“Hi, this is Lauren Alaina from… Lauren Alaina!” Lauren Alaina’s cheerful voice said through the phone.
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Since she first hit the national stage as the runner-up on the tenth season of American Idol in 2011, Alaina has built up a reputation for being a vibrant force of positivity in the world. With her radio-perfection country tracks—augmented by her soulful, expressive vocal cords—she’s also become a fixture on the charts. In 2020 alone, she had a No. 1 hit with Hardy, had one song go Platinum, and had three more songs go Gold.
But that doesn’t mean everything’s been all sunshine and roses—in fact, when the pandemic hit last March, Alaina quickly found out just how much stress and turbulence she had been putting off dealing with for the 10 years since her Idol appearances. A little overwhelmed by it all, she began working on her mental health with a newfound rigor and, before too long, was documenting her experience in songs. Now, the fruit of her labors are coming out—on September 3, she released her third full-length album, Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World, via Mercury Records Nashville.
Hopping on a phone call with American Songwriter, Alaina opened up about her pandemic experience, digging into just how disorienting of a time it was. Throughout the conversation, her cheerfulness endured, even when she spoke about how difficult the circumstance was—to that end, it seemed like a testament to her character. Aware of how lucky she is to have her platform, but also aware of the universal impacts something like a pandemic could have, her words and her music alike embrace a holistic, society-wide sense of healing… which is a mighty powerful thing. Read the conversation below:
American Songwriter: You had quite a 2020—beyond the obvious impacts of the pandemic, you also had a No. 1 hit (“One Beer” with Hardy) and worked on quite a few projects. What was that time like for you?
Lauren Alaina: It was interesting to say the least. I tried to make the best of my time—I made a movie, I wrote an album and I wrote a book. I also got a No. 1, three of my songs went Gold and one went platinum. I think “One Beer” is Gold too and I found out that “What Ifs” is the sixth most-streamed country song of all time. So, that all was pretty good news! Especially considering that the pandemic was the worst news of all time…
More than anything, even though I tried to find ways to stay busy, this was a devastating time. I mean, I really struggled mentally and emotionally. I haven’t stopped in years, you know? To come home and be staring at the wall… I think we all kinda went through a transitional time of not knowing how to feel. But, I worked on these projects to get myself through it and I think what I’m most proud of about them all is that they’re all about healing, and I can’t think of anything the world needs more right now than some healing.
AS: You bring up a good point—by now, the unfolding of the pandemic has become almost normalized in popular thought, but we’re still just beginning to unpack how disruptive of a time it’s been. You talk about how much you struggled, and then how you were able to make sense of that through your songs—do you find your perspective as an artist has changed?
LA: Yeah, I didn’t realize how much of who I am came from being on stage until I couldn’t do it anymore. I would get into this routine on the road where I’d just go through the motions until that one hour of the day, which was my favorite part. When that went away, it was like, ‘Oh… my gosh.’ Outside of my career itself, even, it was just realizing that what we all do on a daily basis can all go away. That gave us all a much greater appreciation for our lives. It really gives you a lot of perspective. I’m so excited for us to get back to some normalcy and safety for everyone. Boy, when we get there, we’re gonna be ready to roll, aren’t we?
AS: What was the role of songwriting during that time? Did having that outlet to pour your thoughts into help ground you?
LA: I honestly hadn’t stopped in 10 years, so staying home really made me look at my life in a completely new way. It was such an emotional time, and I was writing music through the whole thing. I released two EPs last year and after I finished those, my publisher and my manager said the label wants me to also put out a full-length album. I was like, “Well, aren’t two EPs a full-length album?” They were like, “They want more music.” But really, this was a way to continue giving the fans something, and I think my emotions just needed it. I had been through two really public breakups and I don’t think I’ve even fully worked through the impact that’s had on my life. To be able to come home and process everything that had happened—and then to write about it—was really healing for me. I really struggled with depression in this pandemic. I think a lot of us did. I think mental health has become a topic that’s really important and everyone’s embracing that more now.
The album’s called Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World—I wrote the title track when I had been in my house for a while already. It was at the point where you could really only walk around your neighborhood and that was about it. You couldn’t go anywhere. So, the pandemic hit me that day. I think it hit us all at different times. For me, it was that moment… everything came crashing down and I realized the weight of everything that was happening, how devastating it was…. People were losing their lives to a virus we knew nothing about. There was so much uncertainty.
I came back to my house really upset. Before, I was sick of sitting in my house, but I saw what a beautiful home it is… and I felt sad, but then I felt angry that I felt sad. I worked hard for this home and I’m proud of it, but like everyone else, my life went away overnight. So, I wrote “Hittin’ rock bottom/ sitting pretty on top of the world.” It was about how I should be the happiest girl in the world, but instead, I was drowning in depression. I went to a doctor, which helped me start working through it. But once I wrote that title track with Sasha Sloan and Jordan Reynolds, it really changed the direction of the album for me. I made it about a breakup, but it was definitely more about my headspace during all of this. I feel like over the last few years, I have been going through life-altering things—breakups, I lost my stepfather to cancer—just a lot of life-changing events. Throughout it all, I was the happy-go-lucky girl on stage. So, that song represents the last few years of my life, which is why I named the album after it. All the songs represent different things that happened to me, and they all helped me heal and get to the place I am now. Now when I listen to the songs, I celebrate them. Hopefully, other people can hear themselves in the songs and find something healing for them as well.
AS: That’s powerful how you’re able to tie your personal experience into the universal circumstance like that. How does it feel to now be sharing these songs which had such a big impact on you?
LA: I certainly feel like it’s my purpose. When I’m able to create art out of the unfortunate situations in life and then share them, it makes those things make more sense to me. I can get on the other side of them and hopefully share that with someone else, to help them get to the other side too. That’s why I write songs to begin with. When I start them, they’re for my own healing, then I share them with everyone else and they become for everyone. So, it’s absolutely a gift. My life is a gift, and I’m so thankful for that.
Lauren Alaina’s new album Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World is out now—watch the music video for “Getting Over Him” featuring Jon Pardi below: