Sixty-plus years since Patsy Cline first sang ‘Crazy’ - a Willie Nelson original that remains the gold standard for lovelorn balladry - most songs by women being played on country radio tend to have a similar theme: heartbreak over an unfeeling man. For singer-songwriter Brooke Eden, that narrative's more than a little played out.
"Yeah, the 1950s called and begging's out of fashion / Them boots should take a walk," Eden sings on ‘Knock’, a tough-love advice song to a friend who's stubbornly not giving up on the wrong guy. ‘Knock’ sets the tone for Choosing You, a new EP that decenters male attention in its explorations of love in various forms.
It’s been a long 10 years for Eden, who moved to Nashville shortly after college and quickly got to work making a name for herself. She drew enough attention to crack the Country Airplay charts twice — first with ‘Daddy’s Money’ and then with ‘Act Like You Don’t’ — and seemed poised for a major break, but the toll of hiding who she was eventually became too much to bear.
Eden came out as gay in January 2021, six years after she started dating now-fiancée Hilary Hoover in secret. She followed up the announcement with a trilogy of Motown-leaning singles that ditched the angst of her earlier work in favor of positivity and self-affirmation, as well as an instantly iconic appearance at the Grand Ole Opry featuring none other than Trisha Yearwood.
Now, with Choosing You, she continues the process of crafting a unique sound while reintroducing herself to an audience that hasn’t always seemed eager to embrace a queer country singer. Holler caught up with Eden to discuss her early aspirations, the state of LGBTQ representation in country music and what it means to have an "authentic" sound.
You recently hit the 10-year mark of living in Nashville. How does it feel?
It feels crazy. It feels like I've lived so many lives here, and then it also feels like I moved here yesterday. Time is such an interesting thing. What I love about being in a town for 10 years is the community here. I really do feel like I've found my family. I'm so proud to be a part of the country music community here in Nashville.
Did you always want to be a country singer?
I did. My dad's a drummer in a country band in my hometown, and I started singing country music with him when I was five years old. I was literally singing in the honky tonks. Which is definitely illegal, but I'm from Florida, so we don't listen to rules. It’s something that I’ve aspired to since I was very, very small.
Was country radio always the goal?
Yeah. Growing up, that's how I discovered country music. We didn't have Spotify, Pandora, Amazon and all the streaming services that we do now. Now, there are a lot of different ways for country artists to get to country fans, whether through streaming, SiriusXM The Highway, you name it. But for me, country radio is still the goal because you can reach the most people that way.
Another thing is that radio is really what creates longevity for country artists. An artist might blow up on TikTok, for example, and never get played on radio, and it will be harder for them to find that longevity. It can really be a “here today, gone tomorrow” kind of thing in a lot of situations, unless that artist can get onto country radio. It’s really interesting how it’s still the master of it all in that way.
Has coming out changed your relationship to Nashville and to country music?
Coming out has changed my relationship with everything. I feel like that in almost every relationship that I have. I have closer relationships with my friends now. I have closer relationships with my fans now. Coming out has definitely made me feel more comfortable to be who I am in Nashville. For a while, I was so concerned about how Nashville as a whole, this community, this genre, would react.
I was so afraid of rejection that I was like, “Maybe if I just stay quiet then they’ll still love me”. But being able to be myself and still be loved and still be supported, it definitely makes walls come down. It definitely creates a stronger relationship, whether that be with people that you have an everyday relationship with, or a town itself and a community and a genre. It definitely makes for a more real relationship.
Do you feel like country music has become more accepting of LGBTQ people in the last few years?
Oh, for sure. Five years ago, it was unheard of to have a queer artist in country music who was going to be accepted. But then I came out and T.J. [Osborne] came out, and there’s a few of us now. The problem with country music and queerness for so long was just that people are afraid of things that they don't know about. For so long, we were closeted and put in corners, and people didn't have that representation. They had maybe never seen or had a conversation with a queer person.
Now, we're singing on their radios, on their TVs and we're a part of this industry just as much as any other person. So, people are seeing same-sex relationships and seeing queer people and realizing that we're just like them, our relationships look a lot like theirs. Just the visibility of seeing a queer person and realizing that a queer person can be just like your best friend takes a lot of the scariness away from the LGBTQ community.
For me, it's just so important to keep showing up and being who you are, as it gives other people an invitation to be exactly who they are. Not only queer people, but also straight people. Everybody lives within the confines of what your parents, society and what your career wants from you. But if you live unapologetically as yourself, it invites other people to do the same, and that’s important for everybody. Not just the queer community, but literally everybody.
Does the concept of Nashville as a “10 year town” hold up to you?
It’s interesting, sometimes people come into town and have the right team and the right timing, and it just hits. But I really do think there’s this education that happens when you’re in Nashville, where you have truly ten years of getting to know the right people, creating your sound and figuring out who you are as an artist, and so much of it is timing.
Having been here for 10 years, I do feel like right now I’m the most authentic version of myself and putting out the music that means the most to me.
It seems like when people use the word “authentic” to describe country music, they often mean traditional-sounding. What does it mean for you to express your authentic self in your music?
When I talk about authenticity, I’m talking about singing my truth. To me, authenticity doesn’t necessarily mean having a traditional sound. It’s about telling your own truth and interpreting your music the way you have interpreted it throughout your life. I grew up on 90s country, but I’ve also been super influenced by 60s and 70s soul and Motown. There’s a lot of pedal steel on this new EP of mine, but you’ll also hear those other influences.
People love to put constraints on what is or isn’t country, but country music is a spectrum. It can be anything from Chris Stapleton to Sam Hunt, and that’s what makes it so great. You have to think about the roots of country music, and so much of the roots of country music are in soul and blues. So, when you really look at it, it actually all comes from the same place. It's just how you interpret it.
When you think about the artists who have moved country music forward, they were always outlaws. They were always rebels, and they were always artists who were pushing the boundaries.
If you look at Garth Brooks, a lot of people today think of him as being super traditional, but when he was coming out, he was seen as more pop. What’s great about people like Garth and Shania and Taylor Swift is that they brought a whole new demographic of country music listeners to the genre. If you think about it in terms of bringing together a community of like-minded people, there’s a much broader spectrum there.
Brooke Eden's new EP, 'Choosing You', is out now via This Is Hit / BBR Music Group.