Jo Dee Messina Working to Be the Light She Longed for 25 Years Ago [Interview]
Jo Dee Messina is done with comparisons. The '90s and early 2000s country hitmaker is embracing new interest in her career and catalog, but not resting on it. A new song called "Just to Be Loved" may epitomize her mindset.
By the end of her conversation with Taste of Country, it was clear it also fills the dark corners of her past.
“We were talking about a text message I saw from my then-13-year-old son and then we started to talk about one of the other writer’s daughter’s friend," Messina begins, explaining how the new song came to be. Jess Cates, Jordan Mohilowski and Tim Nichols were in the room to help her.
"She just felt weighed down and depressed due to the comparison she found online. So the song tells the story about a girl, she’s fourteen, she can take on the world, she doesn’t care if her teeth are dirty or finger nails or dirty … and then boom!"
Reality — if it's even fair to call it that — hits. "You look around at everybody's highlight reels / Picture perfect, pretty lies it makes you feel like / Your life is underrated," Messina sings.
"She changes the way she looks or acts or starts hanging in different places just so she can fit what she thinks what she’s supposed to be. That song says you’re loved just the way you are … don’t change who you are just to be loved according to the world because God loves you perfectly just the way you are.”
Messina steers the conversation back to God on several occasions, but has reservations about recording a Christian album. Talking to Taste of Country Nights' Evan Paul, she'll explain why, and open up about her longing for light during dark times in her career. Listen to the full Taste of Country Nights, On Demand interview or read an abbreviated version below.
Taste of Country: Is it strange to be referencing social media in a song now?
Jo Dee Messina: It’s neat in the sense of, I know what it’s like to be 14 years old and compare yourself with the other kids in high school. And now these kids are comparing themselves to every other kid in every other high school across the world. It’s massive, it’s multiplied.
I always felt like I wasn’t pretty enough or I was too short or I didn’t have the coolest clothes, and that was just the kids in my hometown.
We need a song like this.
Well it’s trying to get them rooted in the truth and the truth is, God created you perfectly. He loves you with the perfect love, and you don’t need to change who he created you to be just to fit in to these cultural groups you find online, because you’re just beautiful as you are.
Cole Swindel’s “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” brought some fresh attention to your song “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” When you originally heard his version how did you feel?
The original writers for “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” one of them sent me a song and said, “Hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up.” I heard it and was like, “Oh my gosh.” It took me a second and I had to listen to it again and was like, “This is kind of cool.” Of all the songs that they could have picked from that genre, that era, they chose “Heads Carolina.”
Back in the '90s it was, “Oh my gosh. If this doesn’t do well they won’t like me. They don’t like me. Oh my gosh, I’m not good enough.” It was a total beating session to me.
What was it like being back on the ACM Awards stage?
The CMAs and ACMs were so much fun for me. No pressure, I’m singing a song I’ve sang for 373 years, so I just get up there and had a blast.
Was that the first time your kids have seen you on a stage that big?
I don’t think my kids saw me, quite frankly (laughs). I think they’re unimpressed with what I do. They grew up on the road and on the bus going to festivals, and it’s just another day of work for mom.
Do you enjoy success at this point in your life differently than when you were making hits in the '90s and 2000s?
Success looks different to me now. That was my identity, and then I came to know Christ, who is my identity. I’m his. I do belong. I belong to him. I am loved by him. Back in the '90s it was, “Oh my gosh. If this doesn’t do well, they won’t like me. They don’t like me. Oh my gosh, I’m not good enough.” It was a total beating session to me.
We came off a No. 1 song and “Downtime” hits No. 8 and they’re like, “She’s done. Failure. Epic fail.” Because once you ring the bell, you have to ring the bell again and ring the bell again and it’s neverending, or else you’re seen as a failure — and that’s not true. You’re not. You’re not a failure.
Are there younger artists that you’re close to or are mentoring?
No, I’m not mentoring anyone. I always tell folks if they need prayer to call me. Or if it gets overwhelming. People like Lainey Wilson who I know loves Jesus, and she’s in the middle of the throws of things. It’s like, “Girl, if you feel like you’re losing your footing, call me. I’m here.”
I love to be that for people. I wish I had someone like that when I was coming up through the ranks, just to say, “OK, if you feel like the world is getting too fast, come to me and I’ll bring you to Him.”
You have to do a Christian album. It’s all leading here.
I don’t know. They’re a pretty closed door to people who are not 100 percent in that industry. It is what it is.