We’ve Got A File On You: LeAnn Rimes

Norman Seeff

We’ve Got A File On You: LeAnn Rimes

Norman Seeff

We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

LeAnn Rimes has been a presence in country and pop music for so long that it’s easy to forget she signed her first record deal at the shockingly young age of 11. That’s younger than Taylor Swift (14) and Lorde (12). The best point of comparison would probably be ’70s teen country sensation Tanya Tucker, whose debut single “Delta Dawn” came out when she was just 13. But Rimes? In 1997 she became the youngest artist in history to win a Grammy at just 14 years old, taking home Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her rendition of “Blue,” a cover of Bill Mack’s 1958 track.

Not that Rimes registered the enormity of that success at the time. Her big win was all wrapped up in a tornado of critical accolades, awards, guest appearances, interviews, and other promotional gigs. Soon enough, Rimes was crossing over into pop on the strength of 1997 power ballad “How Do I Live,” which eventually led to Top 40 smashes “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” (as featured on ’00s musical comedy-drama Coyote Ugly) and 2001’s “I Need You.” Along with Y2K contemporaries like Shania Twain, the Chicks, and Faith Hill, Rimes laid the groundwork for a new generation of crossover acts: Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and, of course, Swift.

Over the next two decades, Rimes would steadily release more than a dozen new albums, circling country, pop/rock, and adult contemporary. She recently helped kick off the Grammy Museum’s new exhibit “The Power Of Women In Country Music,” which runs through October 2 and features her famous blue Grammy dress. Rimes is also prepping a new album (her 19th), god’s work, out September 16. Today, Rimes is sharing its latest single, “the wild” featuring Mickey Guyton and Sheila E. To top all of that off, Rimes has spent a portion of the past year touring in support of Blue’s 25th anniversary.

Below, Rimes opens up about her unparalleled career, empathizing with Taylor Swift and Britney Spears, and that time Reba McEntire taught her how to drive a stick shift.

The Power Of Women In Country Music Grammy Museum Exhibit (2022)

Why did it feel so important to you to participate in this exhibit and highlight women’s roles in country music?

LeAnn Rimes: Well, my career started off in country music. My love for country music runs deep and especially classic country music. I grew up on that, amongst many other things. There are so many women in that exhibit that are my peers, women who have influenced me along the way. A piece of my history is included in that.

There’s so many talented and brave artists in that exhibit. The whole exhibit is really reflective of, I think, how the industry has grown in over the past several decades, but I think the through line for me was, like I said, the bravery of the women there that were not afraid to use their voices and weren’t afraid to be themselves. No matter what anyone thought, they were uniquely their own, and so to be considered a part of that, it was powerful.

god’s work and “the wild” Featuring Mickey Guyton and Sheila E. (2022)

That ethos connects to what the press materials were saying about your new song “the wild.” They describe this song as speaking to the ridicule that women face when voicing their opinions. Is there a particular personal moment that you were thinking about when you were writing “the wild”?

Rimes: No, not anything in particular. I don’t know how you can be a woman, period — not just in of our generation, but since humankind was created — and not feel some kind of rage toward the way that we have been treated and are still being treated.

I wrote “the wild” in the middle of COVID. I think I had a moment — we all did — to sit with what was there and we weren’t able to run away from it. For me, there was a lot of rage. For someone who uses their voice all the time, there’s many facets of my voice that have been untapped or that I’m just now tapping into. That song was about tapping into a different space within me to be able to express emotions that aren’t necessarily welcome, especially for women, most of the time. So, there was a lot that came up during that time period that I hadn’t been able to touch upon within myself. Rage was definitely one of them. And disgust and anger.

There’s so much in that song. It’s very multilayered. There’s a lot of hope in that song and a lot of reclamation. It’s about all of these pieces we’ve fractured ourselves into in order to fit into this world as a polite, nice, pretty, however else you want to describe the perfect woman. That was really about reclaiming the totality of myself, and hopefully giving women the permission to do the same.

Now more than ever, we’re needing women to speak up and to give their voices. I’m hoping that that will stir something up in whomever listens and inspire them to reclaim their power.

We’re talking about “the wild” only a week after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court. Has the erosion of women’s rights played into what you want to say about “the wild”?

Rimes: We wrote that song almost two two years ago now. I find that as a songwriter, things come through me that are needing to be said at a later date. Like I said, we’ve been in this cycle with women for a really long time now, and so it’s always relevant, but I find it particularly relevant in this moment. I was listening to it in the car today — I find myself going to that song when I listen to the record — and I just was… The rage that came up and the tears that came today listening to that song. I’m going to cry talking about it now. It’s really fitting, sadly.

