Last Friday, Bailey Bryan celebrated a birthday. Not really, but at this point, who’s to say? “I just woke up and I'm like, ‘oh shit, it's release day,’” she tells me over Zoom, just over 12 hours removed from sharing her newest collection of music, Sensitive Bad Bitch Music Vol. 1. “Release days, especially for a project since the whole EP is out today, feel kind of like my birthday. I never know what to do on my birthday either. It's like, ‘oh, I guess I should post about it.’ I don't know.” For Bryan, release day and her birthday have become nearly interchangeable: to celebrate turning 25, she released a single, played a show, and reveled in the multiplicity of the event. Today, she’s taking pleasure in fans hearing songs she’s lived with for over a year.
The tracks featured on Sensitive Bad Bitch Music Vol. 1 embrace the duality and conflict the title holds. Opening tracks “Passion” and “Upside Down” are highly-caffeinated, pop-fueled jams with spinning grooves; ruminations on the varieties of separation take the form of the self (“RIP”) and interpersonal (“Tragic”); instant sing-along and ode to discrete intimacy “IYKYK” is an earworm that burrows. Even in their differences, every song is the same in that they are all sensitive bad bitch music, a category Bryan has been living in since her 2021 EP Fresh Start. “Everything I've released so far has been me learning how to make the music that I'm making now, and it feels really authentic and exactly where I'm at in my journey,” shares Bryan. “Will my next project sound exactly like this? Knowing me, definitely not. But I do feel like I've kind of reached a more confident, secure place in my sound and more of like, ‘okay, yeah, this is Bailey Bryan making sensitive bad bitch music,’ and anything you hear from me from now on will just be a more honed in version of what you're hearing on this project.”
If the term “sensitive bad bitch” isn’t descriptive enough for you, Bryan is happy to oblige in providing more of a definition. If you’re seeking the most entertaining explanation, consult @sbbclub on Instagram, the community’s official social media correspondence including a hotline, criteria list, and occasional updates from the leader herself, Bailey Bryan. To allow the least amount of misinterpretation, a written statement for clarity: “‘sensitive bad bitch’ means allowing yourself to be vulnerable and owning all the hard feelings and heartbreak, but not letting those feelings stop you from learning and re-learning your worth as you go through life. I’m someone who struggles with anxiety and doesn’t always love what I see when I look in the mirror, but I’ve slowly realized that my weaknesses shouldn’t keep me from having fun and feeling sexy and everything else we associate with the bad-bitch persona. It’s about holding space for my humanness, and for everyone else’s humanness too.” Her concept of a SBB is well-rounded in most part because it was hard-learned. In the past, Bryan felt her emotionality detracted from the confidence she strived for. It wasn’t until she realized that the confidence she was seeing in other women was actually just authenticity that she began to embrace her swaying emotions. “I'm such a fucking cry baby. It's ridiculous. I used to think that because of that…I can never really identify as a bad bitch, you know. Somewhere along the way I learned that that's not true. If you're able to be real and be vulnerable, that's the most bad bitch, badass thing that you can do, and I just wanted to share that realization with people through my music.”
Bryan wears her self-proclaimed title not only for what it means to her today, but also in a sort of defiance of the labels placed on her music when she began her career. At just 17 years old, Bryan moved to Nashville from her small hometown in Washington to better position herself as a songwriter. Without much of an established sound or style when she arrived on the scene, her talent conformed to country standards, even though it didn’t exactly fit her image. “That was my biggest hurdle in country music…everyone's like, ‘you're not country enough to call your music country,’” she admits. “I'm like, ‘what are you gonna call this? Pop? Like it's got a banjo in it, what are you talking about? And listen to the lyrics. That's country.’ But I wasn't raised in the south. I wasn't even really raised on country music in its wholeness. I didn't care if people called it country or not.” Her first project, 2017’s So Far, is 18 minutes of exceptional country music, true to the ethos of the genre. In spite of her success in the space, Bryan felt pulled to write more pop-influenced music, music that more closely aligned with the sounds she heard most often growing up. Having an eclectic palette empowered her to express herself in different ways, all while maintaining the same genesis. “Some people might listen to ‘Upside Down’ off the new project and think, ‘oh, this is a rock song,’” Bryan explains, acutely aware of the perceptions that could surround SBBMV1’s dynamism. “Other people might hear it and be like, ‘oh, she's rapping in the pre-chorus.’ Like, I don't care what you think. Do you like it? Does what I'm saying resonate with you? That's really all that matters to me and once I started leaning into that and calling it sensitive bad bitch music, that's when I felt like I was really coming into my own as an artist. I still have a long way to go with that too.”
