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Strait To Vegas - George Strait With Cam In Concert - July 28, 2017
Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A version of this story appears in the First Look issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

When Cam released her breakout single, “Burning House,” in 2015, the stark ballad about a dying relationship didn’t sound like anything on country radio. But after the song became a crossover Top 40 hit, the singer felt free to experiment on her second album. “[It] gave me the confidence to go a lot deeper into songwriting and harder with my vocals and even more hip with the production,” says Cam (full name: Camaron Ochs). “All of the songs are definitely the best that I’ve ever been.”

For the 2018 set, she teamed up once again with super-producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Mark Ronson), on songs like lead single “Diane.” She also recruited a who’s who of Music City writers, including Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey, and Lori McKenna — the trio behind Little Big Town’s Grammy-winning “Girl Crush”). Says Cam, “I wanted people who I could sit in a room with and laugh and talk about stuff and enjoy it.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said that “Diane” was written as a response to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which came out in 1974. What inspired you to take that on in 2017?
Cam: I was thinking about how a really close friend of mine and her family went through infidelity pretty intensely. In her story, people weren’t honest and didn’t get an apology, and it’s been really rough. So for me, what I wanted to do, because music is so healing for me and my own self, I wanted to take on being the “bad guy” and re-act this and do it right for her.

Heading into your second album cycle, why did you want people to hear this song first?
There’s something about “Diane” that — because of the healing part of it, because of the message, because of it being so uptempo music-wise but so dramatic story-wise — just hits all the buttons for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ballad. But I love more being able to dance around while singing a great melody and telling a story that is not expected. And I know now what it’s like now having a hit like “Burning House.” You better be prepared to sing that song for the rest of your life when something like that happens. I knew “Diane” was going to be a song that I would thoroughly enjoy singing with every fiber of my body.

Was there a theme that surprised you when it emerged during the writing of this new album?
One [song] was very inspired by my husband and a thing he said to me. I guess I’m surprised because it’s, like, a good song! [Laughs] Finally, it’s a happy song! When I was writing with Sam Smith, it worked because he’s all about the heartbreak, too.

Have you played it for your husband?
Oh yeah, he loved it! He joked, “Do I get writing credit?” I was like, “No, you get half of everything. That’s what being married is!” [Laughs]

Let’s talk about writing with Sam Smith. You co-wrote “Palace” off his 2017 album The Thrill of It All.
I feel exceptionally cool! I literally cannot believe that’s a real thing. He’s the nicest human being. He’s a Hufflepuff, definitely. There’s no wall with him. You’re just sitting there together, trying to tap into all the different people who have hurt your heart. I remember I sent him a picture of [his] album and was like, “I got it!” And he responds, “I can’t stop listening to ‘Diane’!” I’m like, “No! I’m listening to your album!”

When you debuted, much of the conversation at that time was regarding how hard it was to be a woman in country music. Does it feel like any progress has been made in the time since?
I think that it’s important to acknowledge that we are nowhere near a statistically significant part of the landscape. What I do feel now is that people are much more open to is talking about it. I’ll even joke about it now because I’m so curious when I go into offices. I’ll go in and say, “Hey, so have you heard this thing about ‘Don’t play two females in an hour, don’t play them back to back?'” Some of the newer guys go, “I don’t even know what that’s about. Is that really a thing?” And then you’ll hear someone in the office go, “Oh yeah, so and so, that was his rule,” and they’ll name the guy!

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