The country singer grew up in the Mormon church, where she tells PEOPLE she learned it was her job to "protect men's thoughts"
Advertisement

At the beginning of 2020, Abby Anderson had a premonition that something would happen. She didn't sense the pandemic, but she knew her life was about to change. She started the year on tour in Europe, and when COVID-19 forced a global shutdown, Anderson returned to Nashville to sit with her thoughts.

The unexpected downtime was a gift.

"I realized that it was time to part ways with my record label," Anderson, 24, tells PEOPLE. "It was time to finally start listening to my intuition and make music that I truly, truly loved."

Anderson got to work in the recording studio, then released "Bad Posture" and "Insecure" this fall from her forthcoming album. Out now, the video for her raw and vulnerable "Bad Posture" was directed by The 100 actress Eliza Taylor. The clip takes viewers on the journey as an abused woman finds the strength to leave a damaging relationship.

"The day we wrote 'Bad Posture,' I saw all the different music videos we could do for it playing in my head," Anderson says. "Eliza truly brought the message of this song and everything I had felt for the past few years to light and to life. Filming this was healing for me and one of the most freeing experiences of my life."

Abby Anderson
Credit: Alex Berger

Anderson is a doting newlywed who married her husband Tyler Graham in October. The storyline of domestic abuse isn't autobiographical for the Texas native, but she has survived other types of damaging and oppressive relationships. The singer grew up under the strict guidelines of the Mormon church, where she learned it was her responsibility to "protect men's thoughts."

"As a young woman, I was told I was responsible for the way men looked at me," she explains. "It was, 'You've got to cover your shoulders because men might look at your shoulders and want to kiss you.' It was screwed up. I'm not responsible for their thoughts. I'm not responsible for anybody's thoughts."

Growing up, Anderson still felt an immense pressure to conduct herself in a manner that would control how men thought of her. As she got older, that concern expanded to feeling liable for how everyone thought of her.

"The people pleaser in me was uncontrollable," she says. "I couldn't deal with someone being upset with me or even saying no to someone. You put that kind of girl in a record deal, and it's a perfect storm."

RELATED: Kelsea Ballerini Reveals Past Struggle with Eating Disorder: 'It's a Journey, and It's Never-Ending'

Anderson signed her record deal with Nashville's Black River Entertainment when she was 19 years old. Five years later, she recognizes the record label executives didn't know she was unhappy — because she didn't tell them.

"I didn't do a very good job of letting them know, 'Hey, I don't like the song; this isn't me,'" Anderson admits. "And if I did say that, I quickly cowered against their affirmation of, 'No, no, no. This is great. Just trust us.'"

The childhood lessons of responsibility and submission that she learned in church kept her quiet. In an effort to exert control over some part of her life, Anderson developed an eating disorder.

"Metaphorically, I was constantly stuffing down my feelings and then purging them," she says. "I was addicted to that feeling. It was like a 'screw you' to the world."

2020 was the first time Anderson's appearance wasn't scrutinized as a commercial product in three years. She didn't have to be on stage every night, and she allowed herself to relax and reassess her life. Anderson credits her breakthrough to the downtime and a lot of hours spent in therapy.

"I needed 2020 to heal," she says. "As soon as I realized I had to leave my record deal, I swear my eating disorder went away. It was the first time I listened to my intuition and did something for my peace. I had to learn to put my big girl panties on and do what I wanted to do."

She parted ways with Black River Entertainment in the summer of 2020. Anderson was depressed following the split, but channeled her feelings into songwriting. She met her new producer Marshall Altman at a songwriters night, and she credits him with saving her.

"He would make me sit at the piano, and he recorded everything that came out," she says. "We recorded all the songs on the album in two weeks. It was so much fun, and we were so inspired."

"Bad Posture" is about listening to her intuition, unlearning lessons and realizing that she doesn't have to listen to people who make her feel insecure or question her work.

"Insecure," she says, was born at the piano and is a break-up song about leaving her record deal.

"This whole (forthcoming and untitled) album really is about me leaving this record deal," she says. "It really was a break-up, and they were my family. It was hurtful on both sides."

Anderson's 2018 debut song "Make Him Wait" is about celibacy. She still believes the song was authentic to her teenage self, but explains she's grown since then. And, if people expect her to be the same young girl, they're going to be surprised.

"A girl experiences some stuff from 19 to 24," she says. "I hope I'm different. I hope I've changed. I hope when people listen to my music, they feel more joy and feel more confident and feel more love for themselves."

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.