For Ingrid Andress, becoming the designated face of country music in this year’s Grammy nominations just seven months after her debut album came out is “mind-blowing.”
Among country artists, she’s tied with Miranda Lambert for the most overall nominations, with three. But one of Andress’ nods was for best new artist — and she’s not just the only country nominee in that category, but in any of the four top all-genre categories.
“I was thinking maybe one” nomination, she admits — “like maybe country song. But was not expecting three at all. The new artist one really floored me. Literally floored. Like, I was on the floor.”
Andress says she has “no idea how this happened, but being able to represent the country genre is awesome. And yeah, I have noticed that in that (best new artist) category, country really doesn’t have a slot most of the time, which is crazy to me. Because country is such a huge genre, I feel like it’s so weird that there’s not more of it in the top categories. But I’m new here, so I don’t really know how it works. I’m just starting to observe all these things.
“But having my name be with Megan Thee Stallion is the win that I need, and I’m fine with that. Just being in her category, I’m just like: I’ve peaked. That’s fine! This is enough for me.”
Besides being the only country artist in any of the all-genre categories, Andress also has the distinction of being the only freshman artist in any of the country categories. At least, that’s if you don’t count the Highwomen, a new group made up of veteran artists — “seniors,” as she jokingly puts it, on the class spectrum.
But commonality figures in, too, in at least one category. For best country album, her “Lady Like” is up against collections by Lambert, Brandy Clark, Little Big Town and Ashley McBryde, all of whom share the distinction of being… lady-like. That’s a historic first, to have women or female-fronted groups constitute the entire field in a Grammy country category.
“If you look at like the top five songs on radio, it’s like all white males, and then you look at the Grammy nominations and it’s just like, no white males,” she says. “So if anything, it’s a mind-fuck for me, because I’m just like, wow — what is real, as far as what is better, and all the different systems that rank that?”
To be fair, there are definitely a few white men scattered through three of the four country categories, though the focus has certainly been more on Mickey Guyton becoming the first solo Black woman to be nominated for a Grammy, and the best country album category’s all-female lineup. Were the Grammy committees making a statement with the latter, does she think?
“Since it’s my first time, I don’t really know. I’m sure it’s extremely political,” Andress says. “But I would like to believe in my novice state of mind that it’s just because everybody is good at what they do and has mastered their craft. And if you do look at all those albums, they are all like pretty epic. And I think even if it is just to make a statement, it’s still a very powerful statement, because I think if you listen to all those albums, I feel like everybody would be like, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah, we get it.’ And it’s just such a weird thing to have women in the country format feel like we’re fighting to have airplay, so we’re just like, ‘Wait, okay, the Grammys think we’re awesome, but country radio doesn’t. Cool.’ It’s this weird in-between that I still haven’t wrapped my head around yet. But I feel like it shows some sort of growth in recognition.
“But at the same time, too, when I listen to music, I’m not focusing on the gender of the person singing the music. I just am focusing on the lyrics, obviously, because I’m a nerd, and also just how it’s crafted and if it makes me feel something. So I’m proud of (the category) having all women, but at the same time, I don’t listen to music based on somebody’s gender and sometimes don’t pay attention to that. If anything, it makes me just focus on music more and what I think is dope.”
The Grammy love is not exactly the first validation Andress has gotten in 2020. She had a No. 1 country song early in the year with her debut single, “More Hearts Than Mine,” and just sang a memorable version of it on this month’s CMA Awards telecast (where she was also nominated for best new artist, but lost to Morgan Wallen). But even with these major scores, she still felt at times like she was throwing out a message in a bottle.
“Especially this year, it’s felt like nothing’s really happened, even though this was the year I chose to release an album,” Andress says. “So having it be nominated for Grammys makes it all worth it this year, even though I haven’t been able to tour it or really see anybody’s reaction to it in person. I’m still trying to categorize it in my head. Coming off this year, I’m just like, is any of this real? These nominations are shocking, and a whole new reality for me, because here I am in quarantine thinking, ‘Some people know and have listened to the album, but probably not a lot.’ And I guess more listened than I thought.”
Her hope is that even more might listen and have her music shake up their vision of what country music is or can be. Clearly, she’s no purist, with an album that skews toward a pop spin on the singer-songwriter genre as much as it does traditional sounds — not surprising, coming from an artist whose songwriting successes prior to cutting her debut for Warner Records’ Nashville division include co-writing non-Music-Row songs like Charli XCX’s “Boys.”
“I think country can sometimes be really categorized in a very specific way,” she says, “so I’m hoping that people realize that it can have different sounds and progress in different ways and the word ‘country’ can more flexible moving forward. Because that’s kind of the goal, being able to expand a genre.”
When Andress sang “More Hearts Than Mine” on the CMAs a few weeks ago, accompanied only by a pianist, she wept toward the very end of the number. That led to a lot of viewers wanting to know why. Interviewed by Variety immediately after the telecast, executive producer Robert Deaton said he didn’t know why Andress had cried — just that he told her to expect a lot of folks asking about it. Which we did, belatedly.
“I was not planning on crying, because literally my worst fear is crying in front of billions of strangers,” she says. “I think just the weight of this year hit me, but then it was also in contrast with the fact that I was getting to perform a song that meant so much to me. It felt like just the entire year and the beauty of that moment collided, and it just hit me at the very end. There’s been so much tension in the world, and I have been feeling it, especially during the elections and seeing how torn people are, but then being in that room and having it signify unity, it was the contrast of everything that hit me, and how powerful music can be during this time. And I just lost it. I was like, how am I here?
“But yes, afterward, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to do it again, because nobody is allowed to see me cry on this stage.’ And Robert Deaton was the one who was like, ‘Nope, moving on.’ And I was like, ‘Okaaaaay. Cool.’”
So, despite the song itself being tinged with a bit of sadness (“More Hearts Than Mine,” based in her own experience, is a song that exists in a state of anticipating a possible breakup, while remaining ambiguous enough to not provide an ending to the story), this was a happy cry?
“I don’t even know if it was a happy or sad cry. I’m still trying to figure it out. It was just like a straight-up cry. Can you have a neutral cry?” she asks, laughing. “It was just a release. I mean, I’m sure that singing that particular song… Not playing piano and just singing it, I feel like I got to focus a little more on what I was saying. So that probably also made it different for me as well. But it needed to happen. You know, sometimes you need a little cry, even though it’s not ideal for it to be on stage at an awards show. I’m glad to see comments from people who are like, ‘I cried too.’ I’m like, okay, thank God. Once again, realizing we have more in common than what we think. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again in public, but I’m fine with it for now.”
Little has been revealed about what kind of setup will exist for the Grammys Jan. 31, let alone who might get to be on-camera. Andress isn’t sweating that.
“It’s a whole new adventure to try to prepare for, except for not knowing what to prepare for. But luckily, I rarely make plans in my life — I love to improv — so this is nothing new for me. I’m ready to adapt and do whatever. It’ll be fun either way.” Perhaps at least she can count on her sharp, gown-free fashion sensibilities coming into play. “One would hope so, yes. I have not even started thinking about that. I’m sure my team has, but I’m just like, as long as it’s not a dress, we’re fine.”