"She is sweet and hospitable but also confident and strong. A Southern girl isn't a pushover and will kick your ass if needed."
That is how Miranda Lambert once answered the question "What makes a Southern girl?" And going off that description, the "Vice" singer is the ultimate Southern girl, refusing to let anyone or any social media comment about her headline-making romantic history get in the way of her career and reputation as one of the top artists—male or female—in country music.
Lambert, 34, shocked many when she revealed she got married for a second time to someone no one even knew she was dating after her high profile marriage and even higher profile split from Blake Shelton, a messy breakup that would forever change her reputation and attitude towards love, tabloids and music.
While Lambert and Shelton became the most beloved couple in country music, both reaching the height of their careers and mainstream popularity during their time together, their love story actually began with a bit of scandal.
"I knew he was married," Lambert admitted on Dateline in 2011 of meeting Shelton back in 2005 when she was 21. "I had seen their wedding pictures in Country Weekly. I knew better, like, 'This is off-limits.' My parents are private investigators, for God's sake. I've seen this my whole life—affairs, and of all people to know better, I know better than this."
While she knew better, she didn't do better at the time.
Though Shelton filed for divorce from Kaynette Williams in 2006 after three years of marriage, he and Lambert didn't make their official debut as a couple until the 2007 CMT Music Awards. And the two were pretty much open books about the sometimes volatile nature of their romance, with their equally demanding schedules not helping matters.
"Miranda and I have a very interesting relationship. She can get so mad at me that she just wants to punch me in the face, and we'll say that's it," Shelton once said. "Then, 30 minutes later we're calling each other and acting like it never happened. I think it's that we're both artists, and if I want to see her or she wants to see me, sometimes it just doesn't work out and it's frustrating."
Still, the couple worked through it and let the world in on their struggles, with Lambert telling CMT News, "I think we have one of the strongest relationships that I've ever seen. We've been through a lot of crap together—a lot of crap—and I think that in the beginning, being apart all the time and going through some really hard times...I'm glad we got over that hump because we really just get along great," she concluded. "We can make it, being away for weeks at a time. We have arguments on the phone, but five minutes later, we're saying, 'I love you, see you in a week,' whatever it is. We really just are best friends."
The two went on tour together and Lambert, a loud and proud Texan, moved to Oklahoma to be with Shelton. By 2010, the couple was engaged.
"I was so proud of him," Lambert, 26 at the time, dished to People of the proposal. "We've been together five years, so he knew exactly what I wanted but it's so much more perfect than I could have picked out myself."
As for the post-proposal celebration after he got down on one knee during a walk in the Tishomingo woods, Lambert said, "We had a couple of Bacardi and Diet Sprites – in a Solo cup!"
And she was quick to gush about Shelton and their future together, saying, "I'm just excited to be married because I want to tell Blake I really can love him the rest of my life and be happy and make him happy."
2011 proved to be the couple's year, as they both won major awards (Lambert taking home a Grammy and four ACM Awards, while Shelton once again held onto Male Vocalist of the Year trophy at the CMA Awards) and finally got hitched.
Shelton and Lambert were more than happy to share the details of their Texas wedding and honeymoon in Mexico with their fans and the media, with Shelton admitting it was hard for them to balance their personal and public life together sometimes.
"I just think it's harder for Miranda and I to pull back," he once explained. "Country music is different in that we're very in touch with our fans and there's a closer relationship. I think because of that, naturally, because we're both country artists and we did just get married, it would've been close to impossible to keep that under wraps and keep that part of what we do hidden. People want to know and, you know what, I'm proud."
But it was also the year that The Voice premiered on NBC, marking Shelton and Lambert's transition from country music famous to just plain ol' famous. While Shelton happily name-dropped his wife on the reality show, and she even made some appearances as a guest adviser, rumors of marital woes soon began plaguing the couple, which they often joked about on social media or dismissed in interviews.
