By Chris Gray
Like the heroine in her 1994 hit song “Independence Day,” Martina McBride has been also known to light up the sky. The country-pop star also known for “Wild Angels,” “A Broken Wing” and last year’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” admits she has a thing for fireworks.
When she’s not on tour, McBride says she enjoys retreating to her tiny hometown of Sharon, Kansas (pop. 150) and helping her husband John set up “a ton” of fireworks on the since-closed high school’s baseball field. The 4th of July is “like Christmas for him,” she notes.
“So we spend all day setting up, and we have a huge fireworks show,” says McBride. “It’s actually pretty amazing.”
Despite its title, McBride says she doesn’t necessarily associate “Independence Day” and the 4th of July together all that much.
“For me it’s about so much more than the 4th of July,” McBride says. “Honestly, very often, I don’t think of the two together as far as a celebration of our nation’s freedom and that song. For me the song’s about so much more.
“But for the several thousand people that will be out on the Fourth, it’s about that,” she adds. “It’s always good to play that song on the 4th of July, for sure.”
Doing interviews from her back porch on a “beautiful, gorgeous day here in Nashville,” the 46-year old singer says she hadn’t even originally planned to release “Independence Day” as a single; she just wanted to record it. Written by Gretchen Peters, the song tells the stories of two women, the daughter of an alcoholic, abusive father and her mother who winds up burning down the family homestead. It was controversial subject matter for country radio at the time (and probably today), but McBride says her label RCA was behind her all the way.
“They were always supportive about it being a single, she says. “It’s been a long time ago, but I can’t remember any sort of worry or hesitation,” she recalls.
However, “Independence Day did meet with some resistance from radio,” McBride says
“Yeah. I think we had 10 or 12 stations that never played it,” the singer adds. “Everybody thinks it was this huge No. 1 song, but I think it peaked at 11 or something. So it was a fight to get it on the radio.”
Then, in June 1994, not all that long after the song had been released to radio, the Nicole Brown Simpson murders happened and domestic abuse–which happened to be the very topic of McBride’s anthem-in-the-making–suddenly became the nation’s No. 1 topic of conversation.
“So we went from being something that nobody wanted to talk about or would play on a radio station, to a topic that was on the news every hour on their radio station,” McBride says.
Even at the time, she says she could watch people’s attitudes changing after “Independence Day” forced some uncomfortable issues into the light.
“I had one [radio] programmer tell me, ‘When the video’s on, my daughter walks through the house, [and] now I have to explain to her what the song is about and what’s going on,'” recounts McBride. “I was like, “And that’s a bad thing? Wouldn’t you think you’d want to use that as an opening to sit down and talk to your daughter about some of this stuff? It might be a good thing to talk to her about.’
“But it was just something that was not really talked about back then much.”
“Independence Day” peaked just outside the country Top 10, but it became one of the signature songs of McBride’s career, which has gone to include dozens of other hit songs, and handful of No. 1 country albums and three CMA awards for Best Female Vocals. It’s also an anthem for the many, many women who recognized themselves in Peters’ lyrics; McBride estimates the number of fans who have told her how the song touched them personally is in the thousands. (She is also a spokeswoman for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.)
“You hear people say, ‘I’d been in an abusive relationship in 14 years and I got in the car and I heard that song and made my decision to leave,'” reflects McBride. “It was like, wow. That’s the power of music.
“One of the most moving stories was a woman said that her husband had committed suicide and she always carried all this guilt about it, and then heard that song and realized –it sort of set her free in a way,” she adds. “So music is really powerful, and that song particularly is such a well-written [song]… it’s really like poetry.”