Brooke Eden is finally living her truth.
Once the country singer arrived on the scene in 2014 with the independent release of her self-titled debut EP, she was quickly signed to a label and began building a career that most people only get to dream of. But becoming a star in the traditionally conservative genre meant that Eden had to keep a big part of her life under wraps: Her relationship with the love of her life, Hilary Hoover.
As anyone who's ever lived life in the closet can tell you, though, there's only so much hiding any one person can take.
And so, after some time away from the scene, Eden returned in 2021, out of the closet and ready to release her most authentic music yet. Across the trilogy of sun-drenched country-pop bops "No Shade," "Sunroof," and "Got No Choice," she traces her story of self-acceptance through to its happy ending. Adorably, Hoover co-stars with her in the accompanying music videos.
In honor of Eden's first Pride month out of the closet, which she and Hoover kicked off by announcing their engagement, E! News spoke with the singer about her journey to living free, her hopes for the country genre, and her message for closeted queer fans out there. Read on for our full conversation!
E! News: Before we get into the music, I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind opening up a little bit about your journey to this point. I'm curious what it's like to sort of be on the path of accepting yourself, as all of us in the LGBTQ community do, while you're starting a career in music. Can you tell me a little bit about what that road was like to get here?
Brooke Eden: Well, the first time that I went on radio tour, which was about five years ago, I had met Hilary, my love, the very first week. So the very first week that I was setting out on this career path that I had been working for my whole life just so happened to be the exact time that I met Hillary. So first time I went around and did radio tour and was doing interviews, it was just terrible. It was so hard because, you know, I was discouraged from talking about our relationship and I'm basically all or nothing kind of person. I'm an open book or I'm a robot—and I have no in between. So I was a robot out on this tour. I had to watch my pronouns all the time. And it was just a really hard way to live.
About two and a half years into that cycle of music, I started getting really, really sick and almost passing out on stage. Basically, my body was shutting down on me because of the external pressures in my life. It was just coming through my body. And when a doctor tells you, "Hey, you need to get off the road so that you can heal your body, otherwise you have a high possibility of not making it to next year," there's a pretty big wake up call. Your mental health is your health and me not being true to myself was having effects on not only my mental and emotional health, but also my physical health.
I knew that if I ever wanted to put out music again, that I would have to do it being my full self and being completely authentic. So I just completely got off the road and started writing music that I wanted to write. My record label got bought out by BMG, and BMG is just this amazing record label that is so inclusive and is so much about love and acceptance.
They really encouraged me to be myself, and be myself as an artist and as a human. And that really allowed me to write this music and also, you know, go on this full journey of self-love and self-acceptance. I just knew that this time around, when I was putting out this music, I knew that it was time to be me and also a time to just have some visibility in this genre that has been so unrepresented for the LGBTQ+ community.
E! News: I don't want to focus too much on it, but I'm curious. Before BMG bought out the label and you were sort of feeling like you had to keep yourself and a lot of your life compartmentalized, what were you hearing from the powerful people in the room with you? How it was expressed to you that forced you into that feeling?
BE: Well, they basically told me, "You keep your relationship quiet or you're not going to make it in this industry." I mean, it was definitely not subtle. It was very: "Don't post anything on social media together. Don't talk about her. Don't be out in public together." I mean, it was that intense.
E! News: Aside from the havoc it wreaked on your health, did it take a toll on your relationship? I imagine that would be hard to navigate a new love while you're having to keep it so careful.
BE: Of course. I mean, in the beginning it was very much us against the world mentality. We were so happy in our bubble and just tried really hard not to let it affect us because we were just so happy when it was just us and our close friends. But eventually it did end up taking a toll because it was just kind of like, when is this ever going to be okay? And Hilary was already out when I met her. So I pretty much put her back into the closet. And then she's hearing every day that she's quote-unquote ruining my career. That definitely ends up taking a negative impact on your relationship just because you love that person so much and you want the best for their life, you know?
So we had a lot of holding each other in each other's arms sobbing moments where we're like, "Are we ruining each other's lives?" And basically every single time that we just got to that point of what do we do, we knew that we couldn't do life without each other. So we just kept going. We just kept moving forward. It's definitely been a long journey, but gosh, it's so worth it. And I'm so happy that we were able to just love each other through it.
E! News: I imagine trying to create art through the hyper-compartmentalization that is required when you're living in the closet is difficult. I know that from experience so I can imagine it's the same for you. So I'm curious how creating this music now that is so open and honest and authentic to your story feels different to how it was when you were trying to really keep everything separate.
BE: I mean, everything is different. It's completely opened my world. And that definitely comes through in the writing room. I mean, there's just no more walls that are up. There's no more armor that I had to put on in these writing rooms. It's just, like, everyone knows my story now. And everyone is very loving and accepting of my story and it just makes for so much better creativity and so much better art because there's no boundaries anymore. There's no walls and there's no more masks and that has completely changed every facet of my life, but definitely writing songs and creating this music.
E! News: Talk to me about working on the music videos with Hilary. Was it difficult to get her to want to be a part of them? And how much fun was it actually getting to collaborate on the projects with her?
