Kelleigh Bannen Highlights 'Empowered Female Perspectives' in 'Faith In You' Music Video Starring Boxer Heather Hardy
Kelleigh Bannen’s latest release is full of inspiration.
In the new music video of her single “Faith In You,” which is premiering exclusively on PEOPLE, the singer showcases the moving story of women’s boxing champion Heather Hardy.
“One thing that is really important to me is showing empowered female perspectives,” Bannen, 38, tells PEOPLE. “Hopefully I do that in my writing and in my music, but when the director suggested the idea of the video featuring another empowered female story, I was really excited. I felt like it was a really amazing opportunity to expand what the song means — surviving and tenacity.”
Hardy is a perfect example of someone with tenacity. The 33-year-old divorced single mother first began taking kickboxing classes after having her daughter to get back in shape. Within three weeks of training, she won her first kickboxing match. Now, Hardy holds the World Boxing Organization’s female featherweight title and hasn’t stopped fighting to get women’s boxing the visibility it deserves.
“I started reading about her and following her on Instagram,” Bannen says of Hardy. “She had a huge fight that was coming up at [New York City’s] Madison Square Garden in June that she was training for, and her story is just really inspiring. She is a bit of a trailblazer in the boxing and mixed martial arts world and I loved that and connected with that kind of a story. She’s self-made and a single mom — I’m not a mother, but I’m so inspired by what it takes to keep all those balls in the air.”
Though the music video follows Hardy as she navigates life from being home with her daughter in Brooklyn to her professional fights, Bannen says she didn’t get a chance to step into the ring with her.
“Honestly she probably could kick my ass,” she says with a laugh. “Which would’ve been really fun. We actually taped the scenes separately, but we’ve corresponded a bit. I wish I could’ve been there.”
At the root of it, Bannen says “Faith In You” is about having a support system through all of the good times and bad.
“I think whenever you’re chasing a dream or a passion like the music industry, you do sacrifice a lot of things onto that altar,” she says. “It’s almost about the ‘who’ more than the ‘what,’ if that makes sense. There have been seasons where I have given up everything to do this music thing but at the end of the day, it’s my husband and my parents and my friends who are there cheering me on and are my really solid foundation. When it’s going great and when it’s not.”
Bannen says that “Faith In You” also gives fans a “good taste” of what they can expect from her upcoming album, Favorite Colors, out on Oct. 11. The new album follows Bannen’s three-song EP, The Joneses.
“One of my favorite things to do lyrically is just be colorful and say truthful things, but try to say them in new ways because I think sometimes you connect to the truth differently depending on how it’s laid out for you,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of that [on the album]. I put a really high value on the lyrical component of the songs and try to tell stories that matter to me. They’re not all serious or directly inspiring, some of them are funny and some of them are more nostalgic.”
A lot of the songs have to do with love, too.
“I’ve been married a really long time, and I think that there are a lot of evolutions of love throughout our lives,” Bannen says. “So that’s definitely a big part of the story that I’m telling. ‘Favorite Colors,’ which is the song that the album is named after, is really about knowing everything about someone except why it didn’t work. I spent a lot of time reflecting on that because marriage is beautiful and hard and complicated. I also love telling the stories of my college days — those early love relationships are really some of my favorite stories to tell and retell.”
Bannen has been married to her husband, Jeff Grossman, a couples’ counselor, since 2003. Though many songs were inspired by her marriage, Bannen admits she’s “guilty” of not listening through her new projects with anyone — including her husband.
“He’s an amazing encourager to me and not particularly passionate about music so he’s heard bits and pieces,” she says. “I’m always listening to mixes in the car so he has definitely heard everything, but we haven’t sat down and listened start to finish. His favorite song on the album is probably ‘Favorite Colors’ because even though it’s about love ending, he loves that song. He also loves the co-writer on that song so I feel like he’s rooting for both of us.”
Favorite Colors is being released independently, which Bannen thinks has given her more creative freedom than if she had released it through a record label.
“I think the best way to put it is the only person that I have to please is myself,” she says. “I think that making it for myself is the best way to make it for a larger audience to some extent.”
“I think the real gift of being an independent artist is we get to control the timeline, and we get to control how much and how many songs,” she continues. “It is really scary and expensive to make a record and pay for it by yourself, but we got to do it on our terms. It feels like a really big privilege to get to even make a record, and I think that freedom is really the biggest gift of being an independent artist.”
One of the major obstacles of being an independent artist, though, is getting radio airplay, and being a female artist has proved to be particularly difficult when it comes to getting play on country radio stations.
“To me, the most important part of my job as a grown-up female artist is to show up with a voice that is empowering to the female perspective,” Bannen says. “And I really want to be on the radio, and I think everybody wants to be on the radio. I’m sad that there are only a handful of women that are on the radio.”
“We have to keep talking about it because it’s really sad that a little girl listening in the back seat to country radio right now who says, ‘I want to do that someday’ — it’s really not a realistic dream for her,” she adds. “We have to keep talking about it so that it becomes possible again. I think for a long time I believed that it was okay that there were just exceptions to the rule and thinking, ‘Well maybe I’ll be the exception.’ But that’s actually not good enough for our girls, to be an exception. But for my personal work, I think my job is to show up as a complicated, imperfect female perspective that is not a victim and isn’t always right but that is an empowered female voice.”
Bannen looked up to female artists like Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks and Sara Evans as she was coming up in the industry, and she even ended up working with Paul Worley, who produced all three of those artists’ albums, on her own music.
“When I first started to work with him, I realized I had learned to sing to the records he had made,” she says. “And that was a really powerful feeling. All of those women were really powerful storytellers, really powerful vocalists. Of course, there’s so many men that I admire too. But me and my peers fell in love with the women that we heard on the radio and we learned to sing to those voices, so what happens for the next generation of girls that don’t hear anybody that sounds like them?”
Despite the obstacles women in country music still face, Bannen says she feels a lot of “gratitude” just to have the opportunity to put out an album.
“I feel like it’s a huge luxury,” she says. “Maybe it’s a weird word, but it’s expensive and it takes a lot of people to pull off an album. I just feel really proud and excited that we finally got to do that and that I have a team around me that was so passionate in an age where it really makes more sense to be single-driven. It’s a really big deal to know it’s scheduled.”
As to what she has planned to celebrate the new album when it’s released on Oct. 11, Bannen says, “That’s a really good question.”
“I actually had a fan reach out on social media who had watched a lot of my older music videos,” she says. “One of the music videos we did was at a really throwback skating rink here in Nashville and they were like, ‘We should do an album party at the roller-skating rink,” which I actually think would be really cute. Now I’m like shoot, we’ve got to make a plan for how we’re celebrating!”
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