The singer puts poignant home movies from her childhood to dramatic use in the music video for "Escape," a heartbreaking ballad from her acclaimed confessional album

By Nancy Kruh
February 11, 2020 12:30 PM
Advertisement

Kalie Shorr says she’s “not a crier — at all,” but how could she possibly hold back the tears when she shot her new music video for her profoundly personal song “Escape”?

“It was just a very intimate, vulnerable moment,” the 25-year-old singer tells PEOPLE, thinking back to when she sat before the cameras and wept as she bared her life in her lyrics. “It felt like I was ripping off a Band-Aid, in a good way, in a bad way.” She quickly amends herself: “Maybe not even a bad way. I mean, everything’s so complicated.”

And yet, she knows, everything used to be so not complicated — which is perhaps the most heart-rending aspect of the video that PEOPLE is debuting. In the music video, Shorr has juxtaposed her piercing performance with home movies from her own childhood. The snippets show an impossibly adorable little girl — getting her first bike, blowing out birthday candles, stuffing her face with blueberries — that perfectly portray a child’s innocence.

Kalie Shorr
| Credit: Scott Lukes

All the while, the grown-up Shorr sings of that innocence lost. The adult knows what that little girl doesn’t: that her family home would burn to the ground before she turned 10, that her sense of security would be further rocked by family members’ alcohol and drug abuse, and most painfully, that her beloved older sister, Ashley, would die from an accidental heroin overdose.

Shorr thought the home movies themselves were lost, as well — just one more casualty of the fire — but, incredibly, her father recently happened upon a cache of tapes at her grandmother’s house.

Sitting down to watch them, Shorr says, was initially just “really weird. I was getting to see me as a kid for the first time since I saw it in the mirror.” The novelty, though, soon gave way to deeper emotion. “It was really powerful and really sad,” she says.

No doubt the hardest part was seeing her sister, who was 13 years older and in her late teens in the videos. “Those were times,” says Shorr, “when it was good” — years before Ashley was in and out of prison on drug-related convictions. She died, at age 37, in January 2019.

Kalie Shorr
| Credit: Catherine Powell

In the music video, Ashley makes several poignant big-sister cameos, helping Shorr open a present, sharing a karaoke mic, planting a kiss on the little girl’s cheek.

As the idea for the music video came together, Shorr says she and her father both decided Ashley’s inclusion was essential. “That’s been my whole thing about being open about her overdose and her addiction,” she says. “I have an opportunity to show people who might have judgment in their hearts that this is a very real human being. There was a very real, very kind, very loving person there.”

“Escape” is just one of 13 songs that Shorr co-wrote on her acclaimed 2019 album, Open Book, a bracing journey into the fresh wounds caused by twin traumas, her sister’s death and the brutish end to a six-year relationship. Shorr co-wrote most of the songs in early 2019 simply as an emotional release, but the album has been hailed by critics as a tour de force.

Kalie Shorr’s Open Book
| Credit: Catherine Powell

Shorr says the self-exposure has been, at times, an uncomfortable adjustment. “Putting out something that is just the core of who I am, I’ve definitely gone in and out of feeling ashamed,” she says. “But to have people like it and embrace it on such a big level, that’s not just really accepting and liking my music; it’s acceptance of me — because the album is me — and that’s validating on the deepest level. It’s emotional, for sure.”

The reception also has put Shorr’s career on a higher plane. She is currently in the midst of her first headlining tour. Attention from the album also has drawn interest in her dramatic skills, and she has recently signed with an acting agent. “I’ve been auditioning like crazy, which is wild,” Shorr says. The work, she adds, is mostly for movies.

Kalie Shorr
| Credit: Catherine Powell

By far the most electric moment in Shorr’s new chapter arrived on New Year’s Eve when she joined Keith Urban’s all-star concert lineup, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stevie Nicks, to ring in Nashville’s new year. Shorr took the stage at the city’s Bicentennial Park, performing her set in the early evening before a crowd of about 100,000.

“It was such a poetic ending to the worst year of my life,” she says. “Getting to end my year playing these songs, it just hits different and gives me a new-found confidence in these songs. And, you know, Stevie Nicks was there. I got to ring in 2020 with Stevie Nicks on stage next to me. I still haven’t fully processed it. I literally am going to need my therapist to help me process that!”