Ottawa singer Kira Isabella being praised for date rape tale ‘Quarterback’

By , on December 26, 2014


Kira Isabella in Winnipeg (photo courtesy of Isabella's Facebook page)
Kira Isabella in Winnipeg (photo courtesy of Isabella’s Facebook page)

TORONTO — Ottawa country singer Kira Isabella keeps meeting fans who deeply relate to her breakthrough single “Quarterback” — and it’s heart-breaking.

The song tells the story of a “no-name girl from the freshman class” who has drinks poured down her throat by the star quarterback and wakes up groggily the next morning to find pictures of her first sexual experience smeared across the Internet.

And while the song is providing the 21-year-old Isabella with a new level of critical regard, she’s a little troubled by the degree to which it’s resonated with her fans.

“It’s very unfortunate in my opinion how many people can really relate to the subject matter,” she said this week in a telephone interview.

“I just got to tour all across Canada and I met too many young girls who had tears in their eyes and a story to tell. Either (they) connected to this story or it had happened to their best friend, or something along the lines of what happens in the story. It’s very, very sad.”

The potential audience for Isabella’s song — the first single from October’s “Caffeine & Big Dreams” — is only growing after being hailed as best-of-2014 material by several major outlets.

NPR and the Guardian both included the song on lists of the best tracks of the year, while Spin magazine declared “Quarterback” unequivocally the top country song of 2014, writing: “More people need to hear this song than there are country fans.”

Written by the Nashville trio of Rivers Rutherford, Bobby Hamrick and Marti Dodson and partially inspired by the Steubenville High School rape case, “Quarterback” was originally pitched to Carrie Underwood, but one of her reps decided the song would be inappropriate due to the “American Idol” winner’s romantic history with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Other artists were reportedly similarly unwilling to take on a song about date rape and cyberbullying.

Isabella had a connection to the songwriters — Dodson sang backup vocals on her first album (2012’s “Love Me Like That”) and they’d written together in the past. So eventually Isabella got her shot at the tune, and she too concedes some fretting about its subject matter.

“Myself and my team — we were of course a little bit apprehensive,” said Isabella, clarifying that her “team” refers to her parents, her management and her record labels.

“We would be lying if we said we weren’t, taking on a song with this subject matter. Ultimately it came down to the fact that this message needed to come out,” she added.

“Quarterback,” she said, “came to me like a gift.”

She did make changes to the song, most notably shifting the perspective from first- to third-person.

In its demo form the song was perhaps harder-hitting musically. In Isabella’s interpretation, the string-based instrumentation is spare and her voice is carefully restrained. It’s with a sense of quiet resignation that she sings: “Monday morning when the word got out, everybody picked a side/ He had the school and the whole town too, and she had nothing but the truth inside.”

That feeling of helplessness, Isabella figures, is universal.

“I keep saying it doesn’t have to be a you girl even,” she reflected. “No matter who you are, you have probably at some point in your life been made to feel like you’re less powerful or less of a person… by another person. I think everybody can relate to that and that’s what ‘Quarterback’ is about. I think that’s why people connect so well to that young girl in the freshman class in the marching band.”