Bryan is just 22 but has already ripened past her jaunty first single, "Own It," released in 2017 when she was 18. She's really on to something with this "sensitive bad bitch" (SBB) movement, which gives her permission to cry sometimes while maintaining her strength and independence.
In this episode, Bryan tells the stories behind some of her most popular songs and does a stripped-down acoustic version of "play w/ me," which is erupting on TikTok.
Sequim to NashvilleI'm so glad I started coming to Nashville at 15. I think if I came here at 18, I would still have no idea what I was doing. Now, at almost 23, I feel confident with my sound because I've already had seven years of trial and error.
I'm from Sequim, Washington, up in the Olympic Peninsula. I wrote my first song, "Pickles In The Forest," when I was 4 years old. All I've ever wanted to do is write songs, and music is the only thing I've ever been good at. My family saw that and fully supported me down that path.
As a child I was really shy and music was the first way I learned how to express myself. I would always be comfortable singing in front of people on stage, but one on one I would be super shy.
I've always felt that everything I do is to the core. The lyrics I write, the way I perform, and the way I talk on social media, is almost too authentic and I tend to overshare because that's the only way I know how to connect. Whereas with music, or something I've planned, it feels safer because I can frame it however I want.
When I was 12 I became obsessed with Taylor Swift and got my first guitar, then really started writing music. I read that she was discovered in Nashville, so I had my sights set on Nashville to be the next Taylor Swift.
A crazy coincidence happened a couple of years later. Some of my family reconnected with a family friend who had moved to Nashville to start a publishing company. She came back to visit home and I played her some of my songs and she invited me and my family to come to Nashville to see if I like working in the studio and doing some co-writes. She said, "If you love it, you can come and work for my publishing company." That's how I ended up in Nashville.
Between 15 and 17 I would go between Nashville and Sequim writing songs and trying to get started. At around 17 I had as much of a buzz around me as I could have as a non-local in Nashville, and my family and I decided to move down to Nashville. They just wanted me to be happy and to use my gift. They were in Nashville for seven or eight months as I finished high school online. Once I graduated they made sure I was OK and they moved back to the Pacific Northwest. I feel like I grew up super fast.
"Own It"I was 16 when I wrote "Own It" on a trip on the way to Nashville. At the time it was very much where I wanted to be, a little bit pop-country. When I listen back to this song I remember being that person and the stuff I'm talking about, but I think I grew out of that sound when I released the next project in 2018.
"Own it" was the first single I released and I love how my musical journey is documented through the sounds. I had another song that I was thinking about releasing as my first single, but everybody told me to use "Own It." At the time my taste was changing so rapidly that nothing felt like me in the moment.
I don't go back and listen to it, I don't want to hear it. It's something my friends like to play to give me a hard time if we are drinking at my house. It's mainly the vocals. I don't recognize that voice.
Sensitive Bad BitchThis is the genre that I have created for myself. The whole issue when I was doing country was, "Are you pop or are you country? How would you describe this? Who are your influences? You don't fit in any boxes."
I value my foundation in country music. I think it's the reason I pay so much attention to my lyrics today. The thing I came out of country music really bitter about, however, was genre. Fitting in a box and labeling yourself. I didn't want to have to choose - if you like the song, who cares.
I respect the way that genre works, but I still don't think I fit into one specific lane. I make music that has a tinge of confidence and self-love undertones, even if it's a sad topic. I'm very emotional, but I feel like the bad bitch, independent, "I got me" mentality is so popular in music right now and my music lends itself to that.
I feel like real emotions are not really acknowledged in the bad bitch community. I identify in the bad bitch world, but I feel like I'm disqualified because I cry many times a week and I am incredibly sensitive. They don't tell you that you can be a bad bitch and be sensitive at the same time, so that's the music I make. Why not make a category for everyone who feels that way?
The world makes you pick a lane and I don't want to do that, so now I say I make "sensitive bad bitch" music. It's more about the subject matter as opposed to the sonics. I worked the sonics around what the song is about as opposed to what genre it fits in.
"play w/ me"I wrote the song because a guy I was kind of seeing sent me a "U up?" text on a Wednesday after not replying all day. I am not the girl you do that to. I'm the girl you text back within an hour or you never hear from me again. I was not in the mood to let it go - the bad bitch was out. Instead of texting him back I was irritated and began playing with my guitar.
We released it over the summer and I was super happy with how it was received as it was my first pop release. This was a perfect first pop song for me to put out. Two-and-a-half weeks ago I went through a breakup situation which shifted me from bad bitch to sensitive. I woke up crying from a text from my manager to a TikTok of a girl being inspired by "play w/ me." It was starting to blow up on TikTok and I sat in bed watching this with tears pouring down my face. It was too ironic and I got my phone and posted the video of me crying saying that I was crying over a stupid boy.
The song got almost 100,000 streams just yesterday. It's crazy to me. Every day I see a new statistic and my day is absolutely made. It just makes the song so much more authentic to me that I got to be encouraged by the song in the same way that other girls have been. I got to relate to people who needed to hear that song.
Now everyday I think about what I actually want to say and I do it. It's more authentic. I'm so happy that the song didn't get this attention when it was released, it got attention when it needed to.
My team had said that while the song is getting so much traction we should release a different version. I wanted to do a sensitive version. I still had my confidence, but I'm hurting and in my feelings. The whole point of sensitive bad bitch music is to acknowledge those feelings, so I wrote an entirely new bridge and have a sensitive version. I want people to know how I feel right now. I want people to be like, "I have a version of this song to match my moods."
Breakup As Turning PointI feel worried every time I get writer's block. When I went through a breakup and had it, it was a really difficult turning point for me. Typically, I do feel more inspired when I'm going through some shit, but at the time of this breakup I was severely depressed. I didn't feel motivated to figure anything out. I thought I wasn't going to get through it and thought I was never going to write a song that I would like ever again.
Once I got through the writer's block/depression phase, I started writing stuff to hype myself up. As an artist I think there's pressure when you go through a heartbreak to turn it into something, like, "I've got to write about this."
Although the relationship was a big thing, it was actually secondary to the growth I was needing to experience with myself and working on the relationship with myself. Once I started being honest with myself about that, that's when I began to feel inspired again. Not that I get excited when I experience heartbreak, but now that I know how to learn about myself in certain situations, the way I can cope with uncertainty is to use it as an opportunity to boss up and find more confidence with it.
I went through a bit of a breakup a few weeks ago. We were talking and ending the relationship and I was going off at him and had to stop so I could write about it.
"Sober"The meaning of "Sober" in the broad strokes is that it's really about how being in love with the wrong person feels like being drunk. You could listen to it and think it's about a drunk hook-up, but to me it's about being in the moment with somebody and being like, "I love you," but already knowing the reason it's not going to work. You know it might wreck you a little bit. Like being trashed, you know you'll feel it in the morning.
A lot of the songs on this project coming up are inspired by a specific kind of "situationship" I had coming out of the breakup. There were so many reasons why neither of us could commit. It was a year of my life being single but also being kind of in love with someone.
My other song, "Fresh Start" is about the same thing as the same guy was leaving Nashville. I remember one night we were drinking some wine and talking and laughing. He was singing karaoke on the TV and I was just looking at him thinking, you're precious. I was so happy and sad at the same time. That was actually the music video for "Fresh Start." I'm very literal.
February 24, 2021
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photos: Nikko LaMere
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