The Rise Of Country Music Divorce Albums
In recent years, several female country stars have navigated divorce, and turned their personal pain into powerful anthems that resonate deeply with listeners.
Carly Pearce, Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, Alexandra Kay; Photos Provided
For many artists, songwriting is the best remedy for getting through painful situations, like heartbreak, grief and even something as substantial as divorce. It takes heaps of vulnerability and willingness to be able to share their personal experiences with the world, but in doing so, they often end up finding their healing in their own journeys while also bringing some peace to their listeners who can relate.
Over the years, there have been several female country stars who have poured their hearts out through their music, only to end up with a lineup of songs that fall into the increasingly popular category of projects known as a divorce album.
The first artist to put this level of openness on display was Tammy Wynette who spelled out the pains of heartbreak with her 1968 project, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. While she didn’t have a hand in writing the title track, Wynette was certainly no stranger to the concept as she had five husbands throughout her lifetime, including fellow country music icon, George Jones.
Miranda Lambert followed in Wynette’s footsteps when she released her sixth studio album, The Weight of These Wings, in November of 2016. This 24-track project doesn’t directly speak to divorce, but it came a little over a year after Lambert and her now ex-husband Blake Shelton announced their split. Based on the more somber themes that are present throughout the project in songs like “Tin Man,” “Vice” and “Use My Heart,” fans have speculated that it acts as her version of a divorce album.
Since these albums, several other female country stars including Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Pearce, and Alexandra Kay have put their healing journeys on display through painfully honest divorce albums and EPs. Keep reading to learn more about the power behind these projects.
Carly Pearce – 29
Released On February 19, 2021
In her 29th year of life, Carly Pearce experienced a rollercoaster of events, from saying “I Do” to country singer/songwriter Michael Ray in October of 2019 and then filing for divorce less than a year later. During that difficult time, Pearce also endured a different kind of heartache when her longtime friend and producer, Busbee, passed away. Looking for a way to channel the flood of emotions she was experiencing, Pearce decided to document this unforgettable year through 2021’s seven-track project, 29.
Beginning with the title track, which is the only song on the EP that mentions the word “divorce,” the entire collection of songs finds Pearce putting her heart on full display and delivering more honesty than she ever had before. In September of that year, she expanded upon the critically acclaimed project with 29: Written In Stone, which featured eight new songs including “Diamond Back,” the GRAMMY award-winning “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” featuring Ashley McBryde, and Pearce’s fourth career No. 1 at country radio, “What He Didn’t Do.” Pearce’s era of disappointment and grief officially came to an end with the release of her most recent project, a live version of 29: Written In Stone. This marked her final attempt to share her experience with divorce before moving on to the next phase of her career as a better version of herself.
Kacey Musgraves – Star-Crossed
Released on September 10, 2021
In 2018, Kacey Musgraves was celebrating the joys and bliss of falling in love through the tracks on her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour. Then, two years later, life took a turn when the news broke that she and her husband of two years, songwriter Ruston Kelly, were getting a divorce. To process her emotions and the various stages of heartbreak, Musgraves did what any true songwriter does and exposed her heart through songs that made up her fourth studio album, Star-Crossed. The project was unveiled on September 10, 2021, in three different acts, all of which address the raw emotions she was feeling and the lessons she had come to learn from marriage and divorce.
It’s no secret that this project is a direct reflection of this chapter of her life as she sings about signing the papers, moving out of their home, and reclaiming her maiden name, all within the opening verse of the title track. However, in that song, she also notes that there is “no one to blame,” a message that sums up the entirety of Star-Crossed, as she says it contains plenty of “love and gratitude” for her ex-partner and the life they shared. In addition to the 15 tracks, Musgraves paired the album with a short film to further illustrate the chronology of her healing journey.
Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling Up The Welcome Mat
Released On February 14, 2023
Kelsea Ballerini was married to fellow country singer Morgan Evans for five years before they announced their divorce in August of 2022. Months after sharing this news with their fans, the female songstress unveiled a vulnerable masterpiece titled Rolling Up The Welcome Mat. This six-song EP allowed Ballerini to mourn this chapter of her life while also putting her side of the story on full display. Much like Musgraves, Ballerini also put her words into action in the form of a cinematic short film that portrayed the emotional chapters she endured before, during and after her divorce.
Within each of the six chapters that open with “Mountain With A View” and “Just Married,” Ballerini depicts themes of loneliness, anger, fear, and true honesty surrounding the issues that ultimately led to their divorce. Ballerini later announced that she was closing the door on this chapter of her life by releasing an updated version of the project titled Rolling Up The Welcome Mat (For Good). The expansion of Welcome Mat represents the healed version of the East Tennessee native’s journey as she has moved on to a new relationship and finally found the peace she was longing for.
Alexandra Kay – All I’ve Ever Known
Released On October 26, 2023
Many artists use their debut album to introduce their artistry to new fans while sharing a glimpse into their current stage of life. For independent singer/songwriter Alexandra Kay, that first project also just so happens to be the set of work that tells the story of her divorce. While fans had begun to speculate that trouble was brewing between Kay and her partner of over a decade, she kept the details fairly private until the release of All I’ve Ever Known in October of 2023.
Once she was finally ready to open up about the reality of her situation, Kay came out of the gate in full force, letting every tear, every ounce of pain and frustration run loose throughout the 11-track project. Songs like “Painted Him Perfect,” “Everleave,” “I Hate Airplanes” and more unfold in the form of pages pulled straight from Kay’s diary, as they’re each filled with the most “raw, real and authentic” lyrics she’s ever written. The days of feeling incredibly overwhelmed by sadness turned into healing songwriting sessions for Kay. As a result, fans can hear her process every emotion through the tender ballads and empowering realizations that come to light at the end of the incredibly personal project.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.