Smoke Break

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"Smoke Break"
Carrie Underwood - Smoke Break (Official Single Cover).png
Single by Carrie Underwood
from the album Storyteller
ReleasedAugust 21, 2015 (2015-08-21)
FormatDigital download
GenreCountry rock
LabelArista Nashville
Producer(s)Jay Joyce[1]
Carrie Underwood singles chronology
"Little Toy Guns"
"Smoke Break"
Music videos
"Smoke Break" on YouTube

"Smoke Break" is a song recorded by American country music artist Carrie Underwood from her fifth studio album, Storyteller. It was released on August 21, 2015, through Sony Music Nashville, as the album's lead single. It was written by Underwood, Chris DeStefano, and Hillary Lindsey, and was produced by Jay Joyce. Musically, it has lyrics about escaping life's many stresses.

"Smoke Break" was met with critical acclaim, with music critics describing it as "a homage to hard working people in need of a breather". It quickly became a commercial success, setting an all-time record for the largest first-week adds at country radio. It went on to reach number one on the Billboard Canada Country chart and number two on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in the US, becoming her 20th top-two single on the chart.

The song's accompanying music video was directed by Randee St. Nicholas and won the 2016 CMT Music Award for Female Video of the Year. The song received its first televised performance at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, on September 10, 2015.


"Smoke Break" is a country rock song that critics have described as "a homage to hard working people in need of a breather".[2] It has lyrics about escaping life's many stresses.[3] About the writing process, Underwood stated that she, Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey "were writing and kept taking breaks to go outside because we were getting a little stuck on a song we were already working on. It was so beautiful outside that we had a hard time focusing, so we decided to write a song about taking breaks! 'Smoke Break' seemed like a great title, so we ran with it!"[3]

Critical reception[edit]

"Smoke Break" has received rave reviews from music critics. Grady Smith of UK's The Guardian acclaimed it, by stating "among all the great music we've been treated to this summer, no song has carried more significance than Carrie Underwood’s excellent new single 'Smoke Break'. Here we have an A-list star releasing an unabashed country rock song that isn't trying to chase any sonic trends". He also added that Underwood "has emerged as the leader of country music".[4] Denise Quan of Rolling Stone praised the song, saying that the singer "pays homage to hard working people in need of a breather" and adding that Underwood puts "a bit more twang in her vocals than usual — a welcome dose of laid-back country cool after a string of glossy, high-octane arena rockers and soaring ballads".[2] Jason Lipshutz of Billboard awarded it 3.5 starts out of a possible five, noting Underwood's departure from previous material and stating that "the normally overpolished American Idol winner wears the song's blue-collar country-rock vibe well".[5] Hugh McIntyre of Forbes praised it, saying its lines evokes "some pretty sentimental themes that likely connect with a lot of people" and the song "has the makings of another runaway hit on radio".[6]

Dee Lockett of Vulture praised it, pointing out that "just as songs about getting trashed will remain a rite of passage in country music, its superstars like Carrie Underwood will continue to find ways to keep them meaningful".[7] Kevin John of Country Universe praised Underwood's songwriting by saying that "she has the finest singing voice of her generation, but her greatest gift is her ability to express empathy for others through song".[8] Taste of Country praised the song as well, stating that "it's a song everyone can relate to" and "is easy to wear, and adaptable to life's changing circumstances", and praised Underwood's delivery, saying "she starts soft before soaring into the chorus".[9] Robert Christgau deemed it as Storyteller's most impressive song, "cross-regional, cross-gender, class-conscious ... in which neither the mother of four working three jobs nor the farm family's first college man can do without the occasional drag or drink, sincere Christians though they be".[10]

WSM-FM and WKDF Nashville Program Director Charlie Cook praised the song as well, saying "the lyrics address the hectic lives everyone now lives, and the production stands out as a testament that she is willing to take chances, yet play within what her fans expect". iHeartMedia Senior VP of Programming Gator Harrison said the song is “an anthem for the overwhelmed, something we can all relate to, and amen. It's a smash".[11]


