Following her third-place finish on American Idol in 2018, Gabby Barrett has steadily been making a name for herself in Nashville. The 20-year-old has performed with artists like Toby Keith and is slated as an opener for Brad Paisley’s upcoming tour. But Barrett’s biggest push has come in the past month, with her venomous breakup single “I Hope” climbing to Number Six on the Hot Country Songs chart since January.
It’s been a long road for “I Hope” — Barrett debuted the song’s music video last February and has released two new songs since then — but it’s already poised to be a breakout single of 2020. In a recent visit to the Rolling Stone office, Barrett broke down how the song came together and what two years in the Nashville scene has taught her about shooting for the stars.
“I Hope” has become a legitimate radio hit. Did you expect this particular single to be the one to crack the country Top 10?
I co-wrote it in October 2018, and at that time, I had just really started getting into the Nashville scene with writers and things…. That was the “sore thumb” song that stuck out. We were like, “OK, we’re gonna push it.” I didn’t know what to expect from it, but I knew from the reaction from my team around me that it could be a massive song. Thankfully, it got a very positive reaction.
It wasn’t supposed to be an angry song. How did it turn into this vindictive anthem?
I wrote it with two of my friends, Zach Kale and Jon Nite, and it was this writing session that was thrown together on Halloween. They had come into the room and just said, “We have this idea — how about we write a song about a breakup where the guy does the girl wrong, and the girl still is wishing him well in the end?” You know, “Take care, everything’s fine.” And I was just like, “That’s not normally how that goes.” [Laughs] So we just wrote from a perspective of me in high school, because I understand how bad relationships go. I think everybody does, because everybody goes through them. Thankfully, I’ve grown since then, but I’m glad people have connected to it really well.
You grew up in the 2000s era of country music. I’m wondering if there’s anything from that era that particularly drew you to the genre and made you think, “I want to be a country singer.”
Gosh, I think I got a lot of the music influence from my parents. My dad was into classic rock and R&B, which I originally started in. And then my mom did the country. I liked a variety of people, since there were so many genres played around me in the car growing up that I liked. I naturally gravitated first to R&B and pop: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle. And then with country, I liked a lot of classic country singers. I love Marty Robbins, I love Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline. And then newer: Shania Twain, Carrie, Trisha.
It’s been almost two years since you graduated from American Idol. What’s been your biggest takeaway about the music industry?
Probably that it takes time. Because I performed for so many years before [American Idol], I was always very busy, very quick, wanting to work quickly. Because I put so many years into it, I was always hoping for something to happen faster. And being in Nashville and in the country industry and seeing how things kind of work, I realized that things take more time now. I even get on my management stuff and I’m like, “Ahh, quicker!” And they’re like, “It takes time…” So I’d probably just say, it’s not a rushing game. It’s better to have good quality things than to have things quicker. Take your time on stuff.
That’s definitely the takeaway from “I Hope.” You first released the music video in February 2019, and the single in July, and only now is it becoming a radio hit. What was it like to watch the song climb the charts over the past year?
It’s been amazing. It’s been nice to see the music video doing well, too. I think we’re up to 30 million views. So many people have been so supportive of my music, my music videos, everything all around. It’s really nice to see, especially with it being my first single. To get so much support and love for it, it just means a lot.
Who’s been the most supportive person you’ve worked with?
I would give a shout-out to Ross Copperman and Zach Kale. They both played a tremendous part in all this. Ross co-produced “I Hope” along with Zach, who also co-wrote it. These two have been team players since day one. When I first got introduced to them, they jumped right on, with a huge sense of belief in me from the beginning.
And for artists, quite honestly – gonna brag on her a little bit – Carrie Underwood. She literally just commented on my Instagram post. She also texted me when I got married. It’s really nice to see a huge celebrity be that nice on and off camera. I first met her on American Idol, and she’s always been very nice to me since then. I hope I get to do something more with her in the future.
You’re currently working on a full-length project with Ross Copperman. What can you tell us about that?
We’re working on the album, it’ll come out sometime this year. I’ve written pretty much most of what’s on the album, all but one song. It’s very me, in a lot of different ways. I’ve been writing for a year and a half, so I’m very excited to finally hear the music I’ve been working on. And it’s not one genre — you already know that, music’s not one genre anymore. It’s country-pop, country-R&B, country-rap. There’s collaborations. There’s going to be a lot of fun stuff.