Popping Into Place
With eight songs — and three “interludes” ranging from ten to 91 seconds in length — Bryan calls her latest recording a project because “I was sort of laying the groundwork for my journey as a full-on pop artist. Before this, it had been kind of crossover country-ish stuff, but this was like, ‘No, we’re doing pop now.’ … I just wanted to get a body of work out that kind of represented where I’m at now and then build from there.”
Primarily utilizing Nashville-based producers — and her “favorite collaborators” — Jon Santana and Joe Ginsberg, and recording most of her affecting vocals before life was restricted by the pandemic, “I was really fortunate in that I got to make an album during 2020, which I think is the main thing that kept me sane,” contends Bryan.
Among the songs that connected were: the TikTok viral smash “play w/ me”, which was completed in Los Angeles by production team Monsters & Strangerz; “Don’t Call Me”, a brush-off for a self-serving suitor; and “Roster”, a warning to other impossible imposters while telling listeners to “know when to leave a situation that’s giving them less than they deserve.”
After previously being recognized as an artist to watch by major outlets like Rolling Stone and Billboard, more acclaim came from Nylon (“a fierce new talent”), Ladygunn (“emotionally raw & honest”) and again from People, which hailed her as one of its emerging performers “making their mark” in 2021.
To promote Fresh Start, Bryan made a number of inventive music videos shot in front of “a green screen in my quarantine bae’s house” in Nashville, with versions of each song premiered every month leading up to the album release.
“I’m just super grateful to my label and the videographers that I worked with on that stuff because it was just like if I had a random idea for a visual for the song, they’d be like, ‘All right! Let’s make it happen,’” Bryan points out. “… We were still dealing with a lot of COVID protocols … We definitely had to get creative in order to do it safely, but we managed.
“That was a really fun part of it because I feel like when I write songs, I kind of just see the visual aspect of it happening at the same time that I’m writing it. I’m a super-visual person. So even if nobody else really cares, just the video element of that stuff is so much fun to me.”
Tattoos, Collabs and a Sick Reunion
That urge to entertain herself and others is apparent in basically anything Bryan tries these days.
During our early August phone call, she was enjoying the process of planning her headlining tour that will include opening act Leah Kate, who will be in the traveling party with Bryan’s “awesome” drummer Danny Young, two touring managers and Kate’s two bandmates, all likely trying to squeeze into a Sprinter van.
Bryan assures fans that during “my most rigorous tour schedule” yet, they will hear the entire 28-minute Fresh Start project (performing some of the songs live for the first time). Also expect one or two older songs for “any O.G. people in the audience,” along with “a few brand new ones that I haven’t really played for anybody” and a cover of Justin Bieber’s “Peaches”, which she calls “one of the best songs from the last year that I feel we all need to sing as a collective group together.”
Vocalizing to backing tracks, Bryan is also committing to playing some guitar, “which I haven’t done in a really long time. … I’ve been trying to practice my guitar skills on my own, which has been a journey.”
Looking forward to visiting Washington D.C. for the first time and returning to Chicago, Bryan can’t wait for the 25 September date in Seattle, the closest she’ll get to playing a hometown show. “My whole family on my mom’s side” (all still living in the Pacific Northwest) are expected to attend, and despite departing after her junior year, she anticipates “a little bit of a Sequim High School reunion, which is gonna be sick”
Bryan figures that delicious taste of warm nostalgia will be lightyears from some of her previous country tours when “we were spending the day in — no offense — but middle-of-nowhere Arkansas playing in the big dive bar in whatever town we’re in.” Now, figuring to get “a lot of tattoos” and “enough sleep,” she’s determined to enjoy some nightlife and good food in trying to “make the most of it.”
As far as surprises go, Bryan hints that a few new music downloads — “collabs with some of my favorite writers and producers out there” she’s still reticent to reveal — will be made available from among the 20 or so songs she wrote in Los Angeles in July during “my own version of a Hot Girl Summer.”
There might even be a few dance moves incorporated into the act, something Bryan continues to work on because she calls herself “inconsistently good. I’m not naturally bad but if I think about it too much, I start getting stiff and weird. So there’s gonna be some dance lessons involved in this tour prep, I feel like. … I wanna look smooth up there. … But I’m not a big choreography guy. I don’t know if I’ll ever go full Beyoncé with it, you know.”
