Most assuredly, Natalie Hemby is probably your favorite country artist’s favorite songwriter. Moreover, as a performer, she’s a member of the superstar Highwomen quartet (with Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, and Amanda Shires), so she’s also at the leading edge of redefining honesty within country music’s core values. She’s also a fan of 90s era singer-songwriters like Sheryl Crow and the era where thoughtful, storyline-driven rock videos dominated MTV. Plus, she even loves Dolly Parton so much that she took her children on a spring break vacation to Dollywood instead of watching the Grammy Awards — when nominated for numerous trophies — while sitting on a metaphorical stack of nervous pins and needles. Her magnificent skill set also makes her a frank talker and deep thinker for whom words directly connect to her spirit and soul. Thus, her latest single, “Heroes,” turns her personal feelings about stardom into an anthemic story with a universal message about the benefits of common decency for humankind.
“Country music is such a star-driven industry, but ’Heroes’ is all about deconstructing the power of superstardom. Why did you make this choice at this time,” CMT asks Natalie Hemby about her latest single. “I grew up in the music business, watching people from behind the scenes, so I’ve been around many stars in Nashville and elsewhere,” Hemby responds. “And the thing that stands out the most to me — and is why I wrote this song — is that it’s not so much about being a star. Rather, it’s all about how you treat people. My rule is, ’don’t be an a**hole on the way up and don’t be one on the way down. The people whose careers have lasted the longest are all kind and respectful. However, some people aren’t that and are just horrible.”
When asked about the film-style video for the song, the award-winning artist says, “I used to babysit [the “heroes” video director] Sophia Laurer! Now, she has developed into such a creative force with an amazing eye. She and her husband, Mika, understood my simple vision: ’I want beautiful people to tell this story, where I’m in the background as the narrator,’ and they nailed it!” Regarding the creative vision, Hemby adds, “think about how many girls have looked up to other women, worshipping and adoring them, then they get backstage to meet them and they’re absolute b***hes to them.”
Overall, in regards to her new single, the notable singer-songwriter offers some perspective. “We idolize people so much, and we want all of the positive things we believe about them to be true. However, we’re all humans capable of making mistakes — you can catch someone, and it’s just the case of it being a ’bad mood on a bad day.’ Other times, artists aren’t who we see them as, onstage, at all.”
Outside of her new video, when asked in-depth about some of the moments that stand out to both her and her fans regarding her career, a deeper sense of where the person and artist meet emerges.
“I’m a pessimist. I figured it’s probably not going to happen,” noted Hemby when asked about her recent standout career highlight, having two different songs she wrote nominated for country’s Song of the Year (The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table,” which won, and her longtime collaborator Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird”) at the 2021 Grammy Awards. “I genuinely loved both of those songs. Most people don’t love every song they write.”
However, regarding the pandemic and surviving as a songwriter — plus making songs she also loves, like “Heroes” — during the past 16 months, she offers, “I’m 44, so I’ve already lived through a bunch of global tragedies. So, while I did write songs about hope and sadness, I didn’t want to hang my artistry on the pandemic alone. I also started listening to a bunch of ’1997-style Lilith Fair Festival-type music,'” she recalls, name-dropping the Sarah McLachlan co-founded, all-woman lineup, 90s era music festival centered on folk, rock, and soul-inspired singer-songwriters. “I went down that rabbit hole, musically because, at the end of the day, just call me ’90’s Natalie.’ I almost landed a huge record deal when I was young [in the 1990s]. So during the pandemic, I focused on trying to, in some ways, make the records I never got the chance to make.”