It was one of the most awkward moments in all of country music history, created — and then resurrected — some 2,000 miles away from Nashville, in Hollywood. When executives behind the 1997 Nicolas Cage movie, Con Air, changed their minds about including LeAnn Rimes’ version of the soaring “How Do I Live” in their film, they approached Trisha Yearwood about cutting the song instead. Little did they know how attached the then 15-year-old original singer (and her record label) had become to the song…. Rimes shot a video for it (see above) and put the wheels in motion to release it as a single — which both women’s respective record labels did on May 27, 1997.
Cue the “feud.” But Rimes and Yearwood never duked it out… refusing to speak ill of one another in the press, though both did express frustration over the situation. Instead, radio stations, newspapers and even the Grammy Awards went to battle for them. Local media outlets conducted polls asking which version was better. Radio stations put listeners on the air to bash one version over the other (while several deejays also created “duets” by mashing the cuts). And on this day (January 6th) in 1998, both singers received Grammy nominations for Best Country Female Vocal Performance for “How Do I Live.” It was the first time in the Recording Academy’s history that two different artists were nominated for the same song.
This was certainly one of the subtler water-cooler moments the Grammys tend to generate every year. But then to add even more ice, producers had Rimes perform the song on the live broadcast… just before Yearwood won.
“I wasn’t a happy person,” the teen star admitted to the Associated Press a few months after the awards. “I felt betrayed. Not by fans but by people in the business. It’s disheartening to see what the fans like and (have) politics take it from me.”
The fans certainly did like Rimes’ version of the Diane Warren-penned song. While Yearwood won the Hollywood game, her younger competitor won the sales game. The Texas teen’s single moved more than three million units in just a matter of months, and its 69-week run on Billboard‘s Hot 100 set the record for the longest life on that chart (beaten 11 years later by Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”)
Still, Yearwood’s version held its own, selling more than two million copies and trumping Rimes on the country charts by leaps and bounds. “I would not have chosen to go up against LeAnn Rimes,” she told the Chicago Tribune of the singer she deemed “one of the most amazing voices who’s selling a billion records a minute.” It seems Yearwood was blindsided by the release of Rimes’ version.
“The Nashville rule is, if somebody has a song on hold, you don’t record it,” she reasoned. “There’s this kind of gentlemen’s agreement that if somebody has it, you don’t mess with it. But in this case, I didn’t think she had any kind of permission to do that, so I wasn’t worried about it. Then I’m in Europe and I start to hear that (the Rimes version) has been released to radio. Then our version comes out, and it’s like it becomes this big battle between record labels.”
Watch Yearwood perform “How Do I Live” on the Grand Ole Opry below.