I wish that it wasn’t, but it is very, very fitting for this moment in time. I don’t think the universe makes mistakes when things like that come through. I really was afraid to write it. We talk about not using our voices, and to tap into that piece of myself and to be so vulnerable about my own difficult emotions, I think that it is really vulnerable. You see women all over the world right now tapping into that vulnerability for themselves, sharing their own stories of abortion. I think that there’s so much power in that, when we can tap into bravery and our own vulnerability and be able to share our struggles with one another. The word that comes to mind is these “unclean” parts of ourselves — I think it makes us human, and it makes us stronger. It makes us more connected, and we know that we’re not alone.

As women, as a collective, and together as one, we are so powerful. I’m hoping that this song really stirs up something in women that allows them to tap into that piece of themselves that allows them to be more honest. God knows I’ve been told many times the old phrase of, “Shut up and sing.” Yes, I am a celebrity and I do have a platform and I’m glad I do. At the same time, I’m human. I think that’s what all of us have to get back to: that we are human, we do have a say in this life, and our voices do matter.

You’re also reminding me of a part in Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana documentary where she describes being trained from the earliest days of her career to never, ever say anything about what she thinks about politics, and the Chicks are held up as some kind of cautionary tale. And Taylor describes having so much to unlearn. Does her experience ring true to you? I have to imagine that it does.

Rimes: Oh yeah. The traumatizing things that I was told. Yeah, absolutely. I think the main through line and idea was just “don’t have an opinion.” Because if you do, it won’t be someone else’s opinion and they won’t buy your record, you’re going to piss somebody off. Still, to this day, I’m scared to speak up sometimes. I do it anyway. I have to. I go back to “I’m human. I’m not LeAnn Rimes, I’m human, and I do have a right to speak, and I do have a right to say what I’m feeling in my heart.” I feel like I’ve come a long, long way with that. My very first introduction to this business was being told — and I signed my record deal at 11 — “You just don’t have an opinion.”

I think I’ve gone through a lot of therapy because of that. Like I said, I’m known for utilizing my voice, but only the pretty part, only the things that are acceptable. I’ve really had to open myself up and open my voice up into being able to use all the facets of it so that I can be human and I can express all of these things that aren’t “nice.”

I agree, I remember seeing the Taylor Swift doc, and I just sat there and cried through most of it, because it was, it was watching another young girl have to go through that, it’s awful.

Yeah. I can imagine that was triggering.

Rimes: Yeah. I think we’ve left out the humanity in our celebrities, and we haven’t wanted to see that piece of them. I think that’s changing, and I’m glad it is, because it’s really painful to have to cut off pieces of yourself in order to exist in this world. We all wear a mask to some extent, but it’s heightened when you’re a celebrity. I think there’s such a public persona, and somewhere along the way for me, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be two different people,” or, “I can’t have pieces of myself be removed from this public persona that I am.”

When in your life did you begin to feel like you couldn’t reconcile those separate parts of yourself anymore? Or perhaps you feel like it’s a constant state of unlearning?

Rimes: Probably around 32, 33, I started to become more comfortable with really having my whole voice out there in the world and to be expressed. It’s a fairly new thing.

There’s layers to the unlearning. There’s layers to the ways in which I have learned to speak up, not only in the public, but for myself, too. I sued my record label when I was 16. I had no problem when it came to certain things. If it comes to my business or if it comes to my music or my voice, I have no problem speaking up. But anything outside of that, I’ve had to learn along the way, like everyone else, in order to protect myself and to speak up when I have opinions and when I feel like I’m being mistreated. It was definitely pouring through my veins at a very young age. But it’s so easy in this industry and in this world, especially for a woman and for a young girl, to get your hands slapped enough for speaking up that you turn that inward.

Singing Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” on Star Search (1991)

I don’t know how much you followed the #FreeBritney movement, but part of reexamining the casual misogyny in Britney Spears’ career included her childhood appearance on Star Search where Ed McMahon asks if he can be her boyfriend. I noticed in your Star Search appearance, McMahon said something equally icky to you.

Rimes: Oh my God. I guess he had a shtick, right? He was consistent.

Right! Assuming you followed Britney’s ordeal with fame, did that spark anything in you? Did her story cause you to revisit anything in your own past?