The process of self-discovery follows a non-linear development pattern, full of stagnation and setbacks meant to discourage a clear sense of identity. For Bryan to arrive at a place where she can accept herself as both sensitive and magnetic, she had to go through heartbreak. Not the kind of heartbreak you hear about in country songs, either. While transitioning from Nashville to Los Angeles, Bryan was dropped from her record label. Just as she felt ready to make the most honest music of her career, she had lost her support system. Being a good sport, Bryan describes the situation as “the best label breakup anyone could have had. All the vibes were good. It was the right thing.” Regardless of the terms, Bryan was still in a vulnerable position just as she was taking ownership of her music. She was anxious to release the SBBMV1 single “RIP” and “IYKYK”, and continued writing through the industry-purgatory she had found herself in.
Born out of that period was “Credits,” the closing track on SBBMV1 that punctuates the project in the most appropriate style. With a bitingly bitter first verse that devolves into a harmonious and sentimental delivery, it’s a closured kiss-off that declares her the victor of the break-up at hand. Written with breadth and ambiguity, her goodbye to her past record label strikes the same cord as walking away from a long-time romance. An intentional writing approach, its effectiveness was aided by the emotional proximity of Bryan’s heartbreak to these two scenarios. “I was feeling all of the same sort of feelings I feel when I'm processing an actual breakup. I was signed to 300 longer than I have been in any actual relationship in my life, and I had real relationships with the people that worked there,” she says, confessing the subject made her emotional even in reminiscence. While she’s grateful for the time spent together, “I didn't see it going this way. I still see myself winning in the future…but I saw myself winning with them. The same way you see your whole future with someone when you're dating them. You can break up with someone and know it's right and know that your futures as individuals are still big and bright and beautiful, but have a moment where you sit back and be like, ‘It's not gonna be what I thought it was.’” As she detailed this all-too-relatable sentiment to me over our call, I started to become emotional as well. I was quickly reminded by Bryan that that’s only one side of the coin. “I guess that's the sensitive side of it. And then the bad bitch side of it, that's like feeling all of those feelings and feeling that hurt, but knowing 100% that you're gonna be okay. The most important thing is that I believe in myself.”
On the release day of SBBMV1, Bailey Bryan seems to be right where she wants to be, personally, professionally, musically. Her self-effacing personality was on full display during our conversation, just as glowing as it appears on her sporadically-entertaining TikTok account. She’s surrounded by a team that is not overwhelmed by her impulsive ideas, but instead helps craft her visions into reality. Her time in Nashville has provided her with the technical skills to allow her writing to flow effortlessly into the fluid category of sensitive bad bitch music. Relocating to LA has indulged her “follow the vibe” creative process, resulting in the most freeing project she has shared to this point. “It's just like, we're making a great fucking pop song,” Bryan says of the more one-dimensional approach LA has offered her. “What do you wanna say? That's weird; go ahead, say it on the mic,” she mocks, perhaps giving an inside track to the studio conversations that led to the songs that make up SBBMV1. Whether you’re looking for poolside pleasure, in-the-mirror recitations, windows-down cruising, or break-up posturing, Bailey Bryan will soundtrack it. She’s been there before and she continues to live it now, as unapologetic as she knows how.