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Are divorce albums the new trend? Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, and Kelsea Ballerini Redefine Heartbreak in Music

Divorce albums are distinct from other albums. Divorce songs and albums have a rawness or immediacy to them; their sound is often “I am hurting right now, and this is how I am dealing with it” or the survival mode resolve of “I am done with you.”

With a clear rise in songs and albums about divorce, the country music tea has been hot. Fans are more invested than ever before, and vulnerability is at an all-time high, with artists on both sides of the relationship.

Country music has no shortage of break-up anthems and farewell ballads, but Kelsea Ballerini, Carly Pearce, and Kacey Musgraves took things to the next level by releasing full albums about their divorces and leaving no details out.

When the 2024 Grammy nominations were announced, it was clear that women outnumbered men in the major categories. With acclaimed albums that mine all corners of the human experience, the leading artists—superstars like SZA, Taylor Swift, and Olivia Rodrigo—demonstrate an incredible diversity of skill.

Divorce is one such corner. Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, and Kelsea Ballerini’s new releases reimagine the divorce album in all its complexities.

While the music industry has long been obsessed with youth, the fact that these musicians are all women in their 30s and 40s may have something to do with their confidence and rich, emotional maturity. 

Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson and Kelsea Ballerini
Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson and Kelsea Ballerini.

Relationship stories with the weight and wisdom of age register as new in a culture where relatability is currency. Where does that leave the rest of us if all pop stars are teenagers? Perhaps the depth of a breakup ballad is felt more acutely when the split is publicized in tabloid headlines—and there is a lot more to lose.

One of AP’s picks for the best songs of 2023, Cyrus’ Malleable Pop “Flowers,” is a pep talk-turned-empowerment banger about a woman rediscovering herself after a decade-long relationship ends in divorce. She has been nominated for five awards, including Album of the Year for “Endless Summer Vacation.”

Then there is Clarkson’s “Chemistry,” a big-belter release described as a “relationship album” and nominated for best pop vocal album. And in the world of country music, where women have long performed songs about divorce and domesticity, Ballerini’s “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat” is nominated for best album.

These records vary greatly but share a common emotional core: they were written while dealing with broken marriages. Cyrus divorced actor Liam Hemsworth in 2020, and Kelly Clarkson divorced Brandon Blackstock. Ballerini and her husband, Morgan Evans divorced two years later. 

Those musical endings opened up new possibilities. Clarkson sought out brave ballads that stretched her elastic vocal range, Ballerini dabbled in pop production, and Cyrus wielded her weathered voice like a weapon.

Their albums emerged from difficult times in which each performer was redefining herself.

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