Rimes: With Taylor, with Britney, with anyone who started as young as we did, I think there’s a lot of similarities. Obviously, we’ve all had our own path, but I definitely can relate to many things that she’s gone through. So, it’s disturbing. It’s triggering, to say the least. God, I wish her all the best, because she’s been through hell. We’ve all had our own versions of hell. It’s so challenging to grow up in front of everyone’s eyes, and I can only imagine what she’s gone through. I can’t imagine it, because I went through some of it myself, but it’s definitely triggering for me.

Acting opposite Bernadette Peters and on Days Of Our Lives (1997, 1998)

On a lighter note, you did plenty of major TV appearances in the ’90s — a Target commercial, a TV movie with Bernadette Peters. How did you end up on a soap?

Rimes: I don’t think I was thinking about it at the time. I know the Bernadette Peters film. I was on tour, we had written the book Holiday In Your Heart and they wanted to make a TV movie out of it. I got right off the tour and went right into it. I had an acting coach on set. I’d done some theater when I was a kid, which I loved. I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. They put my hair under a hat, as I played a boy, which I loved. I loved theater. But I never really thought about acting much. I’d never taken any classes or done anything like that. At the time, a movie was to build on all the success that was happening at the moment.

With Days, Jensen Ackles became a friend. I had watched Days Of Our Lives [and] The Young And The Restless with my grandmother from the time I was two. It was one of those things of knowing him and them asking me to come on. From what I recall, it was really fun, because I got to work with my friends.

Winning The Best New Artist Grammy (1997)

So much was happening for you around the time you became the first country artist and the youngest artist to win the Best New Artist Grammy. Do you remember where your mind was, coming out of a moment like that? Did you feel any pressure coming out of it?

Rimes: It was interesting. Musically, I had a very different career than most people, because when I got signed, I had made little demos and different things when I was performing around Texas. So when they signed me, not only did we make the album Blue, but that catalog was released over the next two records after Blue. All of that stuff was recorded when I was 10, 11. I didn’t have the normal debut album. I guess Sittin’ On Top Of The World was my real sophomore record. Number one, I don’t think I had the wherewithal to understand that’s how the music industry worked, I was so young. Maybe that was one good thing — I didn’t feel like I had the normal pressure of the sophomore record.

At the same time, that was such a whirlwind in my life, nothing stopped for probably three-and-a-half years, it was just full-on. I did 500 shows in three-and-a-half years, and at the time, I was 13. It was nonstop. For me, it was like, “Oh, that’s just another thing,” it really was. I knew it was a big deal at the time, but it was like, “Oh, I won a Grammy. Okay, next thing.” It was always onto the next thing. There was never really time to stop and take in the magnitude of what was actually going on.

Recording “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” For Coyote Ugly (2000)

When you were working on “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” and Coyote Ugly, were you making a conscious transition to more straightforward pop? What did that crossover actually look like?

Rimes: “How Do I Live” was my first crossover, and that was just so massive. That was so unintentional, especially from my end. Country radio wasn’t going to play the record that we had made. I ended up seeing the head of my label at the time accidentally in an airport, and he asked me, “Would you mind if I take this to Top 40?” I was like, “No, I just want it heard.” So, we weren’t trying to make a pop record with the intentionality of crossing over, it just so happened that that’s where they played it.

Then, as things started presenting themselves, different opportunities [came up]. I think “I Need You” came out before Coyote Ugly. Yeah, I did “I Need You” for the Jesus: The Epic Mini-Series, and then Coyote Ugly just fell in my lap. Actually, I called Diane Warren, because there was a song called “Please Remember” that was on the soundtrack. She had played the song for me before. I remember telling her I liked the song, but it was attached to a different film at the time, and then they dropped it. When I called and asked, “What’s going on with that song?” She’s like, “Well, I have this other movie Jerry Bruckheimer’s doing called Coyote Ugly that they might want to attach it to. Would you be up for doing music for it?” I did Piper [Perabo]’s voice for the singing voice for the film, and they already had a direction of how they were taking the material. It was just opportunity presenting itself, one after the other, [and] that just blended itself to Top 40. There was no real thought as to “I want to crossover.” It just happened.

I actually didn’t realize country radio wasn’t amenable to playing “How Do I Live,” but around that time, I was only listening to Top 40.

Rimes: Yeah, because Trisha Yearwood and I both cut the song at the same time, and hers ended up in the film [Con Air], mine got pulled from the film. It was a shitshow. But country radio decided to play her version of that song, which is totally cool. Basically, we thought mine would never be heard, and that’s when they took it to Top 40.

Portraying Connie Francis On American Dreams (2003)

You were on one of my favorite, criminally underrated historical dramas, American Dreams, where you portrayed Connie Francis. One of the reasons I grew up loving that show was because they brought contemporary artists on to portray historical figures on a recreated American Bandstand stage.

