America first fell in love with Danielle Bradbery in 2013 when she became the youngest contestant to win The Voice at the time. Then just 16, Bradbery wowed viewers and coach Blake Shelton with her unique take on country classics and her powerful vocals well beyond her age. Now 21 and about to release her second album, I Don’t Believe We’ve Met, life has changed drastically for the reality singing star.
The Texas native returns with her first album in four years and this time around, she dove deep into songwriting and penned seven of the project’s 10 tracks. Her first foray into writing her own songs, the soft-spoken singer admits to being hesitant before walking into the writing room for the first time.
“Getting in the room with writers at first was scary,” Bradbery tells Billboard as she settles into a chair at her publicist’s office in Nashville. “I was young and I had a natural shyness to me. I had to open up a little more, too.”
Bradbery admits that while her initial approach to songwriting was uncomfortable, it soon came naturally for her. She slowly overcame her shyness by convincing herself that her co-writers had been through it all and had talked and written with many artists before her. Pretty soon she gained friendships by opening up and getting to know her co-writers, something she says paid off within the songs they wrote together.
While Bradbery says she didn’t have a set theme or emotion planned for I Don’t Believe We’ve Met, she knew she wanted to be honest with her listeners in every song she wrote.
“I always have loved being honest and real, especially in friendships. I want that from other people, too. Why not talk about real situations, feelings, things that happened? I want the fans and everybody to feel close and that we’re in this together,” she explains. “When I listen to an artist and they write a crazy life song I’m like, ‘Oh my God! They took the words right out of my mouth.’ I love that feeling, so I wanted to do that and hopefully I am.”
This honesty and vulnerability can be heard throughout the entirety of I Don’t Believe We’ve Met. Songs like the bluesy “Worth It” and piano ballad “Potential,” in which Bradbery sings of being in love with a person’s potential, anchor the album. While the storyline in “Worth It” details a woman realizing her worth in a relationship when her significant other doesn’t, the song originally began with Bradbery explaining her insecurities about her career to co-writers Jeff Pardo and Molly Reed.
“I wasn’t playing many shows and I was just in Nashville writing. I would get anxious in those moments because you’re so used to being on a tour and in a routine,” she explains. “I would get frustrated and I’d feel like that’s a natural feeling when you’re not sure how the next album is going to be or if it’s going to go smoothly. I was like, ‘It’s been so long. I’m afraid of the fans not holding on long enough.’ Or, ‘I’m going to put out something and it’s not going to do well.’ There was a lot going on in my head and sometimes I didn’t feel worth it and that’s where it led to. They said, ‘Let’s put a little bit in this and make it sound like a relationship, make it sound like it could be anything.'”
Meanwhile, Bradbery explains that “Potential” helped her shape the album. An incredibly raw and emotional track showcasing real feelings, she wanted the remaining nine tracks to paint a similar picture of vulnerability as heard throughout “Potential.” The idea for the song came from co-writer Emily Weisband, who threw out the concept of being in love with somebody’s potential. As Johan Lindbrandt started playing the piano, the song quickly formed.
Much of the album came from what Bradbery calls a “rollercoaster relationship.” While not every song is autobiographical, she says some storylines are things she was afraid of happening in her relationship and the emotions that come with those various scenarios.
“It was real feelings. I just went off of that and one thing led to another and I created all these songs that I wanted to put on an album,” she shares. “It worked out perfectly.”
So, has her significant other heard the songs written about him?
“He has, and he’s still around,” she says with a laugh. “It was just a downfall. I feel like everybody has those moments. You go through a lot of that and you’re trying to figure it out together. Being in the world I’m in, it’s probably hard for him to grasp everything. He says he loves them and I’m like, ‘I hope so! I’m sorry but I had to write about it.'”
One of the songs she also sent her boyfriend was “Human Diary,” which was written by Weisband and Josh Kerr. A striking song about the aftermath at the end of a relationship, Bradbery was in tears when she first heard the song in the studio and knew she had to cut it for herself. Choking up as she recorded “Human Diary,” she reasoned that if she felt this way about the song listeners would, too. Sure enough, her beau said he got teary-eyed when he heard the song.
Another outside song she recorded was “Hello Summer,” which was penned by longtime friend, mentor and tourmate Thomas Rhett. Someone she calls an “amazing person,” Rhett never shies away from giving Bradbery helpful advice.
“He’ll give me advice no matter what we’re doing,” she says. “We’ll be standing there, loud music is on, and he’ll start telling me what he thinks I should do or he saw me perform and thinks I should do this differently. He’s like, ‘You should be more confident, Danielle. Go out there and show ’em who’s on stage.’ And he’ll get serious, but I know he means well. He’s been through so much more, and it’s really cool to see what he has to say. He’s such an incredible person all around. He’s very genuine.”
One listen to Bradbery’s I Don’t Believe We’ve Met and the budding songwriter comes across as genuine, too. Early on in the process, she stopped writing what everybody else was singing about on country radio in hopes that her songs would stand out.
“I was like, ‘No, that’s not me. I’m not 100 percent happy. It’s not 100 percent me.’ That’s where I took it and ran with it,” she explains about the decision to be completely honest in her songwriting. “It has to be you. It has to be what you’re completely comfortable with or else you’re going to have to sing it the rest of your life, talk about it the rest of your life, and you have to be excited about it. Make sure [each song is] you and true to who you are. You have to really live it and have it be a part of you.”