Lyrics Uncovered: Little Big Town, ‘Happy People’
Little Big Town‘s “Happy People” lyrics are bringing a ray of sunshine to country radio, and according to songwriter Lori McKenna, the key to the song is in its simplicity.
She co-wrote the song with Hailey Whitters, who traveled to McKenna’s home in Massachusetts to co-write with her. It was the first time they had collaborated, and they spent quite a bit of the day just getting to know each other, talking about their families and lives. Whitters had the title for the song and an idea of where she wanted to go with it.
“She wanted to write this song called ‘Happy People,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?'” McKenna recalls to Taste of Country. “And she said, ‘You know, happy people don’t cheat, and happy people don’t lie.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s just say that!’ And I just sang it at her.”
The “Happy People” lyrics and music flowed easily, and McKenna was pleased with how directly they were able to get across their message.
“If you want another secret / Can’t back out, or make it / You ain’t ever gonna be it / By takin’ someone else’s away / Never take it for granted / You don’t have to understand it / Here’s to whatever puts a smile on your face / Whatever makes you happy people,” the chorus states.
“I really like simple songs that you can kind of carry around with you, and for something like this, the simplicity is important. You can really overthink so much. Most of the time when I’m really stuck on a song, it’s because I’m overthinking what I’m trying to say,” McKenna admits.
"That’s such a great compliment, to write something that someone else thinks people need to hear."
Whitters is around the same age as McKenna’s older kids, and she found the experience of writing with the younger woman refreshing. While the song is not political, the “Happy People” lyrics were inspired in part by the presidential election that was going on in August of 2016 when it was written. The song’s message espouses the direct antithesis of the nasty tone of that election.
“Hailey being of the age of my oldest children, watching their perspective on the election … they’re listening now, and they’re part of this now, and they know that they have to make this decision and they want to be informed. They’re very aware of what’s going on around them, and I think they’re very careful about the way they treat one another,” McKenna observes.
“I don’t think the 20-somethings are getting enough credit for how hard they are trying, and the good things they do. That was part of the underlying theme of the song, where Hailey wanted to say, ‘You can’t take this for granted. We don’t always have this. You don’t get to be born and here you go, you’re going to be happy.’ I think she really wanted to talk to her generation about it, in a way. All of that about, you can’t take someone else’s away. She really wanted to say that about, you’re never going to be happy if you don’t make other people happy along the way.”
McKenna says she’s pleasantly surprised at having had a hand in such a happy song. “I’ve always been drawn to sad songs, and I love sad songs,” she says. “This has been a whole new experience for me, because I’ve always thought I’m good at being emotional in a song, but to be positive in a song is a different way to be emotional. It’s a new world for me. It’s been really fun to throw this one in the middle of the set.”
Though they weren’t writing with Little Big Town in mind, McKenna’s track record with the group made it a natural pitch, and she’s thrilled with their take on “Happy People.”
“The whole experience has been joyful, because of the way Little Big Town brought their harmonies and the way that they perform a song and make a song their own into it. It’s hard to write a song that they take that doesn’t make it seem like they were in the room writing it with you,” she says. “It was so fun when they played it on the ACMs. I was just jumping out of my seat with excitement. Anything that they sing is beautiful. There’s something so special about them, and I think they did see the song as maybe something people needed to hear right now. And that’s such a great compliment, to write something that someone else thinks people need to hear.”
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