"We feel like we're very honest with who we are and our relationship. We've kinda told the good, the bad, the ugly as our relationship has progressed from the beginning till now," Lambert said during a joint 60 Minutes interview. "And people dig anyway and they make up lies, so I feel like, we don't really hold back, because if you hold back they're going to dig anyway so might as well just tell it."
Alas, sometimes where there's smoke there is in fact fire, and after four years of marriage, country music's golden couple announced they were divorcing on July 20, 2015, with rumors of infidelity immediately starting up.
But it seems like their marriage was over well before the news broke, with Shelton later saying on The Bobby Bones Show, "Even if we knew of rumblings and rumors started coming out, they would just be that. By the time anybody knew anything, it was over. It was done."
Still, the damage was done and the speculation was endless. For once, the usually press-happy Lambert went radio silent, instead turning to songwriting get through her pain.
"My intention was to use it as therapy, to figure this s--t out," she later told HITS Daily Double. "I was going through a divorce very publicly, and thank the Lord I am a writer."
On the same day Lambert's split from Shelton was publicly announced, the superstar wrote "Vice," the brutally honest and raw song that would go on to become her next album's lead single. A telling line? "If you need me, I'll be where my reputation don't proceed me."
"2015 pushed me into a writing mode I've never been in before," she said. "It's very humbling to be hurt, and I have to be honest."
You know that feeling of pressing on a bruise? That's basically what Lambert decided to do through her music and songwriting, explaining, "Sometimes the music is so honest that it's like, 'Oh, that kind of hurts a little.' But it's good."
Another big part of her post-divorce healing process? A social media detox.
"It felt so good...but you have to use it for work," Lambert said. "I do want to let people in on my regular life too; I'm just not very good at it. It makes me nervous, 'cause I'm private. I want to have some mystery, and I want people I'm fans of to have mystery, too."
She continued, "With social media, it's a whole other thing and it's such bulls--t. I'm thankful for the drama of it all, because it gets sillier and sillier. They make up so many lies, no one can know the truth. The truth is it's in my music if you listen close enough."
And it turns out, people would have to listen very closely because leading up to her hold-nothing-back double album The Weight of These Wings' release in December 2016, Lambert made a rare and unprecedented move many artists wouldn't dare attempt: she refused to do pre-release press and wouldn't give an in-depth interview until speaking with songwriter and music critic Holly Gleason for HITS Daily Double in June 2018.
"It was going to be hell, and I'd already been through hell. It was hell putting it on paper, putting my words on paper. So I didn't want to rehash," she told Gleason. "I'd finally gotten to a place where I wasn't sad anymore. All the sad moments were there, all the truths were right in those songs. All you had to do was listen. I didn't need to say anything."
Alas, there was also another motivation behind her anti-press strategy.
I came into [my manager]'s office and said, 'I'm not speaking to anyone until they hear this record.' That's fair. I thought that was fair," she explained in the Daily Double piece. "When the music was out, people had listened, I got on the phone for the first interview. First question was, 'How do you feel about Gwen?' I hung up."
Of course, she is referring to Gwen Stefani, Shelton's Voice co-coach-turned-girlfriend, with the two quickly becoming one of Hollywood's hottest couples and they weren't shy (and still aren't!) about their love after confirming they were dating in November 2015.
Her no-interviews approach to The Weight of These Wings' release was a far cry from her strategy for Platinum in 2014, admitting she told her manager she was "willing to do whatever publicity" at the time.
And it seemed to work: The album debuted at No. 1, Lambert's first to do so, and would go on to win the Best Country Album at the Grammys and Album of the Year at the CMA Awards.
"I don't know why I felt that way. Maybe it was the phase in my life where the tabloids came into play," she told Gleason. "The Hollywood part of my life, but really my husband's life at that time. And I remember thinking, 'If we can focus on the music, the light'll take the focus off all this other shit that doesn't matter.'"
