“Never tell this woman she should know her place,” sings Laura Bell Bundy. The accomplished singer, songwriter, and actor doesn’t mince her lyrics. Over a boogie-woogie Andrews Sisters twirl, Bundy confronts gender bias and a history of sexism with the force of a two-ton anvil. “Get It Girl, You Go!” (pre-save) retools 1950s and ‘60s aesthetics, from imagery of the traditional housewife to the big band pop sound, for a modern audience, and applies a powerful, timely, and urgent message of women supporting other women.
“Using her freedom, using her voice / When God says free will, she means choice / Baby, how you feeling? / Breakin’ that glass ceiling?” ponders Bundy, backed by two sterling vocalists Anika Noni Rose and Shoshana Bean, who both trade off sharp-toothed stanzas throughout the nearly four-minute runtime. “Serving up valor, serving up grace / Now this is the shit that makes America great.”
“Get It Girl, You Go!,” premiering today on American Songwriter, lays groundwork for Bundy’s forthcoming record, Women of Tomorrow, slated for 2021. A vivacious horn section washes around the trio, and such an introduction primes the listener for what will be one of next year’s boldest releases. “She made the all-star team, coach put her in / Well, alley oops she did it again / Mama cheers her on, beamin’ with pride,” they rally. “While she’s runnin for the senate on the side / Gun control, climate change, freedom of press / Next up, the president of the U.S.”
“We were really writing issue-first. I knew from the very beginning I wanted to have a song called ‘Get It Girl, You Go!’ I had the title in my head, and it felt like it was going to be like a woogie-boogie,” says Bundy over a phone call earlier this week. “That Andrews Sisters style was very pervasive during that time period, and we added a lot of very similar harmonies on the songs. We were in that headspace.”
“I wanted a song that was a celebration of women and how far we’ve come,” she adds.
Penned a few months after giving birth to her son, it took Bundy a minute to regain enough creative spark to write again. Split between New York and Los Angeles, co-writer Shea Carter, Bundy and Jeremy Adelman, swapped songwriting tidbits and wrote virtually. “Shea sent me pics of lyrics on receipts, cocktail napkins. I had all these random lyrics coming in, and there were some real gems,” recalls Bundy. “It was hard for me to write this. I was experiencing the mental load of motherhood for the first time in my life. This was the first song I attempted postpartum.”
“I’m literally listening to the sound of the breast pump and that is like the rhythm of the song,” she quips with a chuckle.
“The Andrews Sisters hit some empowering messages behind their songs that you might not necessarily notice. They were a powerful group of women. I like paying homage to them and their influence, sound, and patriotism. But we take that patriotism now with a new message of equality.”
The song, originally recorded as a solo track, felt like it needed more voices. “This song really is about women supporting other women and holding a ladder for your sisters to climb so we can reach that glass ceiling and break it,” says Bundy, turning first to long-time friend Shoshana Bean, with whom she co-starred in the original 2002 Broadway production of “Hairspray.”
When Megan Hilty’s schedule proved difficult, Bundy then sought out Anika Noni Rose to join the trio for the song. “I then thought it was important to have a woman of color in the perspective for the song. So… I harassed her,” she laughs. She sent Rose the song, and it was an instant yes, of course.
“Our plan was to record Anika in March and then do a music video,” she continues. Like many, COVID-19 threw a wrench into any face-to-face endeavors for the time being. Bundy then shipped over all the recording equipment and a laptop equipped with Pro-Tools. Over a Zoom call, Rose’s vocals were recorded.
The music video, expected next week, also proved challenging. “We shot the video very similarly, using green screens we each had at our houses. It was just insane,” she says. “We are about to approach the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, and there is a celebration of that massive accomplishment and what it took to make that happen. We also have more women running for office than ever before. What an awesome thing that 100 years later we have these women running.”
Originally, the visual would depict Rose, Bean, and Bundy reenacting various time periods, from the 1940s and ‘50s through the ‘70s and onward. It soon evolved into something much bigger than they could have anticipated. “It became about featuring 100 years of women’s history and the accomplishments and things we’ve fought for. Our rights have never been a given or easy to get. A lot of young women right now don’t really understand that the rights they have were things that had to be fought for. We take birth control and voting for granted. And we don’t go vote. We take for granted the fact that we can open a credit card or take out a loan without the permission of our husband or father, and that was not granted until the early ‘70s.”
