When Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush walked out on the stage together at the 2017 Country Music Association awards last November, it elicited spirited applause and even more spirited whispers. Could they be reuniting after a six-year hiatus?
From 2002 to 2012, Nettles and Bush, collectively known as Sugarland, were among the most popular duos in country music, selling in excess of 10 million records domestically, racking up seven number-one singles, two Grammy Awards and five consecutive CMA Vocal Duo of the Year trophies. Their successful run came to a halt in 2012 when Nettles’ pregnancy prompted a break and both spent time on solo projects.
But on May 25 in Augusta, Ga., Sugarland will officially hit the road again, embarking on a 50-city tour between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And their reunion album, “Bigger” on Big Machine Records and UMG Nashville, will be released on June 8.
Since flying solo, Nettles has spread her wings in a number of directions including acting on television — she played Dolly Parton’s mother in the “Coat of Many Colors” and its sequel — as well as appearing on Broadway, where she was featured in “Chicago.” Bush, meanwhile, concentrated on his songwriting, was featured in a video game and also recorded solo, but neither found the success individually that they had enjoyed as a duo.
And so the Bigger tour is much anticipated by the country music community eager to embrace Sugarland’s return. With this as the backdrop, Nettles turned to designer Christian Siriano to create a custom wardrobe for her to wear that she expects to make a memorable splash with audiences.
“I’ve had the pleasure and honor of wearing some of Christian’s pieces before for red-carpet events,” Nettles told WWD during a fitting at Siriano’s atelier. “And once the theme for this tour started to take shape, I knew I wanted to collaborate with someone who could really make something special to fit it.”
She described the tour as having “sort of a vintage circus vibe. And I immediately thought of Christian because he’s so versatile and he has such a fantastic ability to capture grace and elegance and drama and edge all at the same time. This is a music show, it’s not a high tea, and he has a wonderful eye for that rock ‘n’ roll vibe in addition to making beautiful things.”
Siriano, who launched his namesake collection in 2008 and has been a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America since 2013, has been the go-to designer for a wide range of celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lady Gaga.
“When we chatted,” Siriano said of Nettles, “we wanted things to mix and match and nothing was set in stone. And that’s kind of exciting for me because I could get to have fun and we could kind of play. And Jennifer gets to do what she wants every night, so one night she might be feeling all drama the whole time and the next night, she’s exhausted, so she can just do two looks. That’s nice for the audience too because they all get different worlds.”
Nettles agrees. “In this world of social media where everybody has a camera at the show, people want to feel like their experience is different, special and unique. So it doesn’t mean you’ve got the same wardrobe every night and every single picture for the whole tour looks the same.”
Siriano said the wardrobe starts with a base of black-and-white striped pieces, many of which are bodysuits — some high-neck, others lower, some that will get beading, some that won’t — that will be layered under feather jackets that can be worn with a chiffon skirt or an alternative bottom. There’s a “ringleader jacket” designed to coordinate with a wide-leg pant, and a variety of overskirts. “It’s all about mixing and developing,” he said.
Siriano said during the design process he looked back at the outfits Nettles had worn on stage previously as well as her editorial and red-carpet looks for inspiration. “I also wanted to make sure there were some fashion elements because that’s something nice that not every show gets to have,” he said. “So hopefully they’ll feel theatrical but still modern and cool. We want people to say: ‘I want to look like that.’ This is a dream world. We’re transporting them.”
Nettles said when Siriano shared his first sketches, she told him: “I am breathing into a paper bag. He’s just nailed it and that’s the beautiful thing about working with an artist who is so wonderful at what he does. He takes these ideas that are in my head — I’m not visually [creative], that’s not my foray, I will stick to the performing arts — and made something fantastic.”
She said having a wardrobe specifically designed for the tour also “takes the music to the next level because it adds a visual element. Otherwise, just listen to it in your headphones.”
On the tour, Sugarland will undoubtedly reach into their rich archives while also sharing new music. The first single from the new album was “Still the Same,” which referenced their hiatus and return with lyrics such as: “Our future is our history.”
The album also includes a surprise that created a major social media buzz when it was revealed a couple of weeks ago: the song “Babe,” written by Taylor Swift.
“For Kristian and myself, we had never put a song on any of our albums that we didn’t write,” Nettles said. “So it was really exciting to us to be offered one in that way. We all started out at the same time and since that time, she has gone on to have such great success and well-deserved acclaim. She was a fan of ours and was excited about us getting back together and said, ‘I have a song, would you be interested?’ And we thought, ‘Yes, please, but don’t let us mess this up because we’ve never done this before. So let’s record it, see how we interpret it, and moreover, see if she likes it. That’s a personal thing as an artist for somebody to take something of yours and reinterpret it. Thankfully, she loved it and wanted to sing on it, which is great.”
Although the tour doesn’t kick off for a couple of weeks, Sugarland has been promoting it and the album release on the talk show circuit the past couple of weeks, and Nettles is ready to get moving.
And while 50 dates may sound like a lot over the course of the summer, Nettles, who will bring along her five-year-old son Magnus Miller on the tour, isn’t concerned. “It’s a lot, but when I first started out and we were in the grind to prove ourselves, we would do almost 200 shows a year, so this is easy.”