And while she attempted to live up to the relatable-yet-cookie cutter country couple image the public painted her and Shelton to be during their marriage, Lambert admitted to always feeling unconventional in the genre dominated by the stereotypical country bros and sweet Southern girls. (She made headlines in July 2018 when she called out the gender inequality in country music, when she tweeted, "Where are the damn girls?" along with a photo of the Billboard's Country Streaming Songs chart, which featured all male artists in the top slots.)
"I'm not going to try to fit in," she said, "but I'm not trying to be an outlaw—I'm just trying to do me. And if that's carving my own path or making my own lane, then I'll do that."
And after achieving the success she had always dreamed of after Platinum's release, she was afraid that the "paparazzi world" she was "dragged into" would end up diminishing or tarnishing her future accomplishments.
"I had established this headlining career, finally, and wanted to make sure I kept my spot, really," she said, "I'd worked really hard to get my spot, and I wanted to see how I could up my game, to make sure that I stayed at the level that I'd gotten to."
Still, the paparazzi world wasn't exactly ready to let Lambert go, not that she was exactly making it easy for them to do so.
As the "Somethin' Bad" singer was tirelessly working on her new album (writing over 70 songs post-divorce, with 24 ending up on double album), she also entered a new romance.
Lambert met singer Anderson East backstage after one of his shows in late 2015, and by the new year, they were Instagram official. They even co-wrote two songs on her album, "Getaway Driver" and "Well-Rested," and he appeared on the track for "Pushin' Time," which was about their new romance.
Along with the snugglin', the commitment was real from the jump, with a source once telling E! News that the couple had "discussed marriage and kids that they both want in the near future" during their two-year romance.
"She has learned many things about what she wants and needs after her breakup and Anderson fulfills it all," the insider shared at the time, and Lambert called herself "a lucky girl" when she attended the 2016 CMA Awards with East by her side.
Lambert also gushed over her sweetheart in July when she helped him celebrate his 30th birthday.
"He owns the stage and he owns my heart," she wrote on Instagram. "Thanks @andersoneast for inspiring me in so many ways. You are a light that could outshine the sun. I love making memories with you."
East was equally as smitten, telling InStyle, "There's a true admiration there and a large level of understanding on both sides, for sure. It's always difficult to be a traveling musician and still keep things together. Understanding is a huge factor."
But by March 2018, after more than two years together, split rumors began circulating after comments Lambert made about the upsides of a break-up during a concert made headlines.
"I make it my mission every single time I step on the stage that no matter what, no matter where I am, I want to make you feel everything you could possibly feel," Lambert shared while on stage. "I want you to feel sad, mad, happy and nostalgic and really pissed sometimes. That's my favorite."
She continued, "And part of feelings is also heartbreak unfortunately, but fortunately for me, I can use it for my art or whatever. I like to write sad songs. I like to listen to sad songs, so I want to sing y'all one."
Fans soon noticed the couple had been pretty quiet on each other's social media, and, of course, the tell-tale clue for all celebrity couples: East was no longer following Lambert on Instagram. A month later, their split was confirmed…and immediately after, reports of Lambert striking up a new romance with musician Evan Felker while still with East sent shockwaves through the country music world.
Why was Lambert and Felker's relationship so shocking? Well, E! News confirmed that Felker had filed for divorce from his wife, Staci Felker, in February 2018, the same month his band began serving as the opening act for Lambert on her Livin' Like Hippies tour. And a source revealed to us that it wasn't exactly a drama-free split.
"Staci found out that he had filed for divorce because a friend called her after seeing it in a local newspaper," the insider said. "Staci wasn't even served with divorce papers so she filed her divorce papers a couple weeks after finding out that Evan filed. He never communicated that to her."
Her ex-husband seemed to take a jab at Lambert on social media soon after, hinting that the rumors suggesting she cheated on him with East might've had some truth to them.
"Been taking the high road for a long time.. I almost gave up," Shelton tweeted. "But I can finally see something on the horizon up there!! Wait!! Could it be?! Yep!! It's karma!!"
