News and Events

Carrie Underwood's Controversial "Smoke Break"
Joseph O'Hern, Columbia County Community Health Advocate
September 9, 2015

Hailing from Checotah, Oklahoma it didn’t take long for the judging panel of American Idol to realize that Carrie Underwood had a big voice and an even bigger shot at global superstardom. Coasting through the competition, never finding herself in jeopardy of being eliminated, Underwood went on to win the hearts of America during season 4 of the hit reality show. By doing so she eventually won the title and a record contract. Just ten years later after numerous sold out tours, 7 Grammy Awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards and 13 number 1 singles it’s safe to say Carrie Underwood has a career new artists dream about.

As her professional life became one of legend, her personal life began to flourish as well. After meeting hockey player Mike Fisher after one of her concerts in 2008 the couple hit it off and were engaged in 2009 and finally wed in the Summer of 2010. Fast-forward to Labor Day 2014, Underwood took to her social media to announce to the world that she and her husband were expecting their first child together and eventually welcomed baby Isaiah into the world on February 27, 2015.

Though the industry seemed happy for her success both professional and personal the biggest remaining question was: how long would Carrie take off to focus on family and how long could her career hold on during an indefinite hiatus? Hoping to hold fans over during her time away being a mom Underwood released “Greatest Hits: Decade #1.” The albums lead single “Something In The Water” became a massive hit for Underwood and ended up winning her yet another Grammy Award.

Though “Greatest Hits” gave fans of the country superstar a taste of new music it wasn’t a new album. In fact her last all original album was released 3 years ago. It may not seem like a long time but for an artist whose previous work was known to hit the charts back-to-back it is an eternity.  Needless to say fans were quite welcoming when Carrie Underwood took to social media to announce her latest single titled, “Smoke Break” off her upcoming album, surprising music fans and industry people with the fact she was back.

Carrie Underwood - Smoke Break

Inevitably the hashtag #SmokeBreak quickly started trending on social media and the song rapidly started gaining traction. It didn’t take long though for people to start raising an eyebrow questioning the story behind the song. Lyrically the song says, “She said, ‘I don't smoke’ ‘But sometimes I need a long drag’ ‘Yeah, I know it might sound bad’ ‘But sometimes I need a smoke break’.”

As expected healthcare workers and even some of Underwood’s big fans expressed concerns the singer was promoting tobacco use. For instance, if you take a moment to read through the comments of a Rolling Stone article announcing the new single you’ll see her fans aren’t thrilled calling the song “a new low” and asking, “Why is Carrie promoting smoking?”

After facing what can only be assumed as unexpected pushback Carrie took to social media to explain the song wasn’t promoting smoking and in further detail stated, "The song itself is just kind of one of those story songs that I feel like everybody can relate to, about how life is so hectic and it's so nice when, if and when, you actually get to kind of step away for a second."

Carrie Underwood has a career that young girls look up to and the kind that one-day (if not now) fans, fellow artist and industry executives would call legendary. Whatever she touches turns to gold and if you don’t believe it, check out her trophy case. So the question is: why would someone who could work with any songwriter she wants and record any song she desires choose a song with such a clear and controversial title? In regards to the music video for the single that followed shortly after the initial release, Underwood states, "For the storyline, I really just wanted it to be mainly about strong women – strong beautiful women who are doing everything that the boys do," she said. "And at the end, we all get together and have our break."

I guess she means an addictive smoke break? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of Carrie Underwood since the moment I watched her on Idol but I have to say this is incredibly disappointing. Especially coming from an artist with such a large and even younger fan base. It’ll be interesting to see if this new album “Storyteller” (released October 23rd) will go up in “smoke” or be the “break” back into the music industry Carrie Underwood doesn’t even need.

Joseph O'Hern is the Community Health Advocate for Columbia County with the QuitDoc Foundation.