Danielle Bradbery knows how you remember her. And she doesn’t blame you. There she was, in 2013, a spry, bubbly and utterly vivacious 16-year-old Texan, plucked from her normal life and placed on The Voice stage as if divinely destined to win over America’s heart. “People still have this idea of me as this little blonde country girl,” Bradbery says with a chuckle as she reflects on her younger self. “Pigtails and all.” A member of Blake Shelton’s team, Bradbery cruised through the TV-singing competition on the strength of her stunning, mature-beyond-her-years performances of traditional country songs. Later that year, she released a Top 5 self-titled debut album with songs of a similar variety. And while Bradbery contends she still loves country music and always will — “With all my heart,” she declares — the 21-year-old that sits here today is a decidedly new woman. A more refined one. A singer finally ready to share all of herself with listeners. “I didn’t know myself as a person back then,” Bradbery says of her teenage years. “I didn’t know my sound yet. Now I want to talk about real things. I want to be honest.”
A desire to peel back her emotional layers and, in the process, reveal her true self to the world — every bit the excited, inquisitive and passionate young woman who loves country, pop and R&B in equal measure — is precisely why Bradbery took nearly three years to rediscover her musical passion, investigate her sonic influences, and best understand where she stands as both a woman and evolving recording artist. It’s why she titled her next album I Don’t Believe We’ve Met, which was released December 1 via BMLG Records. And, ever more important to Bradbery, it’s why for the first time as an artist she dove headfirst into the songwriting process with a no-nonsense directive to be honest and revealing in her music like never before.
“You get scared to be more open, especially to so many people,” Bradbery says of the hesitation and self-doubt she endured before ultimately deciding to showcase an unvarnished vulnerability on her eclectic new LP. “Sometimes, though, you just have to be brave and push your limits a little bit,” she continues, citing stunning songs including “Human Diary” and “Potential.” “I just love when I hear another artist talk about something real. You relate to it more. I wanted to be that artist.”
The initial taste of Bradbery’s new album, and the first new solo music from the singer in more than four years, came in 2017 with the release of “Sway,” a feel-good, doo-wop flavored single is currently at country radio. Co-written with Emily Weisband and Johan Fransson, the breezy, sing-along track, the singer says, is “all about being simple and carefree.” But, as she notes, it was rather when she wrote the mesmerizing “Potential,” a raw, piano-anchored ballad penned with Weisband and Johan Lindbrandt, that she at last tapped into the unrelenting honesty that would come to define I Don’t Believe We’ve Met.
“It’s so real and honest and vulnerable and powerful,” she says of “Potential.” “We realized we needed to continue down that path.” Having the support of her fellow songwriters, including the acclaimed Shari Short (Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson), Bradbery notes, freed her up to give herself over entirely to each respective song. “Songwriting can be like a therapy session,” Bradbery says. “Nothing is wrong with being honest. Nothing. I always have to tell myself that. Not even just when writing a song. Even in conversation when you’re honest it makes everything feel so much better.”
Songwriting was a new and slightly frightening proposition for Bradbery. The Cypress, Texas native had long considered herself exclusively a singer – “Every day after school I would go and sing. I didn’t write. I didn’t play an instrument. My voice was my instrument,” she says – but with the encouragement of her fellow songwriters she finally decided to put pen to paper. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” she admits of early writing sessions. “I’m getting in a room with these people I’ve never met before and then you have to tell these secrets to them right away.” In the beginning she was “painfully shy,” but after multiple sessions in L.A. with Short, “I took everything I learned there back to Nashville, wrote with lots of Nashville writers, and it all started to make sense.”
Bradbery says in witnessing the boundaries of country music being constantly redefined she gave herself permission to take artistic chances with her new album. This sense of freedom is heard most notably on groove-indebted, pop-centric songs including “Hello Summer” and “What Are We Doing” both of which incorporate her passions for R&B and hip-hop. “I feel like the line of what is country music gets pushed every day,” Bradbery says. She references peers like former tourmate Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt who she says are both pushing the genre in exciting new directions.
But above all, Bradbery was free to be herself because she was confident she’d earned the trust of her loyal fans. Having a passionate support group like “the DB’ers,” the dedicated fans who’ve stuck by her side even during her years away, Bradbery felt the courage to never question her artistic and creative decisions. “I’m really thankful that I’ve had this fan group that has stayed with me from Day One,” Bradbery says. “I’ve had moments where I was like ‘Oh my God. They’re gonna leave and forget about me.’ But it’s amazing to see that even though I’ve put out some risky things or that I’m growing up, people have come to accept it. Your fans are like your army. I feel like we’ve grown up together.”