"Smoke Break" garnered some controversy upon its release, after some listeners accused the song of "trying to promote smoking".[7] Journalists for vehicles such as Vulture and USA Today went on to defend the song. Dee Lockett of Vulture stated that the accusation "misses the point" and defended it by saying that "like many of Carrie's narrative-driven songs, though, she's making a larger point. A 'stiff drink' and a 'long drag' are just placeholders for any vice the overworked might depend on to survive. The concern isn't how Americans cope with their blue-collar lives (though she's by no means undermining the severity of addiction); it's the culture of stress that suffocates everyone that should piss people off".[7] Maeve McDermott of USA Today says "the song is less a pro-cigarette anthem as it is a tribute to sneaking away from your responsibilities and taking a minute to breathe".[12]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Smoke Break" set, according to Taste of Country's Sterling Whitaker, "an all-time record for the largest first-week radio adds in the history of Country Aircheck, with 145 Mediabase adds and 159 total Billboard and Country Aircheck reporting stations lined up for the song’s official airplay impact date".[2][13] Additionally, the single had opening week sales of 56,000 in the United States, debuting at the top of the Billboard Country Digital Singles chart – her fifth leader on the chart – and moving from number 36 to number five on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in its second week on the chart; it eventually peaked on Billboard Hot Country Songs at number four on November 24, 2015. It peaked at number one on Billboard Canada Country chart, becoming her second single to top that chart, the other being "Blown Away". The song peaked at number two on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and both debuted and peaked at number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[14]

The song was certified Gold by the RIAA on April 29, 2016.[15] As of May 2016, it has sold 447,000 copies in the United States.[16]

Music video[edit]

The accompanying music video was directed by Randee St. Nicholas, who directed Underwood's "Blown Away" music video in 2012, and was shot over two days.[17] It premiered on Entertainment Tonight on August 24, 2015.[18] Underwood cast "gorgeous, strong women" to play a horse trainer, a truck driver and a waitress. "It just tells a story," Underwood said of featuring blue collar characters. "These are everyday jobs, and we need a break."[17]

The video begins with Underwood driving through the dusty, sepia-washed desert in a vintage Ford truck. She passes a busy waitress in a diner, and a businessman struggling with his responsibilities. Then her truck overheats, and she has to hoof it, while a patient horse trainer and weary welder toil nearby. Underwood hitchhikes the rest of the way to her gig at a neighborhood bar. She takes the stage in front of a small crowd of patrons that includes all the local characters met earlier who were working hard and could use a break. She sings their life story, then moves on to the next dusty town, "like an angel of mercy in Daisy Dukes", Rolling Stone describes.[2]

The video won Female Video of the Year at the 2016 CMT Music Awards, and was also nominated for Video of the Year.[19][20]

Track listing[edit]

  • Digital download[21]
  1. "Smoke Break" – 3:19

Live performances[edit]

Underwood performed the song on television for the first time at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, on September 10, 2015.[22] Underwood also performed the song at the 2015 CMA Awards.[23]

Underwood's live performance at CMT's Instant Jam won the 2016 CMT Music Award for CMT Performance of the Year.[24]


Chart (2015–16) Peak
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[25] 53
Canada Country (Billboard)[26] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[27] 43
US Country Airplay (Billboard)[28] 2
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[29] 4

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2015) Position
US Country Airplay (Billboard)[30] 52
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[31] 53

Release history[edit]

List of release dates, showing region, formats, label and reference
Region Date Format(s) Label Ref.
Australia August 21, 2015 Digital download Sony Music Nashville [32]
United Kingdom [33]
United States Arista Nashville [21]
August 24, 2015 Country radio [34][35][36]

Awards and nominations[edit]

CMT Music Awards[edit]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2016 "Smoke Break" Video of the Year[37] Nominated
2016 "Smoke Break" Female Video of the Year Won

British Country Music Awards[edit]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2016 "Smoke Break" International Song of the Year[38] Nominated