Rimes: Yes. I loved Connie’s voice. I grew up singing her songs when I was a kid. It was fun to play dress-up and be her for a moment. From what I remember, everybody was super kind, I loved that project. But every time someone mentions that show, I have so much trauma around that, because I got in a horrible car accident after leaving that show that night.

Oh no!

Rimes: We got hit by a drunk driver in a stoplight intersection and spun around three times and hit another car across the street in front of us across the intersection. Every time someone mentions that I’m like, “All I think of is the car accident.”

I had to cancel a tour European tour, I had horrible whiplash. I still have issues from it to this day. But before that, before the crash, it was a great time.

Portraying Christie Brinkley On Blue Collar TV (2004)

A year later, you had the chance to do some comedy on Blue Collar TV opposite Jeff Foxworthy. Did doing comedy allow for you to lean into a different side of your personality?

Rimes: It was scary, actually. Comedy is its own thing. It has its own rhythm, its own beats. It was definitely a stretch for me, and learning to do something that I’ve never done before. I remember being terrified, but Jeff [Foxworthy] was great. I got to play Christie Brinkley, and we’ve seen informercials for those exercise machines. It was just fun to poke fun at all of it. Like I said, Jeff was fantastic. It was definitely a stretch and something I ultimately enjoyed doing. I would love to do more of it, actually, in the future. It’s not something I get to do often. There’s so many gifted people at comedy and it’s its own world.

Advertising Dr. Pepper With Reba McEntire (2004)

I imagine you’d already met Reba prior to doing that Dr. Pepper commercial where you’re driving around in a convertible together, right? Was she someone you looked up to when you were coming up in country music?

Rimes: I think my first concert was Reba and Brooks & Dunn. I used to watch her on the CMA Awards accepting awards and was like, “I’m going to go do that one day.” Two years later, I was doing it. She’s one of the people that has influenced me the most. Her career has been incredible. I’ve met her many times and known her before the commercial. I was actually driving the director’s car in that video, which was nerve-wracking because I was supposed to pull it in, and I was only pulling in a few feet, and it was a stick shift.

I’m like, “I don’t drive stick all the time.” I was only driving it a few feet, but it was terrifying. I’m like, “I’m going to run over the director. I’m going to run over the cameraman.” She’s helping me out all the whole way through the commercial, through the filming. I had it down pretty quickly, but she was great. I learned how to drive from Reba.

Singing “How Do I Live” On The Masked Singer (2021)

When I saw you be interviewed at the Grammy Museum, you talked about how you like to reimagine your older songs before singing an updated version of “How Do I Live.” You also performed that updated version on The Masked Singer that year. When did you start wanting to update your older work?

Rimes: Oh gosh. I don’t remember. I guess around the same time I was finding other facets of my voice, to be honest, my early 30s. I’ve played around with reworking Blue. We’ve turned “Blue” into a jazz song at one point, we’ve sped it up, we’ve slowed it down. That’s what I love about great songs — you can do anything with it. Especially “How Do I Live” — the new version, it’s so much in my falsetto range. I was noticing onstage, I was belting out all of these songs, and it was exhausting after a while. I’m like, “I want to use the different part of my voice.” That’s how that version of “How Do I Live” came about, was just exploring a different part of my range to be able to give myself a break of belting out all of these songs.

Then we started to see what else we could come up with. For me, recording these songs so young, it has totally taken on a new life. I hear them differently, the things I feel when I sing them are different. So the way that I interpret them, even if it was the original version, would be different these days. The new version of “One Way Ticket,” I hear the story in it now. It hits my heart so different. I call them “The Adult Version.” It breathes new life into them, not only for me, but for everybody who grew up listening to them.

Guest Judging On RuPaul’s Drag Race (2015)

As someone who has been such a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community over the years, how do you want to show up for the community if and when it faces growing legal challenges in some states?

Rimes: The way I look at life, I believe in equal rights for everyone. I believe in everybody being able to have their own religion, opinion. I believe in people loving who they love. I have no time in my life — I don’t know how people find the time in theirs — to care so much about what other people are doing with their life. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Women should have a right to choose what happens with their own body. I don’t even have the words for it sometimes. I am a huge supporter of equal rights and I will absolutely speak to that for the rest of my life.

The LGBTQ+ community, my uncle was diagnosed and passed away from AIDS when I was 11. Growing up in the South, it was very much not spoken about, and still isn’t, to an extent. I wanted to give him the voice that he never had. So for me, that’s always really hit home. I’ve met millions of people in this world, I’ve traveled all across the world and everyone is so unique and sovereign. I trust people to do what is best for them.

