Sugarland’s “Stay” is the first of the duo’s chart-topping songs to solely be written by singer Jennifer Nettles. Although she has never lived the storyline of the song, she knew the subject of betrayal is something everyone could relate to, yet she wanted to tell the story from a different viewpoint.
The song was written four years ago and inspired by Reba McEntire’s “Whoever’s in New England,” which was written from the perspective of a wife whose husband is cheating on her. Nettles knew countless songs written from that viewpoint but none from the other two people involved. She says most people don’t realize that even the person who is doing the cheating gets hurt as well.
“Even though the person who is cheating might think he or she is getting away with something, they know they aren’t living their highest truth,” she says. “And they wouldn’t be in the situation if they were just happy-go-lucky in the first place. Nobody is happy in this situation.”
Once she decided to write the song from the other woman’s perspective, Nettles was overwhelmed with emotions and says the song pretty much wrote itself.
“You know, it was just in a couple of sittings on my couch,” she explains. “And once the first line came, ‘I’ve been sitting here staring at the clock on the wall. I’ve been laying here, praying she won’t call,’ the story just unfolded.”
Kristian Bush, the other half of Sugarland, remembers being blown away by the lyrics the first time he heard the song.
“This is one of those first times when you become like Bob Dylan, where you are writing the character’s story rather than your story,” he notes. “And it’s a huge moment, and I am humbled around people who write like this. When I heard that song, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is a heavy hitter of a writer here. This is a monster of a machine that is about to write songs.'”
“Stay” was one of the first songs Nettles and Bush wanted recorded for Enjoy the Ride because they knew the song would resonate with fans. While headlining the recent CMT on Tour, the duo encountered several fans who gave them the strength to speak out in their own relationships. Nettles said she knows how hard it is to say something you know is for your own good but at the same time doesn’t feel good while you’re saying it. And in that moment of standing up for what is right for yourself, she says, you’ll be amazed at how powerful and liberated you feel.
Bush says they often got odd looks from audience members wondering whether the song had anything to do with his and Nettles’ relationship. Bush is married and says his relationship with Nettles is a brother-sister relationship. His “big brother” instincts came out when they taped the video for “Stay,” as Nettles became overwhelmingly emotional.
Bush recalls, “Immediately, I was just like, ‘Everybody stop. Stop this! Y’all leave the room. Y’all made her cry.’ I was like a knuckle-draggin’ dad or a husband or something. I was really freaked out.”
He went to console Nettles, who had stepped out of the room, and offered to send everyone home, saying they could continue taping the following day. But Nettles assured him she was fine and continued to cry during the next three takes, making it hard for Bush to watch.
“About that time, I’m spent,” he said. “It’s not even noon and I’m emotionally drained. They had to tie me down to watch all of this happen. It was like watching someone torture your friend.”
Lindsey Roznovsky is a writer for CMT Radio.