NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Martina McBride is sitting at the offices of RCA Records, behind a glass table so big you wonder how they got it through the door--the perfect setting for an upcoming country music star with a knack for making the right decisions.
In between interviews, the 27-year-old singer was signing posters of herself. Demand for such mementos dramatically increased last fall when her "My Baby Loves Me" single finally upgraded her from wanna-be to a real contender.
That record is a pop gem with lyrics for everybody. Songwriter Gretchen Peters has come up with a tune that tells women they're great--and compliments their men for noticing:
My baby loves me just the way that I am,
He thinks I'm pretty, thinks I'm smart,
likes my nerve loves my heart.
Only a powerhouse single ("American Honky-Tonk Bar Association") from old friend and patron Garth Brooks kept it from going No. 1.
"When I first heard it, I knew it was a hit," McBride said. "I'm living 'My Baby Loves Me'--I'm real lucky."
"I'm also lucky in that sense that I found a song that fits my life."
The video for the hit features non-show biz couples of all shapes and sizes lip-syncing along--and plenty of footage of the fetching, gray-eyed McBride. Her husband, John, makes a cameo at the end.
"I think one of the reasons it's so successful (No. 1 on Country Music Television in America and Europe, the Nashville Network and VH-1's country program) is because it's very approachable," McBride said.
"Using real people, people can identify that this song means everybody."
McBride has since followed it up with another hit, "Life No. 9." She's touring with Brooks for the second time, and in April will open for him in Europe.
She spent her first tour with Brooks selling T-shirts (her husband was a sound technician for the singer), her second as an opening act without a hit.
"Yeah, he's been very kind--giving me an incredible opportunity to be in front of a lot of people," she said of Brooks.
"I think maybe in 10 years, I'll look back and realize how much it meant to me. Not only career-wise, but personally it helped me grow.
"It was sink or swim, and it forced me to get my act together a little quicker and really dig in."
McBride said she also had to bear down as she was preparing to follow her debut album "The Time Has Come," a flop. She says her respect for traditional country music may have got the best of her.
"When I did the first album I was very concerned with that, and I think it showed. With this album, I was still very concerned with it, but I wasn't consumed by it."
"I didn't second-guess myself so much."
McBride says she looks for songs from a women's point of view. Peters, author of "My Baby Loves Me," also wrote "Independence Day," on "The Way That I Am." It's about a woman leaving an abusive relationship.
"If I could write like anybody, I'd like to write like her," McBride said.
"What I like about her songs is they treat women with dignity and respect and strength, but some of them are also vulnerable."
Other songs include "Goin' to Work," about a woman immersed in her work to avoid a rocky personal life. "She Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" is about a woman being cheated on who isn't quite ready to accept it.
Bobby Braddock's "Strangers" charts a relationship from beginning to end, with dramatics reminiscent of Tammy Wynette.
"It sounds like a classic song, and it's brand new," McBride said. "Something about it reminds me of that big, strong 'Stand by Your Man' chorus."
McBride early on put her career in the hands of Canada-based manager Bruce Allen, who also handles Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. It was an interesting move for someone trying to break through in Nashville.