“In the video, we show footage of that and our leaders in the fight for that. Then, we show all these women who are running for office,” she says. “I reached out to friends of mine who I know care about these causes and asked if they would do a few lines of the song.”
The video’s stars, trading off various lines, include Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Chrissie Fit, Orfeh, Cecily Strong, Samantha Bee, Ingrid Michaelson, and Mickey Guyton, as well as numerous women running for Democratic slots in Congress. Between green-screen snapshots, the clip will also contain real footage from landmark moments in women’s history, including women’s suffrage.
Women of Tomorrow, Bundy’s first record in nearly five years, is a long time coming. “I was a little burnt out after my last major label release and the struggle to write music for the radio,” she reflects back to 2015’s Another Piece of Me, issued on Big Machine Records. “I didn’t feel inspired. This journey we have sometimes as artists trying to be a copycat and get radio airplay kills the creative process. I needed to be inspired again.”
She did find inspiration, mostly in TV and film. From her turn on The CW’s “Hart of Dixie” to a slew of smaller roles on “Scream Queens,” “Almost Royal,” and “Fuller House,” she was certainly not short on success and creative fulfillment. But recording a record seemed to elude her.
That is, until the 2016 presidential election.
“I was overwhelmed by the double standard in how Hillary [Clinton] lost in this election to a reality star who didn’t have as many qualifications as she did,” expresses Bundy. “I was surprised how she was handled in the media. The double standard was glaring.”
Within the first 24 hours of scrolling through Instagram, she initially conceptualized an album called Double Standard, featuring two women singing duets over jazz music. Instead, this idea became the basis of a 2017 Double Standard concert held on November 12 at New York City’s The Town Hall, a venue founded in 1921 by a group of suffragists. Countless artists, comedians, and Broadway stars were in attendance to lend their voices and talents, including Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Annaleigh Ashford, Rosie O’Donnell, and many more. By the end of the night, nearly $100,000 was raised for various organizations to support women, and Bundy walked away even more determined and enlightened.
“When that concert was over, I wanted to really talk about the issues. We talked about the issues in the concert,” she remembers, “but then we sang these songs that were popular songs, like ‘That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp’ and ‘It’s a Man’s World.’”
Women of Tomorrow, a nine-track LP co-written with Shea Carter and producer Jeremy Adelman, quickly took root. “It had to be something on my terms. I like to create music that hasn’t been heard. I love contrast,” she describes the album’s core style. “I’m taking classic MGM movie musical elements and mixing those with modern pop elements, and then I’m talking about a modern subject matter. That’s the kind of stuff that excites me.”
Creative seeds planted, Bundy wouldn’t start pounding out voice memos and songwriting tidbits until early 2019 during her pregnancy with her first son. “It took awhile,” she says. “I just needed to make a decision and get a game plan together.”
Once she popped the top, jotting down anything and everything, she was on a roll. Having worked with Jeremy Adelman on “Hart of Dixie,” on which he served as arranger, songwriter, and producer, Bundy knew he would likely play a key role in the classic-contemporary fusion. After the show, “we [had] started to do crazy things like Doris Day-style covers of heavy metal songs or bluegrass covers of currently-trending pop songs. I knew he could do anything,” she praises. The duo later teamed up for a series of Barefoot Wine campaigns to write commercial jingles, and it was even more evident that their synergy would serve them well.
“One day, [inspiration] just hit me so hard. I started singing all these voice memos into my phone. If I was in the shower, I was singing. If I was in the car, I was singing,” she says of the early days. She began shooting memos and ideas back and forth to Jeremy over text, assembling various parts, melodies and structures. Only later would lyrics be applied on top.
“Then, the real magic element came,” says Bundy.
Shea Carter, dear friend and fellow musician, seemed to be the next puzzle piece Bundy needed. “We were scared to write together. We knew we’d established a friendship prior to a writing relationship, and you don’t want to start a writing relationship and ruin the friendship. But if you start a friendship based on a writing relationship, you’re gold. Is this gonna be awkward if this doesn’t go well?”
Ultimately, she had nothing to worry about. Their first proper songwriting session went off without a hitch and resulted in one of the album’s more lush tracks, “Digital Disease,” a centerpiece dissecting toxicity of social media. “I got this thing called a digital disease / I paint a picture perfect selfie scene / Do you like me? Click the screen,” she sighs over a sweeping Patti Page sparkle.
