My First Hit: Sarah Buxton on writing “Stupid Boy”

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Sarah Buxton has been an in-demand songwriter in Nashville for nearly 20 years, scoring hits for artists like Florida Georgia Line, Big & Rich and Trisha Yearwood. Initially having begun her career solely as an artist, she later branched out into writing for others thanks to the success of Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy”. The song was written in early 2004 by Buxton, Dave Berg and Deanna Bryant and was released by Urban in late 2006 before Buxton released her version in 2010. Here, she shares the story behind writing “Stupid Boy” and how the song changed her life.

Where were you at in your career when you wrote the song? I hadn’t had a record deal yet. I had been a published songwriter for about six years, but mainly just an artist. I was in a jam band for a number of years and was looking for where I would find a record deal, either in LA or New York, and I had told my publisher I was tired of traveling and I wanted to stay in Nashville for a while, so I really had just begun writing with Nashville songwriters. 

What was the writing process like? Dave Berg and Deanna Bryant were two of my favorites, so it was a very special day. I remember the day we wrote it, they were like, “This can’t be titled ‘Stupid Boy.’” The thought of having a female country singer at the time record a country song called “Stupid Boy” was kind of unheard of and I was like, “Well maybe I’ll get a country record deal!” 

It’s a true story about a relationship of mine that was just abusive, verbally and mentally, and not a good situation for me. Luckily, I got out of it, and I happened to have seen that guy that morning when we wrote it, we went out to coffee. I was kind of half laughing at how he was acting and kind of also not, and when I showed up at Dave’s house, I was telling him the story and I was like, “Can you believe that? Stupid boy.” And he started to sing “Stupid Boy.” I think there were several verses that we wrote that never actually came out, but the song just plopped down on us, honestly.

What was the timeline of the song? We wrote it in 2004 and it was maybe ahead of its time a little bit. It was getting circulated around time and people were sharing the work tape, which helped me as an artist. I ended up getting a record deal in 2005. We recorded it with Dan Huff in 2005 for my record [2010’s Sarah Buxton]. I could tell everyone thought it was a really cool song, but I don’t think anyone was thinking of it for the radio. Keith had heard the song, somebody played it for him just to hear me as an artist, then he was like, “I want to record that song.”

What went through your mind when you heard Keith was cutting the song? I was immediately wanting him to record it. I was such a fan of [Urban’s 2002 album] Golden Road and had just worn that record out and really loved who he is. I was honored and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I just knew they weren’t going to put it out on me. So I was like, “I bet on him they would.” I was all for it. 

What was your reaction to hearing his version for the first time? People sometimes think I wrote a song called “Stupid Girl,” but it was always “Stupid Boy.” Dave Berg, when he would perform it at writers’ rounds, he would sing it the way that Keith ended up doing it, but Keith didn’t know that, so it was a really cool thing where it was like, somehow, he just picked up on that possibility. It was so cool to have him sing about himself in that way. He was so vulnerable.

How did you feel when the song started climbing the charts? People think it was a number one, it was a number two. I’m just thankful that it did anything. It completely changed my life, and it made me see myself as a songwriter. It made me see the possibilities of other people recording my songs rather than just me, which hadn’t been a thing until then. 

Do you think that kind of success changed the trajectory of your career? It really did. I had a hard time as a country recording artist at that time. Things were a lot different than they are now, I think there’s a lot more opportunity with streaming for people to be unique and there was just this little thing that I was trying to fit myself into. I could see through someone else recording one of my songs that there’s this whole other way for songs to have a life and to experience the excitement of being behind the scenes yet still a part of something.

You’ve achieved so much in the years since then, how does that first success compare? They’re all special in different ways. They all happened at different times in my life. By the time I had my first number one, that was so exciting in its own way because I was a mom at the time and I knew so much about how hard it is to get a song recorded. “Stupid Boy,” I was just so green. I just kind of didn’t have any perspective. The first song I recorded happened to be one of the most special songs I had ever written and then all of that happening with it. I do remember feeling like, “Okay, it’s probably not always going to be like this.”

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