Jessica Michelle Singleton wasn’t supposed to be a country artist. She was supposed to just be a comedian and a good one at that. She has performed worldwide, including venues such as “The Rose Bowl” in California. However, the thing about country music is it’s about having a story to tell, and Singleton had just that. Someone like me couldn’t just sit down and write a quality country song, but what also helps Singleton is her standup career. When you are a standup comedian, you have to write your own jokes and your own entire set, which can last over an hour. Singleton knows how to write as a result of that, and that shows through in her lyrics.
Her debut song “Now I Need Whiskey” wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a fun little project, but something unique happened to her, the song took off. Singleton is an independent artist, which means there isn’t a billion-dollar label spending countless dollars pushing her music. It also means that her goal isn’t to write a radio hit because, without a label, it’s almost unrealistic to do. As a result, she can create the music that she wants, and “Now I Need Whiskey” is just that. It isn’t following the number one formula that mainstream radio follows; it has its own sound and feels.
Now I have to admit, when I learned that she was a comedian, my “protect country music at all costs” walls went up. I wasn’t sure if I could trust her or if she was just going to make some joke that she got a bunch of idiot bloggers to write about her song. However, I was able to ask her about this over Instagram, and her responses changed my concerns. I asked her if this was just a fun one-off project or if this was a path she actually wanted to take. Her response was, “It was intended as a fun one-off, but since the response has been so exciting, I’m going to make an EP and just see what kind of fun I can have with it!” This was a refreshing answer for a few reasons. First off, she has seen a little bit of success, and instead of making country music the butt of a joke, she is continuing to run with it. The second part of this was the fact that she is having fun with it. One of the traps that I feel country music is falling into is taking itself too seriously. The epitome of this is the “that ain’t country” crowd, where Luke Bryan shakes his ass once, and people claim the genre is coming to its knees. This song finds a super cool niche, where it is a funny song mixed with an authentic old-school country sound.
The next thing during our conversation that made me feel a lot better about Jessica Michelle Singleton’s rise is her interest in country. Born and raised in Mississippi, she was raised in the heart of country music territory. Then she moved up to Alaska, and as much as the southeast wants to claim country music is theirs, I’m sure rural Alaska has just as much interest in it. She has been around the genre, she knows the genre, and she respects it. She isn’t just doing it for the meme of it. She also threw in a little nugget of information, saying, “the Waffle House thing in the song is based on a true story, if that’s worth including.” For those who don’t know, the Waffle House thing is, “I heard Friends in Low Places when daddy left me at a Waffle House in Jackson, Mississippi. He was my Rhinestone Cowboy, and he rode his Ram away…” I don’t think it gets much more personal than that.
There are plenty of other lyrics that show off her country cred, including all of the classic country name drops. She isn’t the first to do it, Thomas Rhett has “What’s Your Country Song” near the top of the charts right now, but something different is being accomplished in “Whiskey.” She isn’t just listing songs; she threads them into the story and uses them to almost add depth to the song. It doesn’t feel gimmicky; it works well. Singleton gives off a different vibe in this song than most artists today. She is going for a more serious Wheeler Walker Jr. or a Gretchen Wilson-type character. The line “turn to the yard, below a prison guard, just to get a smoke break” is a prime example of this. Most women in country today sing songs about how they love some guy and sing about how great some boy in their life is. Singleton doesn’t ever mention a love interest, which is refreshing.
Singleton isn’t a country artist, she’s a comedian. But the thing is, she does country better than a lot of artists do right now. She gets it, and she doesn’t have to pretend she is something she’s not. She released a song that balances a heartbreak blue-collar story with comedy, but it works. I get it; I understand why it was popular when it was released. “Whiskey” might be a little bit aggressive for country radio, which is unfortunate but just reality. Still, I would like to see Singleton have something on her EP a little more radio-friendly. Without a label, I don’t think she will be heard nationally, but I would like to see her give it a try. Maybe she can be the woman who sings a song that isn’t either about how great her boyfriend is or how much she hates her ex. Maybe she can tell us a new story, she already has once. Go listen to “Now I Need Whiskey” wherever you listen to music, and then do yourself a favor and do it again. Maybe it won’t be your new favorite song, maybe it will, but it will give you the chance to listen to something new that sounds like it could be old as well.