“I knew that Shea and I could start a conversation and would just go there and talk about all the issues. I would walk away from that conversation having learned something, every time,” Bundy remarks. “So, of course, this writing session goes like that. It is the most magical writing session I’ve ever had with anybody ─ maybe besides David Ryan Harris.”
The pair then sang the demo into a voice memo and sent it to Adelmen ─ giving an instruction that it needed to sound like it could be a soundtrack for Esther Williams, famous swimmer/actor who starred in countless MGM films, including “Bathing Beauty” (1945) and “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949). The vocals ebb and flow like a “synchronized swimming section,” as well, notes Bundy. “Shea is a lyrical genius but also so thoughtful. There are some people who are great with rhymes, and then there are some people who are just poets and are really saying something.”
Songs like “Get It Girl, You Go!” and “Digital Disease” are just cracking the surface. With Women of Tomorrow, Bundy also addresses equal pay (“Money Ho,” a hip-hop-laced breakdown that samples “We’re in the Money,” from the 1933 film “The Gold Diggers,” starring Ginger Rogers), over-apologizing (the swingin’ “Sick of Saying Sorry”), and fragile, toxic masculinity (“Calling All the Lost Boys”).
“The pendulum’s swung the other way / The rules have all changed starting today / He feels like they’ve tricked him / Now he’s playing the victim / While facing his judgement day,” she sings on the last song, which was written for “confused straight, white men who don’t seem to know how to handle this pendulum swing,” explains Bundy. “The rules have changed. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t say anything anymore. I can’t even compliment a woman on her dress. What can I do?’”
“I mean, I understand that’s really confusing, and I understand that’s scary when they feel like they could be accused of something. So, we approach this with what I call responsible feminism,” she says. “If you are going to call someone out who has done you harm, you must make sure you have integrity in that accusation, and you’re being 100 percent truthful.”
She adds, “And feminism isn’t about women being better than men. It’s about both sexes being equal. People forget that.”
“Calling All the Lost Boys” is one of a few truly vulnerable moments. On a waltz rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Bundy uncovers deep wounds and scars that date back centuries. “As human beings, our character is sculpted by our pain. Our wills are created by the pain we have,” she observes. “Pain and vulnerability are ways to connect to one another. As a songwriter, I’ve always believed that you have to write the things that scare you and make you uncomfortable to admit.”
In crafting a spine-tingling performance, Bundy doubled-down on soul-searching and reexamining the song’s startlingly melancholic lyrics. “When you just look at the lyrics, there is some heaviness: ‘Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world / I want to be the one that walks in the sun / Girls just wanna have fun.’ You totally miss that lyric because there’s a beat and peppy music. Yet the message is… we are not there yet. ‘Oh mother dear, we’re not the fortunate ones.’”
“Now, I know this song was originally written by a man [Robert Hazard in 1979]. The lyrics were: ‘Oh daddy dear, you are the fortunate one / ‘Cause girls just wanna have fun.’ Meaning: ‘Oh, daddy dear, we’re so lucky / ‘Cause girls are loose and want to have sex with us.’ When Cyndi Lauper got the song, she was like ‘uh, this feels sexist.’ She changed some of those lyrics. Our take on it is, ok, here’s a woman that’s been hidden away from the rest of the world, and she wants to stand in the sun. We approach it through the eyes of a woman who is unable to speak or be everything she could be.”
The music video, set to drop in October, as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, will depict “a woman who begins a relationship very happy and then the relationship begins to take its toll with a manipulative partner, who then becomes abusive. We see her go through the entire journey of that entire relationship and then getting out of that relationship and being empowered by the end of it.”
Women of Tomorrow demonstrates celebration, collective pain, and collective forgiveness. More than anything, Bundy seeks to empower women, encouraging them to speak out on issues that matter and finally stand in their very own sun. “We didn’t have the courage to talk about these things before Me Too and Time’s Up. We were shamed or disgraced to speak. Then, that pain is just dealt with, internally. It festers and becomes something else. It turns into passive-aggression and resentment. Now, just having the ability to be able to express ourselves is going to release a lot of that trauma.”
“I hope [this album] connects with women. I wrote this album as a soundtrack to our current women’s movement. Maybe there’s something to learn, too. There are some facts being laid out in a couple places,” she says. “It’s not an album that’s easy listening and you can throw it on while you’re cooking.”
Women of Tomorrow marks not only Bundy’s creative liberation but emerges as an important cultural and musical moment.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart