American Queen Brandi Carlile

The Singer Shook Up The Grammys With "The Joke"

BY: Alexis Eichelberger

Against popular trends, conceptions and expectations, the 2019 Grammy Awards were dominated by country music — especially, women in country music.

Kacey Musgraves took home Album of the Year for her blissful record Golden Hour, and a team of country and pop superstars alike assembled for a boot-stomping tribute to Dolly Parton. Maren Morris’ feature on the EDM smash hit “The Middle” earned her five nods. And finally, Americana artist Brandi Carlile seemed to steal the show, giving a poignant live performance and taking home three awards for her album By the Way, I Forgive You and single “The Joke.”

Carlile’s individualistic take on country-influenced music offered a crucial focal point during the awards show for assessing the oft-forgotten impact women have on the male-dominated genre. With a quietly successful career in a subgenre of country music shaped by legends like Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris, her recognition by the recording academy has been 15 years in the making.

A self-taught musician and songwriter, Carlile dropped out of her Seattle-area high school as a teenager to pursue a career in music. Drawing inspiration from artists like Johnny Cash and Elton John, she performed as a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator and as a solo artist at Seattle nightclubs before landing a recording deal with Columbia Records in 2004.

Carlile released her self-titled debut in 2005, and since then has released a half-dozen more records, including a live album. She traveled the United States and beyond supporting global acts like Maroon 5, The Fray and Tori Amos in addition to embarking on her own headlining tours.

Carlile’s now award-winning record By the Way, I Forgive You, released in February 2018, is an ambitious and moving tribute to artistic growth. Her songwriting prowess shines through with passion while still remaining accessible –– a musical comfort food residing somewhere on the intersection of folk and alt-rock.

Perhaps it’s crass oversimplification to call Carlile a country artist. She certainly has little in common with Musgraves, Parton, Maren Morris or most of the other country music women recognized at the Grammys this year. But in the golden age of genre ambiguity, she is a prime example of an artist who has made her mark on music by blending influences from a range of music styles, and as a freshly Grammy-awarded artist, her career will surely continue to push the envelope for women in the country-influenced industry and beyond.