BE: Well, our creative director is Ford Fairchild and he's also our best friend, so we spent many nights in our backyard over the bonfire, just talking about what we wanted to do and what we wanted this creative direction to look like. And I just knew that Hilary had to be a part of these videos. So when I talked to her about it at first, I was like, "Honey, you know, I really want you to be in these videos." And she's like, "Whew. You know, that's just really not my cup of tea. That is not my comfort zone at all." And I was like, "All right, I guess I'm just going to have to hire someone who looks like you to act as you." And she just looked at me and goes, "Yep, I'll do it. I'll do it."
So it was a really short conversation, but, man, Ford Fairchild, he did such a good job of just making us feel like we were in our backyard, making us feel very comfortable. And it turns out Hil is just a complete natural in front of the camera. So all of those nerves and all that discomfort for so long, it had no space. It had no reality. She was awesome and great at it. It was just so much fun to film these videos in these beautiful locations. "No Shade" and "Sunroof" in my hometown, and then we filmed "Got No Choice" at Glen Lake in Michigan. That was a new place for both of us, and it was just so incredibly beautiful.
E! News: That's so fun. The videos made me really need a vacation. Now that all three of them are out, what has the response been like both from people in the industry and also from fans?
BE: Well, I mean, honestly, like I said before, I'm such an open book. That's the natural me and it was really hard in the industry because so many people knew. I mean, it's hard to be around Hil and I, and not know that we're together but it was just this very weird elephant in the room. Like, are we allowed to talk about this? Are we not allowed to talk about this? But just being able to be ourselves in a room and for them to know we're completely out and they can have a conversation with us and there's no walking on eggshells to see if this is allowed to be talked about or not, that has just completely freed up our world and our energy. It's been so wonderful and everyone's been so sweet to us. I mean, even the cowboy-est of cowboys have been so wonderful to us.
And the fans, that's just been the most rewarding part of this whole entire experience, just getting messages from people, thanking us for the visibility. Messages from parents of LGBTQ+ youth saying, "Hey, my daughter came out to me today because she saw your music video." I mean, we literally are in tears every single day. Happy tears every single day. Just looking at the impact that music can have on people, and that a little bit of visibility in this space can have on people's lives, it's so beautiful. And I just really hope that this is just the beginning. I hope that the more and more visibility that is shown, especially in the country music genre, the more people who maybe have never met a member of the LGBTQ+ community—or don't think that they have—can actually just see, oh wow. Their love looks a lot like ours, you know? And I just hope this is just the beginning of that visibility and opening of hearts and minds.
E! News: I love that. I saw that you played at the Opry recently. What was it like to perform these songs in that legendary venue? Because I imagine it was pretty special.
BE: Yeah. I mean, I've played a lot of times, but this is the first time that I've been able to play when I was completely out and completely singing the songs that I love so much. And it just felt so freeing. It just felt so right. And it's so wild because, actually, the Opry piano player came up to me after the show. And, you know, I've played there probably 15 to 20 times and he's always played with me. And he came up to me after the show and he was like, "Brooke, I don't know what it was about tonight, but you just felt so in your element and it's the best that I've ever seen you play."
And I just wanted to be like, "Oh, you have no idea what I've been through. And just how much has changed since the last time I played here." So it's just wild that people that don't know the whole story can't even put their finger on what's changed. It's just like the lights turning on, you know? It's just so cool to see other people realizing that something's changed.
E! News: That's great. How are you feeling about celebrating your first Pride in such an open way? What does it mean to you this year?
BE: We went to Pride in 2019, Hilary and I together, in Nashville. It was just her and I. We just kind of walked around and did our thing, but to be able to be a part of these Pride festivals and be a part of something that is so important for our community and just being able to celebrate openly and be able to just be proud of the journey that we've taken together and how far we've come, that's really gonna be a special part of this June.
E! News: I'm curious who are some of the LGBTQ icons that you've looked up to as you've gone through this journey, whose whose own journeys you've used as sources of inspiration or to get you through, if there are any.
BE: Lady Gaga was always huge for me. Just her whole, We're monsters, we're doing this together. And "Born This Way," I remember when that song came out and it was just like, wow, this is such an anthem. Also Garth Brooks in country music, he wrote this song back in the '90s called "We Shall Be Free." And it basically says we shall be free when all of us can be free, we can all love who we want to love. He said that back in the '90s and I've just always looked up to him. He's such a legend in this genre of music, but he's also never been afraid to talk about the real social issues that are happening currently. He's always fought for that. I just think that that's really important and something that I've always looked up to him for.
E! News: I'm curious what your message would be to young queer country fans out there, or music fans in general, who are maybe living in secret right now, too. What would you want to tell them?
BE: I would just want to tell them that they're not alone. I hope that they start feeling more seen because I'm watching. I live in Nashville and I'm watching this industry, this genre change, and this genre is just becoming more and more progressive and more and more inclusive. And I want them to know that there's always a safe place at my concerts and that there's a world that is opening up for them. And no matter where they are in their journey, there's always another side. I know that sometimes it can feel so dark, but I promise that there's another side.
"No Shade," "Sunroof," and "Got No Choice" are available now.
(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)