Gabby Barrett on Newlywed Bliss, Country Stardom at 20, and How Charlie Puth Gave Her a Pop Crossover Push

Barrett, newly nominated for the CMA Awards, gives an exclusive performance of "The Good Ones" for Variety and tells how both it and "I Hope" reflect her contrary experiences with romance.

i hope country Gabby Barrett sings

Gabby Barrett is having a lot of twin successes right now. Her second single, “The Good Ones,” is rising up the country charts, even as her previous one, “I Hope,” which was a No. 1 smash at country, is now finding a second life as a pop crossover hit via a Charlie Puth remix. She was just nominated Tuesday for two CMA Awards, for best new artist and single of the year. And the awards shows that want to honor her have doubled up, too — she’s nominated and will be performing at the ACM Awards on Sept. 16, prior to making another splash at the CMAs.

These accolades follow Variety‘s own honor for her, in which Barrett was celebrated as one of 50 notable up-and-comers in our annual Power of Young Hollywood issue. Barrett — who was once best known as an “American Idol” alumnus, before “I Hope” eclipsed all that — filmed an exclusive performance of “The Good Ones” for Variety‘s Facebook special tied to the print issue. (Watch the video, below.) Subsequently, she spoke with us about how Puth slid into her mentions (or her DMs, technically), and how the new song represents a more timely snapshot of her current newlywed status.

VARIETY: Is it safe to say that “The Good Ones” is a personal one for you?

BARRETT: After working on “I Hope” and everything that it talks about, in thinking about what I wanted to write next, I thought back to when my husband [Cade Foehner] and I were dating during “American Idol,” because we were up the same season in 2018. A lot of my family would ask me, “Oh, how’s your boyfriend doing?” And I’d be like, “Oh, he’s a good one. He’s a keeper.” And that just stuck with me, because I had heard other females say that to people in the past. And so I was like, “You know what? I need to write a song about the good ones, because with ‘I Hope,’ I don’t want to give this false hope that I’m just telling people, ‘Never get in a relationship. Everything stinks, don’t ever trust anybody.’ Because that’s not the case. And so “I Hope” gives you a taste of my past, and “The Good Ones” is like a taste of my present, as you’re getting to know me through my music.

With “I Hope” being first out there, anyone who’s coming to your album expecting a whole album of vengeance songs is going to be a disappointed. But you must pleased to have back-to-back singles that have the breadth of showing two completely different sides, including one now that’s not so feisty.

Yes. I think it was very cool to be able to release a song like “I Hope” that’s more of a vengeful-feeling song, and then a song that’s a 360 flip. But it’s just kind of showcasing the message of what’s genuine and what’s true. “I Hope” was written from the standpoint of actual life things that happened for me in high school. And “The Good Ones” is actual life for me as well. I always try to write from a genuine standpoint. It’s really awesome to be able to make an album that has so much variety on it in this generation, because genres aren’t even almost genres anymore. Everything’s kind of bleeding together. It’s pretty cool and exciting, because I’m able to add so many different layers and sounds and things throughout the album, because I was in influenced by so many of them when I was growing up. You’ll hear everything that kind of influences me through my music.

You may be just a little past the honeymoon phase now, but this part of your young married life has to be a lot different than you expected, in any case, because of the pandemic. You expected to be out on tour, albeit with your husband with you in your band, and  instead you’re with your husband at home. Does that have any impact, when there’s a little less business and flurry and moving around going on, on how’s this early stage of marriage is working out?

Hopefully the honeymoon phase for me will last past a year. We’re coming up on a year of being married, and it’s een absolutely wonderful. Actually, the quarantine has brought us together even more, I would say. Before, a lot of it was about music and focusing on “Hey, I gotta go here and gotta fly here.” You know, even when you’re eating together, that’s what was always brought up. Now that things have calmed down a bit, you really can have personal conversations and learn things about them that you still didn’t know.

“The Good Ones” is your focus right now but the story of “I Hope” is still not over, commercially. It’s still going gangbusters at pop and AC radio after conquering country. How did the Charlie-infused version of that that’s playing on pop formats come about?

