IF IT’S A NIGHT when Maren Morris is performing, there will be incense burning backstage. There will be tapestries on the tables, twinkle lights, and scattered Polaroids. Her crew will haul in a bar case stocked with Casamigos, fresh limes, and LaCroix. “We like to vibe it out,” says the 29-year-old artist, while sitting backstage at The Wiltern in L.A.
Someone will lay out the crystals, and someone may draw cards from the tarot deck. Maren has an app on her phone—Goddess Tarot—and she considers readings “a fascinating therapy exercise.” Sometimes the activity will last for hours on the tour bus. “I do a three-card deck: past, present, future. It’s not a crystal ball…but it gets your wheels turning about how to think of a situation differently.”
For the past three years—from her Grammy-winning breakout solo “My Church” on the 2016 album Hero, to the gargantuan 2018 crossover hit “The Middle” with Zedd, to her 2019 record-breaking album GIRL—Maren has seemed more like a country-sparked wildfire than a songwriter turned performer who’s been at it since the age of 11.
Back then, she sang Patsy Cline in honky-tonks throughout her native Texas, and all those bars and tours before this have taught her that a space will feel concrete and cold if you don’t make it your own. “On- or offstage, I like to make people feel comfortable,” she says, at ease in her cutoffs, a pale-blue button-down, and chunky black Gucci boots. “I love every creative facet of being the headliner.”
The GIRL tour—a nine-month international cavalcade with more than 60 stops—has been selling out so many theaters that it will move to larger amphitheater venues in the fall. While Maren’s last headline tour took place in clubs with intimate setups, this one’s lofty landscape features bolts of neon light, disco balls, confetti, and scented bubbles.
The leveled-up decor matches what’s happening in Maren’s orbit now: She’s working out with fitness expert Erin Oprea, who trains Carrie Underwood. She’s dressed (in every pair of bedazzled cutoffs available) by Joseph Cassell, who styles Taylor Swift. She performed on Ellen. She sang at the Grammys with Dolly and Miley. And depending on your definition of “leveling up,” she appeared on Watch What Happens Live to discuss the fact that her husband, singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, included a promise to watch Housewives in their vows.
Maren is outspoken and “sassy,” in her own words. She sings about lost nights in bars and her lack of reverence for the country establishment if it doesn’t approve of her politics or her sound. But nothing about her is unrestrained or undisciplined; to reach the potential in her sights, she puts in the work.
Her life is timed out and hyper scheduled, starting every morning with breakfast on her bus: three egg whites and spinach cooked in olive oil, and wheat toast. She usually eats salads with protein for lunch, then pauses on eating after 5 p.m. on show days. As a result, she comes offstage ravenous.
“When I’m out there, I make it count. I know I’ll feel awful if I don’t eat right after burning all those calories in the show.” She usually then consumes another salad—skinless chicken over spinach with lemon vinaigrette, for example—and she might have a glass of rosé, though her trainer would prefer it were lower-cal tequila and soda.
She started working with Oprea a year and a half ago and has received more compliments on her toned body than at any time before. When she’s on the road, three times a week she rolls out a mat on her bus, puts on Cardi B’s Money, and props up Oprea on an iPad via FaceTime for an hour. She jumps rope to warm up before moving into strength training using her body weight as resistance: front and side planks, pushups, squats, lunges, and a combo of the latter two.
“Squat lunges are the worst,” she says. “They’re so hard because that’s the area I need it most—my thighs and butt.” She moves to the BOSU ball and does crunches and core work, then lifts free weights for arm strength.
She says she appreciates Oprea’s knack for “carving pretty muscles” and originally told her she wanted to “look like Tomb Raider.” She holds up her phone to show me the screen, but a stack of texts obscures it completely. She clears them to reveal Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. “This is what I have to look at every time I unlock it—if I’m at a bar, or eating a french fry. So that’s motivating,” she laughs.
This is also the first time in her life that Maren has felt truly strong. “I’ve gone through ups and downs,” she says, when I ask about a photo she posted in advance of her San Francisco concert with the caption Five years and 20 lbs ago.
“After taking that picture, I went through this horrible breakup, and I lost so much weight. I didn’t look at my body like it was healthy—when you’re going through emotional turmoil, it’s hard to eat. That was a wake-up call: I need to address my mental and physical health.”
Working excavated Maren from that place. “I put weight back on when I started really laying into my career and tour—things that brought me happiness.”
(She later went on to hire her trainer and get serious about feeling strong before her wedding. Watch Maren’s video interview for more on her pre-wedding routine.)
Singing onstage, as much joy as it brings her, has almost always given her anxiety too. “It’s stage fright. Some parts of it never go away. When I get out there and relax into it, I’m fine,” she says.
“It’s a gift to sing well and make people emotional, so I don’t take it for granted.” To that end, she’s also given up one of her old coping mechanisms: cigarettes. “It used to be such a stress reliever,” she says of the habit, which ultimately impacted her vocals.
Now, to relieve stress, she likes hanging out after the concert and having a good chat with her band and whomever is visiting that night. “My life revolves around music, so anytime I don’t have to talk about it is a nice defuser after a crazy adrenaline rush.”
At the intersection of her music and her personal life is husband Hurd, whom she married in March 2018 and for whom many of the songs on GIRL were written. That creative process was occasionally wrenching.
“Even though it’s such a positive love song, ‘Good Woman’ was an emotionally heavy write. It was hard to open up that vulnerability.” Other songs, like “The Bones,” address the distance the couple grapples with during tours. “‘The Bones’ was kind of this promise: No matter what happens, all of this bullshit can fade away and it’s going to be you and me,” she says.
A year into her marriage, Maren feels her relationship is growing tighter. “Sometimes you think you know all there is to know about somebody, and then a year happens and you keep surprising each other.” The couple is interested in having a baby one day—more a feat of blocking off time on the calendar than anything else.
“Did you relate to parts of A Star Is Born?” I ask as our conversation winds down. She is, after all, a petite songwriter turned singer whose face has been on Sunset Boulevard billboards and who’s in love with a rakish songwriter who looks good in denim. She laughs.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had to go to therapy. Not the substance abuse part, but there were things that happened to [Lady Gaga’s] character that happened to me. That movie rocked us both. We were like, ‘We can never end up like this. Cool?’”
And if anyone can make it all—touring, sweating, thriving professionally while giving 100 percent to her marriage—cool, it’s Maren, who levels up every time you look.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Women’s Health. For more intel on how to live a happier, healthier life, pick up an issue, on newsstands May 28.
Photographed by Peggy Sirota • Fashion editor: Kristen Saladino