Martina McBride visits CMT Most Wanted Live Saturday (Sept. 27) at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT. Her new album, Martina, arrives in stores Tuesday (Sept. 30).
On a warm May afternoon in 1994, publicists for RCA Records ushered a handful of entertainment reporters into a small projection room on Music Row, assuring them that they were going to see something special. It was Martina McBride’s new music video –her sixth one — and it carried a strong message, they warned. Maybe too strong.
Filmed in grainy black and white, the video opened serenely. A mother and daughter frolicked around a tree in their yard as off-camera voices sweetly sang a verse from “Amazing Grace.” Suddenly and with a throbbing musical intro, the viewers were plunged into nightmarish scenes of spousal abuse. They culminated with the desperate wife burning down the house with herself and her abusive husband inside while their daughter looked on in wordless horror. “I ain’t saying it’s right or it’s wrong,” sang the bleak-faced McBride, “but maybe it’s the only way.”
The video was, of course, “Independence Day,” and it did more to propel McBride toward country music stardom than anything else she had done to date. That fall, the Country Music Association gave “Independence Day” its video of the year award. It was the first time that honor had gone to a video by a female artist.
Counting performance clips, McBride has starred in 26 music videos and played cameo roles in at least three others. She made her debut in early 1992 with “The Time Has Come,” the first of three she would film that year. Her third clip of 1992 was the heart-wrenching “Cheap Whiskey.” It marked the singer’s initial foray into videos about domestic violence. Also in black and white, it tells the story of a heavy drinker who inadvertently kills his wife in a car crash before he finally comes to his senses.
Over the next 11 years, McBride would continue to revisit this disturbing theme, although she varied it regularly with videos about strong and contented women who find a love that works for them, such as “Safe in the Arms of Love” (1995) and the rapturous “Blessed” (2001). There were others about love affairs that end badly, including “Where I Used to Have a Heart” (1995) and “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road” (1997). Threaded through this serious fare were outbursts of pure whimsy and joy, notably “My Baby Loves Me” (1993), “Wild Angels” (1995), “I Love You” (1999) and “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” (2001).
At first glance, “Broken Wing” (1997) seems like a pale imitation of “Independence Day.” Again, there’s a beaten-down wife and a humorless, domineering husband. But here the abuse is emotional, not physical. Instead of hitting his wife, the man constantly scorns and disparages her. Rather than being reduced to despair, however, the wife escapes her tormentor not by violence but by leaving him.
Even more disturbing than “Independence Day” is McBride’s 2002 video, “Concrete Angel,” in which a mother beats her school-age daughter to death. The neighbors hear the shouts and blows. The teacher sees bruises. But no one comes to the little girl’s aid, except for the young boy who befriends her but is impotent to help. Not content simply to point out social problems with her videos, McBride sometimes had them tagged with statistics, advice and the names of agencies offering relief.
“This One’s for the Girls,” McBride’s current video, has the subtlety of a group hug. But who cares? It’s fun. It’s uplifting. And it saves “girls” of all ages the cost of a self-help magazine. Not bad for a four-minute romp.
Because McBride’s alarm-sounding videos are so unsettling and dramatic, one tends to remember them more vividly than her bubbly, love-inspired efforts. The one possible exception is “Blessed.” Part Garden of Eden myth and part fairy tale, “Blessed” shows a perfectly contented woman in a perfect world, attended by healthy, happy children and a doting Prince Charming husband. It is such an open and innocent expression of the ideal that it works, even as it veers toward burlesque. But who can resist Martina in a swing?