I feel like one of the things, as a celebrity and as human beings, we are expected to have these opinions and then never change. You can’t contradict yourself because, God knows, you can’t change. People just don’t want you to change. For me, that’s one of the scariest things: to go out and speak on something, and then maybe two years later, I don’t feel the same way. Maybe something’s happened in my life, I have different experiences, and I’m like, “Oh, I feel differently about this now.”

People want to hold you to things. I’m a true believer in evolution. I believe that life experiences can change you and change your views of life. I believe that we should all have the right to choose whatever feels good and does not hurt another person, however and whenever we feel that we should choose it. I’m absolutely 100% all about that.

I see tweets that I wrote 10 years ago and I’m like, “Wait, I wouldn’t write that. Did I write that?” That’s talking about a tweet. Imagine deep parts of ourselves and our souls that continue to evolve. Just talking about the songs that I recorded — some things I wouldn’t choose now. Some songs I don’t even sing anymore because they don’t fit. I feel like we should be evolving, that should be our goal at the end of the day. We should look back on ourselves and be like, “Wow, I don’t even know that person.”

I was just thinking about that, the person I was when we kicked off the shows on the road this year. I’m so different right now from where I was eight weeks ago. So, I was just thinking how fast I change and grow and expand. I think that’s ultimately what we’re here to do. So, for me, anything that’s suppresses that in any way, it’s deadening to our souls.

I don’t have time, and I don’t know where others find time in their daily lives to care so much about judging what another does with their life. I do have the time to care more about lifting others up and supporting their right to be who they wholly are. That’s what I’m here for.

Singing “Love Me Like You Used To” With Tanya Tucker At The Ryman Auditorium (2022)

Circling back to your friendship with Reba and country-music elders — I found a recent performance you did with Tanya onstage at the Ryman. Have you had a similar mentor-mentee relationship with Tanya?

Rimes: I love her. She’s hysterical. I was in town for the CMT Awards. I’m kind of quiet when I go into places, I don’t let anybody know that I’m there. I’m just there to do my job. She found out that I was in town and she was doing the Tanya Tucker & Friends at the Ryman. She ended up texting me: “I heard you’re in town, I’m doing this show.” I was literally in my sweats, I was getting an IV drip because I hadn’t felt very well. I was like, “Shit, I’m getting pulled into this. I know I’m going to end up there.” So I ended up changing and going over, and she’s like, “What song do you want to do?” I forgot what song I ended up doing with her, but I texted the song and she’s like, “We have a teleprompter, it’ll be fine. We’ll just do it.”

Bringing in all the things we’ve talked about, she started so young. I remember when I started, people would compare me to her and say that I was the next Tanya Tucker. [At the same time,] everyone around me was like, “No, she’s not. No, she’s not,” like it was this horrible thing to be the next Tanya Tucker. God knows I relate so much to her life and all we’ve been through publicly. She’s such a strong heart and such a kind heart. Coming from what people used to say when I was 13 — “Don’t be like Tanya” — to being on stage with her now at 40, laughing at all the things that I was told, to know her now and to know how kind she is to me and how strong she’s been throughout her career and the public life she’s led, I have a great deal of respect for her.

I can’t say enough great things about her. She’s always been the kindest of souls to me. For me, it was one of those things where you get all these things said to you about someone, and then you get to know them as a woman and end up being friends. I adore her.

Is it easier, today, to voice an opinion in pop music? In country music? I get the sense that for country, it’s still extremely difficult.

Rimes: It’s a different generation, especially with pop music. I wouldn’t use the word easier, because I don’t think it’s easy at all to be your whole self in this industry, period. In the country world, it’s shifted some. I think there’s, especially for women, you see such strong voices speaking out and bringing the totality of themselves to the forefront, and I find that incredibly powerful and brave. For any white, straight male, it’s incredibly easy. If you’re a woman, a woman of color, a woman or even a man in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s challenging in country music. The diversity is still not widely accepted, but I think there are so many people breaking down those barriers, and there’s so many people like myself that 100% are behind them.

I think in the pop world, you have a bit more freedom, and it is a bit more lenient when it comes to that than expected. The country community still has a long way to go. They’ve broken some barriers. We’re seeing things reverse and go sideways in every other part of our world right now. You almost for people to say, “Oh yeah, we’re accepting and we’re broadening the range of people we allow in since the community,” and then it gets shuts down again. I’m hoping that it continues to expand and not revert back the other way.

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