In early February, Ingrid Andress stepped onstage at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for All for the Hall 2020, a benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Alone onstage and seated at her keyboard, she began her debut single, "More Hearts Than Mine."

By the end of the song's first chorus, Andress was hearing the sold-out crowd singing her words back to her. The rising star jokes that she's "pretty sure I blacked out" in the moment.

"That was the most people I've ever played for, ever. And I didn't realize it until I was about to go onstage, and I was just like, 'Oh s--t. I was not prepared for this,'" Andress told The Boot a week later, during the 2020 Country Radio Seminar. "It's really special to me that people still were listening and wanting to sing along ... To me, that is just reassuring, that people still care about the stories and want to feel a real connection."

Ingrid Andress Lady Like
Warner Music Nashville / Atlantic Records

A month and a half later, following the Friday (March 27) release of Andress' debut album, Lady Like, "More Hearts Than Mine" sits at No. 8 on the country radio charts. It's a major win for the singer herself, but also for women in the genre as a whole, as female country artists are faced with dwindling airplay and fighting an uphill battle to be heard.

"I'm shocked," Andress admits of her chart success. "I didn't think -- just with the climate of country music right now, I never thought that it would even be close to being where it is right now."

An accomplished songwriter who has written for and with, among others, Bebe Rexha, Sam Hunt and Alicia Keys, Andress isn't afraid of "diving into that deeper emotional area that we all tend to avoid." She's "terrible" at small talk, she shares, and isn't good at dancing around sensitive topics -- but with "More Hearts Than Mine," she almost did just that.

"I'm like, 'I don't know if I want to write this. This is really deep and really vulnerable,'" Andress recalls of the song's start. To co-writers Sam Ellis and Derrick Southerland, in fact, she suggested writing the idea "where I'm breaking more hearts than his, to where I sat more empowered" -- until Southerland stepped in.

"He was like, 'Can you just be vulnerable for two seconds?' And I'm like, 'Okay, fine,'" Andress recounts. "Which, I'm so glad we did, because it was actually way easier to write the song coming from a real place ... It was emotional, but it felt so real and good."

The stirring, relationship-focused song is one of eight tracks on Lady Like, written by Andress and a variety of co-writers over a three-year timespan. "They're all sad songs," she cautions, though there are certainly moments of levity: In the album's title track, for example, Andress confesses, "Sometimes I forget not to talk 'bout politics when I'm in the middle of me gettin' hit on."

"I mean, that really happened to me ... I thought I was being super-impressive to this guy I was trying to flirt with, and I was just like, 'I'm so educated and informed. How attractive am I?'" Andress remembers, affecting a goofy, extra-feminine voice. "But this guy was just like, 'Yeah, I don't really like talking about that stuff.' I'm like, 'Oh, okay, well, I'm leaving.'"

"Lady Like" is another song for which Andress thought about using cleverness as a defense -- but, she says, she decided, "No, this needs to be about how I feel."

"And then, hopefully, other people can relate to it, because I find that those are the songs that mean the most to me, when I'm just being honest and not being too clever or kitschy. It's like, let's just say it how it is," Andress adds. "And so, that's why that song resonates so much, and I feel like that's why I picked it as the album title, because that just sums me up in general."

"I think, a lot of times, people think, oh, being a woman, if you're going to make it, you have to be tough and whatever. But I think our superpower is from being the emotional beings that we are."

To Andress, there's power to be found in expressing -- truly leaning into, even -- her thoughts and emotions. Being "lady like," she reflects, is about "feel[ing] what [you] feel and not hav[ing] to apologize for it and hav[ing] to feel bad that you feel things so intensely."

"I think, a lot of times, people think, oh, being a woman, if you're going to make it, you have to be tough and whatever. But I think our superpower is from being the emotional beings that we are," she muses. "And that doesn't mean you're like that all the time. Like, a lot of these songs still have a deep emotional core, but it's not like you can't be an idiot and not care about your feelings some days, too."

Harnessing that "superpower" is working out well, it seems.

"There are some dudes who [will tell me], 'I don't usually like listening females, but I like this song,'" Andress shares, "and I'm like, 'Okay, well ... let me give you like six more people to listen to while you're here."

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