Georgia native Megan Moroney has become one of country music’s most notable newcomers over the past year, thanks to her breakthrough Billboard Hot 100 hit “Tennessee Orange,” which uses college football allegiances as a barometer of romantic devotion.
She trades Georgia red for her lover’s Tennessee orange, but just as the heart-capturing essence of the song reaches far beyond college football and any Georgia/Tennessee rivalry, Moroney’s debut album Lucky, out Friday, showcases the substantive musicality and intuitive songwriter beneath Moroney’s aesthetic as a fashionable, bubbly blonde with a hit song and vocals featuring an intriguing blend of honeyed and raspy.
Moroney’s depth of skill and tenacity is on display as a co-writer on every song of the project — many of those tracks marking her first writing sessions with storied scribes including Luke Laird, Lori McKenna, Jessie Jo Dillon, Rodney Clawson, Matt Jenkins and Conor Matthews. Simultaneously, she also draws on longtime collaborators such as “Tennessee Orange” co-writer Ben Williams, who has seven credits on the project.
“There’s value in being able to write with these legendary writers, but also to collaborate with writers like Ben, who has been growing with me at the same time,” Moroney tells Billboard.
As a student at the University of Georgia, Moroney had interned for Sugarland’s Kristian Bush. The two kept in contact after Moroney moved to Nashville in 2020, and Bush would later end up producing Lucky. Moroney sharpened her writing skills at Nashville’s writers’ rounds and in writing rooms, before penning “Tennessee Orange” with Williams, Paul Jenkins and David Fanning. TikTok sent the song viral, which swiftly ushered Moroney into a management deal with Punchbowl Entertainment and a co-label deal with Sony Music Nashville and New York’s Columbia Records.
As “Tennessee Orange” continues its surge at country radio, currently at No. 10 on the Country Airplay chart, the song has been certified platinum by the RIAA and helped garner Moroney a nomination for new female artist of the year for the May 11 Academy of Country Music Awards.
But Lucky features a deft mix of sass on tracks like “Georgia Girl” and “Lucky,” as well as heartbreak. There’s also the roadhouse wisdom of bar owner Miss Daisy in “Another on the Way.” “I’m Not Pretty” was inspired by Moroney’s ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend scrolling through Moroney’s Instagram page at 2:00 a.m. The girlfriend accidentally “liked” a Spring Break snapshot of Moroney from 2016 in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“I feel like everyone can relate to that — either you’ve creeped on somebody or someone’s creeped on you,” Moroney says. “I could’ve been weirded out by the situation, but I wrote this kind of snarky song and it made me feel better.”
A significant chunk of the album deals in weary heartbreak, including “Kansas Anymore,” “Sleep on My Side,” “Mustang or Me.” In “Why Johnny,” written with Matthews, Moroney focuses on the 35-year marriage of late country music icons Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Moroney and Matthews divert from sugary love anthems that laud the long-wed couple and instead dissect the difficult times on lines such as “When he came home late on booze and pills, lyin’ through that perfume smell coming off his shirt/ What made you want to make it work?”
“Everybody recognizes them as this iconic love story, which they definitely were… I didn’t realize that when they met backstage at the Opry, they were married to two different people. As soon as I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh, well that’s a little messy,’” she says with a laugh. “Johnny struggled with alcohol and substance abuse and was living the rock star life. I just thought, ‘June, how did you know to stick with him through all of that? How did you know he was eventually going to be writing you poems every day?’ That song is special, because it was the first time I had written about someone else’s love story, but then tied it to my own.”
Elsewhere, songs namecheck John Prine (“Sleep on my Side”) and Loretta Lynn (“God Plays a Gibson),” and reference the Fred Rose-penned Willie Nelson classic “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (in “Sad Songs for Sad People”).
“They are legendary songwriters and I think their songwriting carried their careers. That influence came from my dad,” Moroney says, recollecting summers spent driving to New York to visit her father’s family with the music of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons as the soundtrack. “I put the names of John Prine and Loretta in my songs, because I know some of my fans may not know who they are, but maybe they’ll go back and listen to some of their music.”
Love song “Sad Songs for Sad People,” which Moroney wrote with Jordan Fletcher and Ian Christian, closes the set. When they gathered in the writers’ room, they asked Moroney what kinds of songs she didn’t already have for the album, and she replied, “I don’t write love songs. I write sad songs for sad people.”
“When I wrote it, I was at a point in my life where I’m just kind of against love songs — I told the writers, ‘You can go pitch it to another artist. It doesn’t fit my brand,’ and another artist wanted that song.” The artist? “I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but someone everyone knows.” But as Moroney was finalizing the album’s track list, she quickly reversed the decision, saying, “It felt like the perfecting ending for the album.”
“Girl in the Mirror,” written with Dillon and Jenkins, takes emotional pain and builds it into an anthem about putting self-love before romantic love. “It wasn’t necessarily about one relationship; Jessie Jo and I were both like, ‘Yeah, we’ve done this multiple times before.’ The chords are so simple; I’m not great at guitar, so there’s no fancy chords. But it has an important message and people are resonating with it.”
Moroney has plenty of chances to unfurl her new album before a growing audience of fans; tonight (May 4), she begins a summer of opening shows for Brooks & Dunn’s Reboot Tour 2023, before launching her 22-city headlining The Lucky Tour this fall.
The B&D opening slot is full-circle moment that Moroney calls “surreal”: The duo’s 1991 hit “Neon Moon” is one of the first songs she performed with her father when he was teaching her to play guitar. “The fact that I get to go on tour with them and hear them sing it every night is surreal,” she says. “I can’t wait to bring my dad out to the show and have him watch, too.”