Pearce married Ray a year ago — on Oct. 6, 2019, to be exact — at the peak of a high-profile romance that occurred while her Lee Brice duet, “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” was on its way to becoming her biggest single to date. The joy of that moment was shadowed by the death of her producer, busbee (Maren Morris, Lady A), which brought both grief and a creative issue: Nothing else on her self-titled sophomore album had the ’90s vibe that “Hope You’re Happy” maintained, and she felt she needed to cement the direction that single had led her.
“I had to have a really big ‘come to Jesus’ with myself and go, ‘Do you have something on this album that follows it up correctly?’ And also, ‘Do you have a song that you identify with?’ ” remembers Pearce. “I didn’t, and I have a great team that allowed me to kind of shut the door on that album.”
She enlisted songwriter-producers Shane McAnally (“One Night Standards,” “Nobody but You”) and Josh Osborne (“Happy Anywhere,” “One Man Band”) to produce the next project, and when they met up via Zoom in June to write at a COVID-19-induced distance, she clued them in to her personal news: She was about to file for divorce, and she intended to write about the split.
“I’ve always been somebody who’s very transparent,” she says, “and this is not something that I’ve gone through once. This is something that I’ve encountered quite a bit in my life.”
“Next Girl” was the third or fourth song they wrote for her next project. She brought in the title and originally planned to open it with a formal salutation, “Dear next girl.” Osborne and McAnally convinced her to change it to “Hey, next