While keeping her expectations “on the floor,” Bryan has high hopes at this stage of her career. “This size of a tour may not be a big deal to some artists but for me, it’s so much bigger a capacity than it was when I was touring before,” she expresses. “It’s music that I really, really love and that really fits where I’m at in my life right now. … Just when I think about being on stage and if I could just see two people singing my lyrics in front of me, that’s gonna be such a blessing. So I’m stoked.”
Asked to imagine how she’ll react in the likely event the entire audience joins her for a singalong, Bryan replies amiably, “I’ll probably be bawling on stage.”
Welcome to the Club
Undoubtedly prepared to deliver tears of joy, the laughs keep on coming for Bryan. To promote Fresh Start and the next chapter of her music, she established the SBB Club, shooting an intentionally cheesy infomercial-like video describing its purpose. To become a member, “you just have to be a human on this Earth,” Bryan notes in our interview, which “absolutely” means guys are eligible to join — even if they aren’t Sensitive Bad Bitches.
Though she says the prevailing thought in “Bad Bitch culture” these days is a Hot Girl with a cold persona, Bryan (proudly announcing she’s actively dating but isn’t in a relationship) confesses, “I find myself sometimes feeling kind of disqualified from that narrative. … I still cry over men all the time. And I have a lot of feelings. I operate with my heart on my sleeve very often in life. I think that can be looked at as kind of a weakness these days. With my music, I super often walk the line between this kind of hard persona … because I’m sensitive. …
“As people, as women, we’re multidimensional human beings. I felt a lot of pressure to kind of pick a box coming into the entertainment industry: ‘Are you the Sad Girl? Are you the Hot Girl? Are you the Angry Girl? Are you the Punk Girl? Are you the Sweet Girl? Who are you?’ And I was like, ‘Yes. I’m all those things.’ I think most of us are. So the Sensitive Bad Bitch kind of persona and concept came from not wanting to put myself or anybody who listens to my music in a box.”
Bryan spreads positive messages like that (and sometimes can be very funny) on her social media pages (TikTok and Instagram are two favorite ways to connect), and even encourages texts to a phone number included on her website.
Living in the present, it’s difficult to think about what the future may hold, but Bryan does have some down-to-earth ideas, professing, “Now, even if the performing aspect goes away, if I can just write songs for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy.”
So unlike Madonna, who once stated she wanted to rule the world, Bryan will comfortably settle for aiming “to build on the direction that I’m in” and “leaning a lot into my ‘90s R&B influences.” Her official full-length album debut, she promises, will be “an extension of this last project — even bigger and better and Sensitive Bad Bitch-ier.”
For anyone who believes there’s a bit of Sensitive Bad Bitch in all of us, the time is now to sign up for a lifetime membership in BB’s SBB Club.
Bailey Bryan Takes a PopMatters PopQuiz: Sensitive Bad Bitch Music Version
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Bailey Bryan: Ohhh. That’s actually really tough. Honestly, I’d be … I want to move back to Washington [state] someday. And live by the beach or live in the mountains if I can do music there and have everything I need and all the people I love.
Favorite TV cast you’ve been dying to join?
Bailey Bryan: I would say New Girl [its run ending in 2018]. It’s hilarious! They’re so funny. I think a lot of my personality has probably been shaped from watching that show [now in reruns]. It’s what I watch when I fall asleep. [On star Zooey Deschanel], she’s amazing. I relate to her in a lot of ways. I relate to every character a little bit, though.
Among the artists you follow on social media, who totally surprised you with a follow back or message?
Bailey Bryan: Ooooooh! That’s a great question. Oh, Meghan Trainor followed me. That was really cool. Well, she might have posted about my song [“play w/ me”] and I think I probably was like, “Oh, I love you so much!” But nothing beyond that.
After playing Bonnaroo this fall, which festival will top your bucket list?
Bailey Bryan: I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from Lollapalooza ‘cause it just happened [in early August]. And that shit looks so fun. Obviously, I want to play Coachella some day. All the big ones.
Who tops your list of dream collaborators either on a song or project?
Bailey Bryan: Drake. Always Drake. If I could share a ham sandwich with Drake, then I’d die happy. You can quote that!