The “I Hope” remix featuring Charlie Puth came about because during the first month, I think, when quarantine kind of kicked in, he had posted “I Hope” on his Instagram story and tagged me in it, and he said, “wow,” or something like that. And I was going through my direct messages, answering back fans, and I saw his verified check and clicked on it. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this really is Charlie Puth.” My sister and I were huge fans of him and his music in high school. And he had messaged me and was just like, “Oh my gosh, this song is killer. I haven’t heard a song like this in years. Is there any way that I could remix this song?” Like, “I have to remix this song.” And I was like, “Uuuhhhh, yes.” What I thought he meant by remix was… you know, he has a very producer-type mind. He does a lot of (remix-type) stuff with his own music. So I was like, “Okay, he’s going to make a club remix to the song.” And he sends me a message a couple of days later and he’s like, “Hey, check this out. Let me know what you think.” And I click it and I’m listening to it and I’m like, “Okay, this sounds about the same.” And then I get to the second verse and his vocals are on the song! And I was like, “Oh my gosh, you meant sing on the song – even better.” So our teams got together and now we have a new version of the song, which reaches an even broader audience of people. It’s been doing really good at pop radio, so it’s been amazing. I’m just so thankful for how many people are enjoying the song and how it’s still going and breaking records and climbing up charts and all of that, after being out for over a year and a half.

In terms of the in-home performances that people are getting to see you do — like this one you just did of “The Good Ones” for Variety‘s special — surely your fans enjoy seeing these kinds of intimate performances, but maybe you have to scale them differently, singing directly to a camera with an acoustic guitar, rather than trying to reach the back row in a really enthusiastic hall. Has there been an adjustment in your performances? Do you think of it as a tradeoff as far as something good that comes from like being able to reach people with these little acoustic sets?

Yeah. I think acoustic performances and full, live performances are always cool in different ways. Full live performances are always my favorites, and I think a lot of people’s favorites too, just because you can feel the energy off the crowd and there’s so much more interaction, and just everything overall is just like very hype. But there’s also something really cool about doing the acoustic things, where it’s very stripped and it’s just your vocal and a guitar and very natural and nothing  can hide around your vocal.  I mean, my husband plays the guitar for me, and so we do those together, so that’s even better. I’m very excited, though, to get back on the road after everything settles with the quarantine.  I’m viewing it as a plus right now, after releasing an album in June, that people are just having more time to learn the lyrics, so that when we end up performing the songs for real for the first time, people will know the lyrics and be able to sing along, because it’s always all the more when people know the lyrics to your songs and sing them back to you, it just makes everything worth it. So there’s definitely a difference in performances right now. They have to be a more toned down with acoustics. But I also did a livestream with full band for a special occasion when the album was first released. So you’ll see a mix of that until we are back on the road again.

You were part of Variety‘s “Power of Young Hollywood” issue. It’s funny, because the cutoff we impose for the entertainers we include in that is 25, and sometimes it’s very down to the wire as we’re making selections, with people who are turning 25 right around the issue date, and we’re making sure they still qualify. We didn’t have to worry about that with you — you’ve still got like five years. Thinking about your age, at 20, from a record company, you’re ideal because you still have that many more years ahead of you for them to take advantage of, yet you’re already seasoned and ready to be doing what you’re doing, in a way few 20-year-olds could be. On your album, you have a song that refers to people thinking maybe you’re too young for something, which refers to getting married but could also be about having such a big career so early. Do you have any self-consciousness of your age, like, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m really young to be doing all this?” Or does it just seem like such a matter of course after how long you’ve actually been at it?

No, I wouldn’t say I’m self-conscious about it. I’m more amazed  just feel very blessed to be at this age and have everything that’s happening. You know, it’s not something that I was thrown into last year. It’s something that I have diligently been working at since the age of 11. I have been touring since I was 11, so I’ve been doing it for nine years. And so I think because I got such an early head start on things, (people are)  like, “You’ve been doing it for nine years and you’re almost 20? That’s normally when just people start to come out of their shell.” I’m just very thankful that I have a lot of years ahead of me and a lot of time to be able to work on things, even as they are already starting to pick up now.

As far as marriage goes, I think there’s always a lot of stereotypes. Somehow, we’ve come up with the stereotype that people should (wait to) get married when they’re 26, 27. I don’t even know where that number came from, when I have my aunt and uncle who’ve been married for 60 years, and they got married when they were 15 or 16. People are always going to have opinions, but my husband and I knew that it was right for us at our ages and what we’re doing. And so we just feel like the Lord’s really guiding us with everything that we’re doing and we just feel very thankful.