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Bailey Bryan walks into Inked NYC only a few hours before the final show of her most recent tour eager to get inked before taking the stage. I introduce myself as the stencil is applied to her right middle finger and notice the Second Skin over a fresh tattoo on her neck.

“Wait, did you already get tattooed?” I ask with befuddlement.

“Yesterday,” she responds, “in Philly.”

“Have you gotten tattooed every day of the tour?” I laugh.

“I like to get spontaneous tattoos on tour,” Bryan says with a mischievous grin. “It makes me feel very rock n’ roll.”

With that I let the tattooer do his job, but the interaction demonstrates the reverence Bryan holds for her career, as well as the spontaneity that has inspired most of her ink. The exact meaning, or lack of meaning, behind each of the tattoos collected on tour is irrelevant; what matters is the reason she’s getting those tattoos in the first place.

“Being on tour is such a special time in your life, especially for me right now,” Bryan says. “I’m opening for people, nobody at these shows knows who I am. It’s a very fun moment in time, spending time in so many cities I’ve never been to. I find myself spending so much time wishing I could bottle up the moment and never forget what it feels like.

“I think that’s why I always want to get tattoos when I’m on tour,” she continues. “It’s something permanent that I can hold on to from a special time.”

So in 20 or 30 years the flames tattooed on her finger will serve as a permanent reminder of her tour with 24kGoldn and Lil Bean that wrapped up at New York’s Gramercy Theater in 2022. The lineup may sound a little odd at first considering the musical mood Bryan has going on, but as those who attended the shows will tell you, it worked.

“It’s just a couple of young rapper dudes and I’m the only girl on the tour,” Bryan laughs. “It’s such a fun vibe. 24k’s music spans plenty of genres, so [people] can be a fan of Lil Bean’s hip-hop, 24k who is all over the board, and then me with my pop-R&B stuff. It’s the perfect audience because it’s people who listen to everything.”

Throughout her career, Bryan has not only listened to everything, she’s played everything, too. Many years before the dreamy pop of “MF,” Bryan was cutting her chops in the songwriting mecca that is Nashville.

Bryan got her break in a most unusual way. When she was growing up in Washington, a family friend moved to Nashville and started a publishing company, then hired Bryan as a songwriter. On the surface, it’s not that unusual. But once you learn that Bryan was 15, the peculiarity of it hits you.

“We had been connected and she heard a couple of my songs and was like, ‘That doesn’t suck for a 15-year-old,’” she laughs. “I started traveling to Nashville to write professionally. I learned a lot and when I was 17 I moved there and started actually releasing music. It’s the only job I’ve ever had… it’s pretty cool. I feel very blessed for that, for sure.”

Photos by Dylan Schattman

Photos by Dylan Schattman

A lot of teenagers have gone through a big Taylor Swift phase, but few have turned it into a lucrative career. Musically, Bryan has moved away from playing country, but the lessons she learned in Nashville have molded her into who she is today—a songwriter.

“It really helped me develop as a songwriter because in Nashville, that’s their thing,” she says. “They’re like, ‘We’re about songs. We’re about the story. We’re about lyricism.’ So it made me be pretty anal about what I actually say in my songs. It’s important to me to be the driving force behind the subject matter.

“I walk into writing rooms in LA and people don’t expect me as the artist to actually have any ideas or direction for my music,” she continues. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re an *air quotes* ‘writer,’ meaning you’re just there to have your name on the song. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no. This is my shit, I’m going to decide what the music is,’ and I credit Nashville for that. If you’re a writer in Nashville, you’re a writer.”

Trusting her instinct and writing her own stuff has worked out pretty well for Bryan so far. Bryan and her team knew she had a hit when she wrote her latest single “MF.” The song was inspired by a recent breakup that left her with a wounded ego. “I’m not a vengeful person at all,” she says. “I’ve never even cussed out anybody in real life. What I try to do is put that angry energy into a song. I’m not going to give the dude who broke my heart any of [my energy], I’m going to put that energy into something that might make me some money.”

The track was solid already, but if they could find the perfect artist to serve as a counterbalance to Bryan, it would be fire. Finding a feature was a new experience for Bryan, so she presented her team with a wish list of potential features.

“Everybody on the list said no, including 24kGoldn,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Totally fair, I get it, let’s move on.’ Then a few weeks later we got a verse from him. My team sent him the stems and he recorded a verse, but they didn’t tell me anything until I hopped on a Zoom call with them and they just started playing ‘MF.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard the song, what’s going on? Then the second verse came and his voice came on, like, ‘Surprise! He took back his no!’”

The success of the track led to them going on tour together, which led to Bryan walking into Inked NYC to get tattooed, which brings us back to the beginning and the fresh tattoo on her neck. The tattoo is a couple of inches of fine line script reading “Sweet Girl.”

“It’s in my mom’s handwriting,” she shares. “She wrote me a note one time and I was like, ‘That’s adorable.’ She’s gonna regret it because it turned into a neck tattoo. She’ll be like, ‘I’m never going to write you a sweet note ever again.’”

“You got a spontaneous tattoo on the neck,” I observe. “That’s a pretty bold move.”

“If you’re gonna get one, just get one,” she says. “They all mean something, but they’re usually pretty last minute. Getting a tattoo is like jumping into cold water, don’t think about it, just get in.”

Bailey Bryan is right. There’s something undeniably rock n’ roll about getting tattooed on a whim and memorializing a fleeting moment in time for the rest of your days. Maybe someday she’ll write a song about it.