SHE'S THE ONE

Martina McBride isn't afraid of anything. Well, hardly anything...

In "Independence Day," Martina McBride sang about a battered wife's revenge. In "Concrete Angel," she delivered a poignant comment on child abuse. Fans have come to expect some weighty stuff from this petite powerhouse, especially when it comes to women's issues.

But not this time.

Her latest hit, "This One's for the Girls," is a victory lap for women, an upbeat shout of joy about female possibility.

"Some songs are just meant to be fun and entertaining," she figures. "I sing about things that women are interested in, definitely. But there's room for both sides."

The freedom to address the female experience from every angle - as she definitely does on Martina, her first all-new album in four years - is something she's come to value. "There are a lot more choices lyrically for women now," she says. "I think it's because there are more women writers, and we have broadened the subject matter that the audience accepts."

Audiences have been very accepting indeed of Martina. "This One's for the Girls" (featuring Faith Hill, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Martina's daughters, Delaney, 8, and Emma, 5, singing backup) zoomed into the Top 10 - just like her last four singles. Meanwhile, Martina debuted at the top of the album chart with her biggest-ever first-week sales.

That continued success is particularly gratifying considering the hard time women have had getting on the radio lately. She admits there is pressure to keep it up.

"The industry is completely different than it was twenty years ago," she explains. "Things move at a much faster pace, and careers come and go much faster."

The album was recorded at her own Blackbird Studio in Nashville's Berry Hill neighborhood, and is full of the positive songs of hope, appreciation, healing and poignancy her fans expect. "The music is pretty much Martina music," she says. "There's a variety of stuff on there - but there's definitely no left turns."

That means that even though "This One's for the Girls" is lighthearted, Martina also tackles more serious matters - as on "God's Will," about a disabled child, and the gospel tune "Reluctant Daughter." Attention to social issues, Martina recalls, began in her childhood.

"It wasn't really talked about," she says. "It wasn't like my parents sat me down and instilled that in me. So it may have been an unconscious thing - just something in me."

In part, she attributes that worldview to growing up in the small town of Sharon, Kan. "In the Midwest, you're raised feeling a connection to everyone around you," she explains. "Everybody knew everybody's business and helped their neighbor. So that connection to other people was a product of my environment, a gift that I was given as a kid."

That gift first found voice in her music on 1994's "Independence Day," a Top 15 hit that has become her signature song. When she first heard the tune, she remembers, "I didn't even know there were songs about that sort of thing. It was just this gut instinct, and that's still how I pick songs. When I hear a song that really moves me, I think, 'God, everybody should hear this song.'

"But I don't ever want to overestimate my importance in all of this. I am just a way to get these songs out into the world and have them do whatever they are meant to do."

One thing they've done is make her a star. Still, Martina says she's frightened of becoming too famous - a level of celebrity she calls "superfame" - fearing it would change things too drastically.

"I love my life the way it is, and I feel like I get to do everything I want to do with my career the way it is," she says. "I don't want fame to take over my life. I love having a sense of normalcy."

It's something she'll have to watch out for - over a decade after the release of her first album, Martina is now more famous than ever. And while that brings its worries, she also remembers to appreciate her good fortune.

"It's a great thing," she says with a smile in her voice. "It's amazing to me that I'm 11 years into this and people are still interested. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

All the while, she's never forgotten where she came from - what it was like to be a child in rural Kansas, dreaming of how her life could be.

"My parents were really great about recognizing potential in me and nurturing it," she says. "They gave me opportunities, and when I was growing up, I always felt that this is what I could do. My parents never said, 'You'd better get something you can fall back on.' It's a pretty empowering thing for a kid to have that, and for other people to support it.

"They always believed that if I got in the right place in the right time, I could make it just like anybody else."

Story by Alanna Nash

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