One year ago, Gabby Barrett was a rising performer still relatively fresh off of her third-place American Idol finish in 2018. She’d recently released her debut single, “I Hope,” and the song’s success was rapidly expanding her fanbase.
Having spent time honing her songwriting skills in Nashville during her time as an unsigned, independent artist after Idol, she was beginning to reap the rewards of her hard work, netting both radio airplay and high-profile opening spots for the likes of Keith Urban and Toby Keith. At the time, she was still acclimating to stardom, and she spoke to Country Now during a much-needed weekend away from her demanding tour schedule in the summer of 2019.
One year can change everything, and 2020 has brought about vast change for Barrett — and not only because she has temporarily traded in touring life for isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For one thing, Barrett knew when she released “I Hope” that it was a special song, one that would hopefully launch a successful career. Even so, she never could have imagined that it would become a record-breaking hit, becoming the first debut single by a woman to top Billboard’s Country Streaming Songs chart (in April of 2020) and making her the first-ever female country artist to notch over 10 million single-week streams.
“When you write a song in a writing room, you never — even if you think a song’s good, even if you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this one’s special’ — you never know how people are gonna end up reacting to it,” Barrett told Country Now this month, going on to recall the moment that she learned it had gone No. 1.
“I was actually in the car. We were coming back from East Texas, heading back to Nashville, and my manager called me,” she remembers. “It’s just an indescribable feeling. There’s so many emotions coming at one time. You wanna cry, but you’re excited, and it makes you feel even more hopeful for more of your music, and it’s just something you’ve worked extremely hard for.”
Along with those kinds of milestones, Barrett has begun to see messages of support and encouragement from the artists she once looked up to, who have now become her musical peers. One of “I Hope”’s most high-profile fans is pop singer-songwriter Charlie Puth, who reached out to Barrett over social media to tell her how much he loved the track.
“He messaged me after that and said, ‘Oh my gosh, is there any way I can remix this song? I need to remix this. It’s so good,’” Barrett explains. “And so of course — my sister and I were fans of him growing up, so I was like, ‘Of course you can remix it!’ Our teams got together, and he sent me a rough draft of his vocals on the song, and we went back and forth with notes, perfecting it. And now we have a new version of the song, that reaches another audience of people. It’s pretty neat.”
“I Hope”’s original recording and its remixed version bookend the track list of Barrett’s full-length debut, Goldmine, which is due out on June 19. The singer co-wrote 12 of the project’s 13 tracks, tapping ace Nashville writers like Zach Kale and Ross Copperman as frequent collaborators.
“After I came off Idol, I was diving into the Nashville community and trying to get into the rooms with some amazing people,” she reflects. “We wrote a lot of the songs [on this album] over the course of that year. It was hard to narrow down the tracks, for sure, but I was extremely happy to be a part of it.
“Songwriting is definitely important to me. I like that the songs are genuine to what’s going on in my life, rather than cutting somebody else’s songs or story,” she continues. “I think the songs that are the most genuine to you are the ones that end up lasting the longest.”
For fans who’ve followed Barrett’s musical journey, it’s clear that the songs on Goldmine speak to different elements of her real life. Her relationship with her faith is well-represented in tracks like “Got Me,” a duet with her favorite Christian act, Shane & Shane. Her roots are on full display with the family-focused “Jesus and My Mama,” and she chronicles the difficult road that led her to Nashville stardom in “Thank God.”
“I Hope” is a heartbreak anthem inspired by a past breakup, but Barrett’s love life is much happier these days: She married fellow Idol contestant Cade Foehner last October. Her love story features prominently on Goldmine, in songs like “Hall of Fame” and her brand-new single, “The Good Ones.”
“With ‘I Hope,’ I thought it would be cool personally to do a sad song because it’s a little bit of my past, and ‘The Good Ones’ is kind of my present. Especially because ‘I Hope’ is a vengeful type of song,” she relates. “I just wanted to let people know that not all men are bad! Not everybody is gonna mess you up — there are some good ones out there.”
She wrote the song before she and Foehner got married, fairly early on in their relationship. “A lot of people didn’t yet know, but my family did, so they were always like, ‘Oh, how’s your boyfriend doing?’” she remembers.
“And I would say, ‘Oh, he’s a good one. He’s a keeper. We’re not getting rid of him.’ And I noticed a lot of girls will say that, you know, ‘He’s a good one.’ So I wanted to write a song about the good ones, especially my good one,” she adds.
While some of Goldmine’s songs, like “Got Me,” were written just a few months ago, others, like “Rose Needs a Jack” and “I Hope,” date back to 2018, when Barrett first arrived in Nashville and started writing songs. It’s an album that’s been in the works for quite a while. Back then, Barrett never could have envisioned that her project would be coming out in the middle of a global health pandemic, when she would be unable to tour or perform the new songs for her fans in person.
So, she got creative. When it came time to announce her album’s track list, she leaned on her fans to help her break the news, sending different fans different titles over text. Together, the fans put the puzzle together, and Barrett ultimately released the full track list as a montage of listeners holding up signs with each song’s name written on them, in order.
The singer says she’s continued to stay in touch personally with her fans throughout the quarantine, too.
“I’ve been texting them and telling them special things about the album, because I love talking to them,” she relates. “Yes, it’s definitely a weird time right now, but I’m also fortunate for it, because a lot of people are on their phones, on their computers. Everybody has a lot of down time and they’re very engaged in the Internet. So the album being on streaming platforms, I’m very excited that people are gonna hear it, and hopefully it’ll give them a glimmer of hope.”
As for her own down time, Barrett has been perfecting some new cooking and baking recipes, but one thing she hasn’t accomplished yet is the bread-baking trend that’s gotten so popular on social media since the quarantine began.
“You know what, I need to figure out how to make bread. That is something I have not tried to make, but I definitely need to try to do it,” she adds with a laugh. “I can’t do things without exact measurements. I think you’re on a special level when you can just do the taste test, but I’m not there. Hopefully one day. Maybe by the end of quarantine.”