November Country Rookie of the Month: Megan Moroney

Thanks to her viral hit “Tennessee Orange,” Megan Moroney’s career is red-hot.

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The Douglasville, Georgia, native recently inked a hybrid label deal with Sony Music Nashville and New York-based Columbia Records as SMN sends “Tennessee Orange” to country radio where it debuted at No. 60 for Billboard’s Country Airplay chart dated Dec. 3.

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The heartfelt ballad, about being so smitten with someone that you’re willing to temporarily trade her University of Georgia red and black hues for their beloved University of Tennessee orange, broke onto the Billboard Hot 100 in October. “Tennessee Orange” sits at No. 21 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, while Moroney is at No. 13 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart. According to Luminate, the song has earned 52.5 million on-demand official U.S. streams.

Of her Sony Music Nashville/Columbia Records deal, Moroney tells Billboard, “I felt like they most understood what I’ve been doing. They don’t want to change me at all. My goal is to stay country. We brought in Columbia because my lyrics feel cultural — I’m not necessarily singing about trucks and beer and stuff like that. I noticed in my messages and comments, so many people are like, ‘I don’t like country music, but I love your songs.’ I wanted a team that can get this music out to a bigger audience, so that’s why I felt we needed the Columbia team, too.”

Moroney grew up in a musical family, taking piano lessons and singing with her dad. However, she “never really thought of music as a career,” and initially studied accounting at the University of Georgia, before transitioning to marketing and music business. She was in college when she began writing music and quickly integrated herself into the Music City co-writing scene once she moved to Nashville in 2020.

Moroney spoke with Billboard about crafting “Tennessee Orange,” working with Sugarland’s Kristian Bush (who produced “Tennessee Orange”), and her dream collaborations.

What do you recall about writing your first song?

I had the opportunity to open a show for Chase Rice at the Georgia Theatre and he told me I needed an original song to do the show. So I wrote my first song at 19, called “Stay a Memory,” to be able to do that—it was my first real gig. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a music artist. As a little girl, I did music for fun, but I never would’ve thought that songwriting and being an artist could be a career.

You graduated from UGA and moved to Nashville in mid-2020. What was that like trying to break into the industry during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I moved here and was trying to meet people and network, but it was hard because everything was closed. At UGA, because I had been in the music business program, I was Kristian Bush’s intern in Atlanta, and we kept in touch after I graduated. I had been in Nashville about three months, and Kristian was asking how it was going and I was like, “Well, I’ve met friends, but not really any co-writers.” So he offered to help me record some demos of songs I had written.

When you were an intern, did Kristian know you were also an aspiring artist?

I didn’t really bring it up, that I was trying to do the whole music thing — because the first time I walked into their studio, there were a bunch of CMA awards and Grammys on the wall. I was like, “I’m keeping my mouth shut. I’ve written like three decent songs in my life, so I’m not gonna sit here and tell them that I’m an aspiring artist.”

You are managed by Juli Griffith at Punch Bowl Entertainment. How did you two get connected?

Kristian introduced me and Juli was a publisher in Nashville for a long time. She connected me with Ben Williams and that was my first co-writing session ever, on Zoom. He wrote like half my EP [Pistol Made of Roses, released in July].

Before you released the EP, you’d released a song called “Wonder.” How did that shape you as a songwriter?

I wrote that completely by myself, and it was one of the songs I demoed with Kristian. I was at the beach with my friend Natalie and she was arguing with this guy and was upset about it. I told her, “If he loved you and cared about you, you wouldn’t be wondering if he did.” I had a couple of drinks in me and just started rhyming s–t. We had a house full of people we went to the beach with and I played it for them and they were like, “How did you do that?” I think that was the first song that I wrote where I thought, “There is something here.”

You wrote “Tennessee Orange” with Ben, David Fanning and Paul Jenkins. What do you recall about the writing session?

Ben is my go-to writer, and I had not met David or Paul before. I woke up that morning and had the hook of “In Georgia they’d call it a sin/ I’m wearing Tennessee orange for him.” I felt like it was risky taking that idea for a song in, because I didn’t know two of the other writers, and I didn’t know if they even cared about football. But it was a great writing session, and I just became obsessed with getting the song right.

I went home and kept chipping away at it for a couple more hours and then I sent them the changed version — just changing things like [how] the line about “You raised me to know right from wrong” was in the second verse originally, but I felt like we needed that [in the first verse] to make the storyline — you have no idea what I am going to say until the hook, and the verse builds up that mystery.

What has the reaction been like when you play “Tennessee Orange” in Georgia?

I had two shows in Athens in November, and was so nervous to play it — but the crowds sing it really loud anyway. I played the Georgia Theatre this past week, and it was the loudest I’ve heard a room of people sing it. They are so supportive, which I am grateful for. I have a show in Knoxville this spring, and I’m sure it will go over really great there.

You are working on a full album. Where are you in the process?

We haven’t gotten into the studio yet, but it’s completely written. The songs are all very me. I don’t like cutting songs that I could just pitch to any female country artist. They all have to be very personal to me.

Who are some of the co-writers on the project?

Ben is on a lot of the songs, but also David Messy [Mescon]. And there’s a song I wrote called “Girl in the Mirror” with Jessie Jo Dillon and Matt Jenkins, and it’s so freakin’ good.

Who would some of your dream duet collaborators be?

Chris Stapleton and Miranda Lambert are at the top for me. I’ve been a fan of both of them for so long. I’m also obsessed with Justin Bieber, so that would be fun.

You moved to Nashville when artists were off the road. Now that you are able to get out and tour, what are some of your on-the-road essentials?

Advil and Red Bull [laughs]. I drink probably two Red Bulls a day when I’m on the road. I have to have my Airpods for sure, and all of my flashy boots.

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