  1. ^ "Carrie Underwood, 'Smoke Break' [Listen]". Taste of Country. August 20, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Denise Quan (August 25, 2015). "See Carrie Underwood's Smoldering 'Smoke Break' Video". Rolling Stone.
  3. ^ a b "Carrie Underwood Announces New Album 'Storyteller'". Rolling Stone. August 21, 2015.
  4. ^ Grady Smith (September 1, 2015). "Carrie Underwood's 'Smoke Break' sizzles in dry summer for country music". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Jason Lipshutz (August 26, 2015). "Is Carrie Underwood's 'Smoke Break' a Smash Hit? Plus More of the Week's Best and Worst Singles". Billboard.
  6. ^ Hugh McIntyre (August 21, 2015). "Carrie Underwood Releases Surprise New Single, Announces New Album 'Storyteller'". Forbes.
  7. ^ a b c Dee Lockett (August 21, 2015). "Carrie Underwood's New Song Ruffles Feathers With Supposed Pro-Smoking Message, But That Misses the Point". Vulture. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  8. ^ Kevin John (August 21, 2015). "Single Review: Carrie Underwood, 'Smoke Break'". Country Universe.
  9. ^ "Carrie Underwood, 'Smoke Break' [Listen]". Taste of Country. August 20, 2015.
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (July 1, 2016). "Tall Tales and Big Country Expert Witness with Robert Christgau". Vice. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  11. ^ Jim Asker (September 2, 2015). "Carrie Underwood's 'Smoke' Rises, Sam Hunt Parties His Way to Another No. 1". Billboard.
  12. ^ Maeve McDermott (August 21, 2015). "Carrie Underwood tries to make smoking cool again on 'Smoke Break'". USA Today.
  13. ^ Sterling Whitaker (August 25, 2015). "Carrie Underwood's 'Smoke Break' Makes History at Country Radio". Taste of Country.
  14. ^ "Country Radio Music Chart – Billboard". Billboard.
  15. ^ "American single certifications – Carrie Underwood – Smoke Break". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 
  16. ^ Bjorke, Matt (May 5, 2016). "Top 30 Digital Singles Report: May 5, 2016". Roughstock.
  17. ^ a b Zach Johnson (September 1, 2015). "Carrie Underwood Takes Fans Behind the Scenes of Her "Smoke Break" Music Video: Watch the Exclusive Video Now"". E! Online.
  18. ^ Sophie Schillaci (August 24, 2015). "EXCLUSIVE: Watch Carrie Underwood's Brand New 'Smoke Break' Video". Entertainment Tonight.
  19. ^ "Carrie Underwood owned the night at 2016 CMT Music Awards". 2016-06-10.
  20. ^ Hudak, Joseph. "Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Cam Lead CMT Awards Nominees". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  21. ^ a b "iTunes – Music – Smoke Break by Carrie Underwood". iTunes Store. United States: Apple Inc. August 21, 2015.
  22. ^ "Carrie Underwood to Debut "Smoke Break" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon". Carrie Underwood Official Website. August 20, 2015.
  23. ^ McClellan, Laura. "Carrie Underwood Gives Audience A "Smoke Break" At 2015 CMA Awards". Taste of Country. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Carrie Underwood owned the night at 2016 CMT Music Awards". 2016-06-10.
  25. ^ "Carrie Underwood Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard.
  26. ^ "Carrie Underwood Chart History (Canada Country)". Billboard.
  27. ^ "Carrie Underwood Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  28. ^ "Carrie Underwood Chart History (Country Airplay)". Billboard.
  29. ^ "Carrie Underwood Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  30. ^ "Best of 2015: Country Airplay". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. 2015. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  31. ^ "Best of 2015: Hot Country Songs". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. 2015. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  32. ^ "iTunes – Music – Smoke Break by Carrie Underwood". iTunes Store. Australia: Apple Inc. August 21, 2015.
  33. ^ "iTunes – Music – Smoke Break by Carrie Underwood". iTunes Store. United Kingdom: Apple Inc. August 21, 2015.
  34. ^ "Future Releases for Country Radio Stations". United States: All Access Music Group. August 24, 2015. Archived from the original on August 23, 2015. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  35. ^ "PlayMPE :: Going For Adds :: Country". Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  36. ^ "New Single: Carrie Underwood's "Smoke Break"". Rolling Stone. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  37. ^ Staff, Billboard. "CMT Music Awards 2016: See the Full Winners List". Billboard. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  38. ^[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]