sacrificing her agency in a relationship and learning to reclaim autonomy afterward. “I think ‘Girl in the Mirror’ has the most important message of all the songs on the record,” she says.
It’s the tear-jerker live, too. “That’s the one where girls are hugging their friends, group crying, like, having a full-on therapy session.”
All roads lead to the career-making “Tennessee Orange,” where Moroney, a Georgia Bulldog through and through, puts on University of Tennessee colors for a partner. It’s a football love song, one about the concessions people make in the name of affection and intimacy — and the track that fast-tracked Moroney into the country spotlight.
“It’s, like, not a conventional love song,” she says. “I think people can tell that I don’t write too many of those because I’m just like, not great at it. But it’s like, ‘I’m not madly in love with you, but I will wear a color for you and a shirt because I care about you.’ I think that was just my cheeky songwriting coming through with that one. But yeah, I definitely don’t belong in Tennessee Orange as a Georgia Bulldog.”
For that reason, she didn’t expect “Tennessee Orange” to be her breakout hit. “If I would have thought, like, ‘what is my breakout moment going to be?’ It wasn’t going to be a song that was recorded, mixed, mastered and turned in in 48 hours,” she says.
“That’s the thing about putting out music,” she adds. “You just don’t know what’s going to resonate with people.”