Brooke Eden on the Post-Breakup Text That Inspired Breakout Hit 'Act Like You Don't'

Brooke Eden
Joseph Llanes

Brooke Eden

Country radio has been slow to pick up, but Eden is generating millions of Spotify streams.

Post-breakup songs are evergreen in country music, and since the majority of country singers getting radio play at the moment are men, wounded male pride has been abundant on the airwaves in recent years. Sam Hunt's "Break Up in a Small Town," in which the singer is suspended in thick film of post-relationship paranoia, hit No. 2 last year. More recently, some of these songs have taken a turn towards the vindictive: take the Swon Brothers' "Don't Call Me" and Walker Hayes' "You Broke Up With Me," in which dumped men enjoy rebuffing their exes during their maybe-I-made-a-mistake moments. 

Into this space sweeps Brooke Eden's "Act Like You Don't," which does the important work of voicing the other side of the post-breakup conversation. The single is understanding -- "I know we both get lonely" -- but firm: "Let's play a little game and pretend/ Like you don't know where I go on the weekends/ When you want to show up with your friends/ Act like you don't." And though radio has been characteristically slow to embrace the song, which sits at No. 53 on the latest Country Airplay Chart, streamers have taken to it: "Act Like You Don't" recently passed the 14 million streams mark on Spotify, an impressive tally for a relatively unknown singer in a space where streaming rates still lag behind those of other genres. 

It's not a surprise that Eden would offer a convincing take on a classic country topic -- she grew up as the daughter of a drummer in a country cover band, and started singing with her father's group in bars at age 5. "The community [in West Palm Beach] took me under its wing as the singer in our city and had me open for all the country acts that came through town," she explains. "Alan Jackson was the first professional gig I had, when I was 12. That worked well, so when Brooks & Dunn came through I opened for them a few months later. I was the go-to phone call."

Later, while attending University of Florida, Eden tried out for American Idol. "It was a terrible experience at first because they're not very nice to people -- not even necessarily myself, just in general," she says. "But it was really the kick in the ass that I needed to realize that [singing] is what I wanted, and if I wanted it I needed to work a lot harder."

Following college, she did exactly that: headed home, returned to the bar circuit, and played five nights a week, four hours a night. This served as rigorous vocal strength training -- "there's not really a whole lot that you can do to my voice that it can't take" -- and a thorough education in Adele's back catalog: "I've covered like every Adele song that was ever written."

These nightly sets also gave Eden a place to test her own material: she eventually moved to Nashville and started writing songs with other artists, but would still return to play in Florida two weeks out of every month, workshopping the results of her co-writing sessions on-the-fly. 

Back home, she won a Facebook contest to join Sugarland onstage to sing their classic single, "Baby Girl," a hit about the travails of an aspiring-yet-penniless singer in Nashville. "It was like I was singing my life at the time," Eden remembers. The video made its way to YouTube, where it was spotted by the Nashville indie Broken Bow. "Around the same time, my song 'American Dreaming' went on to [Siriux XM's] The Highway," Eden recalls. The combination of the two earned her a Broken Bow deal a few months later. 

Her first single to crack the Country Airplay Chart, an assertion of working-class roots titled "Daddy's Money," came from a casual comment Eden made to the Muddy Magnolias (the duo of Jessy Wilson and Kallie North): "I ain't never had daddy's money." And "Act Like You Don't," which appeared on her Welcome to the Weekend EP, had a similarly banal source: a text from Eden's ex. 

"I saw him at a bar one night, and the next morning he texted me like, 'it was hard to see you last night and not wake up with you this morning,'" Eden recalls. "I responded, 'if you ever loved me and you still do, I need you to act like you don't.' As soon as I said that, I was like, I need to write this song." 

The resulting narrative, combined with the patina of modern, pop-leaning country, has been embraced by Spotify: "Act Like You Don't" is on the New Boots playlist (394,000 followers), the Wild Country Playlist (592,000 followers), and the flagship country music playlist, Hot Country (3.8 million followers). In other genres, especially hip-hop and R&B, streaming services like SoundCloud and Spotify have championed some hits early, and radio has eventually caught on. But this is rare in country, where programmers still call the shots. So there's an odd dissonance: Eden, with 14 million streams and climbing, is down in the lower 50s on the Country Airplay chart, while the trio Midland's "Drinking Problem" has just six million streams but is in the top 15 at Country radio. 

Instead of counting streams and radio spins, Eden is focused on a new album, which she hopes will come out this fall. (She wants to be more involved in the production this time, trading in the polish of her last EP for something "very raw.") "I don't try to stare at the charts too much," she says. It's harder for her to avoid the streamers, though: "My friends from college keep contacting me like, 'this is my favorite song you've ever put out.'"