On Billboard’s Country Airplay chart dated Aug. 3, 1991, Trisha Yearwood’s debut single “She’s in Love With the Boy” rose from No. 4 to No. 1, spending its first of two weeks on top.
Fast forward to Aug. 3, 2021. Exactly 30 years after her initial coronation, Yearwood — who was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1999 — is there to perform and to welcome Carly Pearce into the Opry as the newest member.
Later, Yearwood was surprised with a special award by Billboard senior vice president of charts and data development Silvio Pietroluongo, revealing that “She’s in Love with the Boy” ranks as the most-listened-to country song by a female artist in the 31 years that MRC Data has been measuring radio audience. (MRC Data monitors radio activity that powers Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, which launched in 1990.)
Yearwood is gearing up for the release of a deluxe version of her 2019 album Every Girl, due Aug. 13. It will include three songs not included on the original release, which debuted at its No. 5 peak on Top Country Albums in September 2019, becoming her 15th top 10, a total that includes four No. 1s. On Country Airplay, she boasts 19 top 10s, five of which have hit No. 1.
The morning after her surprise at the Grand Ole Opry, Yearwood sat down for a chat with Billboard.
First, how are you feeling?
I feel really great, honestly. I still may be in a little bit of shock from last night.
It’s a huge honor, being told that “She’s in Love with the Boy” is the most-listened-to country song by a woman in the history of MRC Data. Were you honestly surprised?
Yes, and I don’t even like surprises. But I was caught completely off-guard by this sweet bombshell. I headed there with the intention of inducting Carly Pearce, which was a first; I have never inducted anyone in the past, so I was focused on that. It was a great honor and then performing with both Carly and Jeannie Seely [an Opry member since 1967]. We did “Making Believe,” the old Kitty Wells’ classic [from 1955]. It was really cool, because the three of us had never performed together and it just seemed very natural. [Earlier in the program, Yearwood and Pearce performed Yearwood’s 1997 hit “How Do I Live.”]
“She’s in Love With the Boy” has endured for three decades. Did you have any idea when you recorded it that it would be a hit?
It’s funny because last night some people were saying, “Oh, I knew it was gonna be a smash.” But I was there, so I remember it differently. I was in producer Garth Fundis’ office, who said he’d not worked with a female artist in a while. He played it for me on a cassette and said it was a good story song. Thing is, the track [written by Jon Ims] had been knocking around in Nashville for a good while, and it seems like everyone passed on it. I just liked the story, and that’s a big reason why it’s been successful. Everyone can relate to one of the characters.
Do you still get feedback from fans on it?
Yes, I think it’s timeless because of the story. I see girls who weren’t born yet when it was released, singing it at concerts, probably because their parents played it for them. I know that an artist is very lucky to have one of these songs during their career. I said it last night on the Opry stage and I’ll say it again: I never get tired of singing this song.
Was it a natural choice among you and your team to be your first single?
I just talked to my husband, the other Garth [Brooks] (laughs), about this last night when we got home. The thought process was that normally your first song is an introduction to the artist, because it won’t get to No. 1; at least that was the thinking back then. So, the team thought that we’d put out “She’s in Love,” and then lower the hammer with the second single, which was written by Garth Brooks and Pat Alger, “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart.” So, I don’t think everyone thought, “She’s in Love” would hit No. 1. [“Broken Heart” went on to reach No. 4.]
Were you surprised that it took off?
I mean, amazed actually. I was a demo singer prior to being signed to MCA and this was a dream of mine since I was five. The thoughts ranged from, “Wow, that was easy,” to, “Well, if we can’t follow this up, I’ll just be the answer to a trivia question about one-hit wonders.”
So you felt the pressure?
Yes, absolutely, I definitely did, especially after we recorded the second album [1992’s Hearts in Armor]. I didn’t even know what a sophomore jinx was until I was asked about it in every interview I did. But “Walkaway Joe” was on that record, so it worked out. [The ballad, a duet with Don Henley, hit No. 2.]
“XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” was your next No. 1 in 1994. Were you relieved to get that second leader?
Yeah, but honestly, I can’t tell you what numbers these songs peaked at.
Do you follow the charts?
I do if I have a single out. You know, I have been doing this over 30 years, so you try and not think about it. That’s not why you make music. But, at the same time, you want to keep making music, so I want as many people as possible to hear it. It’s tough because the songs you record are like your babies.
Do you remember hearing “She’s in Love With the Boy” on the radio for the first time?
I do. I was driving my used burgundy Honda Accord around Nashville. I rolled down all of the windows and blasted it, wanting everyone to hear it. There’s really nothing like it as an artist and I still get excited when I hear myself on the radio.
Do you remember what station that you heard it on?
I think it was probably WSIX.
What women are you listening to and rooting for?
I am definitely a supporter of women that are coming up. I love Carly Pearce, obviously, so I am thrilled for her success. I love the emotion in her voice. It does seem like it’s getting to be better for women, carving out their own path and making great music. I love Lauren Alaina. I actually call her Junior, because her story is similar to mine. A couple of other women that I love: Hailey Whitters and Lucie Silvas. It’s kind of cool to be the older chick singer and a mentor to some of these artists.
It seems like the COVID-19 pandemic is roaring again. What about that worries you, especially as someone who has experienced the virus first-hand?
Well, I’m a worrier by nature so there’s a list (laughs). I guess I just want my family to be healthy and well. That’s what I worry about most.
This has to end sometime. What are you most optimistic about going forward?
Well, we are a vaccinated band and team, and we’re in a secure bubble. We’re not doing any backstage meet-and-greets right now. So, we’re as safe as possible, but we want our fans to be safe as possible, too. I mean as humans, we’re social creatures. I miss the spontaneity. So, my hope is that we’ll be able to get there very soon.
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