Karma or not, it was far from the end of the tabloid-making drama that would unfold for Lambert, as her new beau's soon-to-be-ex-wife wasn't going to stay silent, taking to Instagram soon after to offer up a PSA of sorts: "If Staci Felker can make it through this week, SO CAN YOU," she captioned a photo of herself.
And after receiving a lot of love from strangers, Felker exclusively told E! News, "It has been overwhelming how much love and encouragement I've received from people who have never met me. It has also been overwhelming to realize that I am no longer an anonymous person in my small city."
Lambert never publicly commented on her relationship with Felker, whose divorce was finalized in August 2018, which coincidentally, seems to be the very same month their romance ended.
In an interview with The Tennessean, Lambert described herself as "happily single," saying she is open to whatever life has in store for her in the romance department in the future.
"Love is a hard road sometimes and it's been a roller-coaster ride for me, but I'm definitely thankful for all the ups and downs because I've had some really good songs come out of it," she said. "You've got to take the bad parts and put them on paper and then move on to the happy parts."
But no one saw her next up coming as fans were shocked when Lambert revealed on Instagram on Valentine's Day that she had gotten married...to Brendan McLoughlin. And unlike her previous string of beaus, he was not a guitar-playing country crooner, but a New York Police Department officer from
"In honor of Valentine's Day I wanted to share some news. I met the love of my life. And we got hitched!" Miranda shared on Instagram. "My heart is full. Thank you Brendan Mcloughlin for loving me for.... me."
The marriage reveal on its own was surprising, but the details of McLoughlin's own complicated romantic history that soon trickled out were pretty shocking.
The 27-year-old had allegedly been engaged to another woman, Jackie Bruno, just months before exchanging vows with Lambert in January, and unfortunately for him, his ex-fiance's mother is spilling all of the tea on their failed romance.
"She was engaged to Brendan and he cheated on her and got another girl pregnant," Carol Bruno told Us Weekly. "It's all true."
According to People, McLoughlin and Bruno broke up after Kaihla Rettinger messaged her to let her know she was seven months pregnant with his child.
"Jackie was in Sweden playing professional soccer, got injured and came home and the girl contacted her. She broke the news to her," Carol Bruno explained to Us Weekly. "[Brendan] tried to deny it and then begged her to stay with him. She was only going for a few months to play, he was begging her to marry him before she left, even though he knew the girl was pregnant."
Per People, McLoughlin's son was born on Nov. 5, and he spent Thanksgiving with Rettinger's family. The magazine also noted he met Lambert on Nov. 2 when she appeared with her band Pistol Annies on Good Morning America, which is in Times Square, an area he is assigned to.
A source close to the singer defended the couple's fast-track to marriage after less than three months of dating, telling People, "There's nothing wrong with somebody catching your eye and then you find out they have a heart that matches."
But the newlyweds aren't making headlines solely for their surprise marriage, as just days before Lambert revealed the wedding news, the Grammy winner got into a heated encounter with a couple dining at Nashville's Stoney River Steakhouse.
According to TMZ, the Grammy winner allegedly dumped a salad on a woman's head and "had to be held back" after a man came up to her table and started screaming while she was dining with her mother and a friend, who many now believe to be McLoughlin.
Still, despite her often headline-making romances and actions, don't expect to hear Lambert sound off on any of it unless it's in the form of song.
And she's going to continue being herself, embracing the mistakes, messiness and milestones, regardless of whether or not she's considered a role model for young women in the country music industry.
"I didn't sign up for that. That's a lot of pressure. I am who I am. I am honest about being flawed," she once said. "That's all I can be, you know? I cuss. I drink. I get divorced and get my heart broken. I break hearts. I can't do or be that anymore, or it'll drive me crazy. I won't be any good anymore."
Whatever comes next, Lambert will welcome it, even if it can be painful.
"I'm more known for my fiery personality and my confidence, but that's not me all the time," she said. "I won't look at things ever again in the same light, because different things in your life bring you to a deeper level with yourself. I won't take pain for granted anymore."
And that is how a Southern girl handles living and loving in the spotlight without getting burned.