Singer-Songwriter Ashe Is Back: Redefining Her Career and Embracing Uncertainty

Two weeks ago, singer-songwriter Ashe released her first single and music video in two years. The new music marks the dawn of an era for Ashe: A chance to rewrite her story. In years past, she has discussed feeling controlled and weighed down by several aspects of her life. Her upcoming album, Willson, which will come out in September, completes a trifecta — a prophecy of sorts — with her previous albums being Ashlyn, her first name, and Rae, her middle name. As a newly independent artist returning from a mental health hiatus, Willson offers Ashe a chance to reframe herself as an artist and reestablish herself among fans and the broader industry.

Ashlyn Rae Willson staked her claim to fame in 2020 when “Moral of the Story,” the first single on her self-titled debut album Ashlyn, was featured in Michael Fimognari’s To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. Debuting at #71 on the Billboard Hot 100, the emotional ballad cemented Ashe into radio playlists and global charts and established her as an unforgettable, mature, and talented singer-songwriter. A secondary version of “Moral of the Story,” a duet with Niall Horan, and a collaboration with 10-time Grammy award-winning musician, songwriter, and producer Finneas became radio station favorites.

Ashlyn was released in full in 2021, and the critics’ response was underwhelming compared to the acclaim of its two hit singles. However, success for the young, multitalented musician was still in reach. In its review of Ashe’s first studio record, Variety called the album “eccentric and effervescent,” and named Ashe “… a giant young talent.” The album was released during the pandemic, so Ashe was unable to tour for Ashlyn. Eventually, Ashe decided the album cycle had reached full circle, and it came time for the rollout of singles from her highly anticipated sophomore album.

On March 3, 2022, “Another Man’s Jeans” appeared on streaming platforms after being teased for weeks on Ashe’s TikTok. Less than two weeks before the start of her first headlining tour, Ashe teased another single for what would be revealed to fans as the upcoming album. She described the song as a sort of evil twin to “Moral of the Story,” sharing in a TikTok video that the former song was written about wanting the best for a past lover, whereas, the new song, “Hope You’re Not Happy,” represented quite the opposite.

In July of 2022, while on tour, Ashe released the song and music video for a second single, “Shower With My Clothes On,” and a month later she revealed a third single and accompanying music video, “Emotional.” It seemed as though Ashe’s time was consumed by grinding out concepts for promoting the new album, all while on a 23-show national tour. Rae was announced in June 2022, to be released in October, and the fourth and final single “Angry Woman” came out the night before the album announcement. Ashe continued performing globally after the album’s release, until abruptly announcing her departure from music and the public eye.

On February 1, 2022, after a whirlwind couple of years, Ashe shared a brief yet heartbreaking post across social platforms. “Hey everyone, I know it’s been quiet, thank you for the space and I wanted to share where I’m at right now,” she wrote, “It’s with a heavy heart, I have decided to cancel all shows this year, including my scheduled Europe/UK & North America tour and all festivals. After nearly three years without stopping, I no longer feel mentally healthy or resilient enough to go back on tour yet. In forcing myself to take a break this last month, I have unintentionally uncovered a host of struggles and wounds I’ve not given myself time to address in the past. I’m so sorry to have let many of you down. Thank you for caring and the time to regroup and heal. I love you, Ashlyn.”

This post started and ended the public conversation around Ashe’s hiatus, as Ashe seemed to fall off the grid after her statement went live. Comments flooded with support from fans imploring Ashe to take the time she needed to recuperate and promising that they would be around when she was ready to return as her best, healthy self. As Ashe stepped away from the spotlight to heal, fans held out hope that she still had more of her story to tell.

A glimmer of hope was ignited when Ashe appeared as a keynote speaker at Berklee College of Music in April alongside longtime friend and collaborator Finneas, and months later as a special guest to duet “Moral of the Story” on Horan’s Saratoga Springs stop on his tour.

Six days after her first public performance since 2022, Ashe made a groundbreaking announcement.

“My third album, Willson, comes out September 6. ‘Running Out Of Time,’ the lead single, is out tomorrow,” she wrote with sincere gratitude. She admitted, “After a whirlwind few years, I was exhausted and wanted out of my career. I fell in love and moved back to Nashville, but music and singing felt hollow and sad. I didn’t want to see anyone or for anyone to see me. The idea of rehearsing for tour would set off panic attacks, which I’d never had before. I was hurting really badly and I was ashamed to say anything. I didn’t think I had good enough reasons to feel as terrible as I did and didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t grateful for the success I was so fortunate to have.”

Regarding the production of her upcoming album, she shared earnestly, “I treaded very lightly. Kept it secret and used it as a way to make sense of the last few years in private. I was taking my time and careful about sharing the music. I didn’t want links sent around. The whole thing felt fragile,” she shared before revealing, “The next part of the story is deeply layered and painful and while I want to be candid, I’m disappointed I cannot tell it… What I’m at liberty to say, and grateful to say, is this: amongst many changes, I’m now an independent artist and will be releasing my first-ever independent album.”

Ashe said she is “grateful to be on the other side and for all [the fans’] kindness.” She is grateful to have been given the grace to take the time she needed and the support at the time of her return. She concludes, “I really missed this and I really missed you.”

On X, Ashe shared another shorter, yet just as heartfelt message: “Every fan reading, thank you for not counting me out and believing in me when I could not believe in myself. Coming back to your loving arms is a warm welcome home.”

Along with the announcement of her third album, Ashe released the first single “Running Out of Time,” and music video as an independent artist. “So, I cut my hair, even though I knew better than that / Left my bags in California, and never looked back / And I said, ‘I’ve got to go see ’bout a guy in Tennessee / And I don’t care if I make it out alive.’” On the upbeat and optimistic track Ashe sings of spontaneity and acting out of pure excitement to be alive, no matter the consequences. She reveals to the listener where she may have been in the past year; finding new love and experiences.

One line stands alone as a symbol of Willson’s current energy: “And I’m not sure if I’m in love, but it feels like freedom.” This lyric, along with the song as a whole, perfectly captures the anxiety of the future while also appreciating what’s good while it’s there.

Ashe’s debut album Ashlyn highlighted themes around the naiveté of young love and toxic relationships, while her sophomore offering Rae was a reclamation of spirit and self. Although fans are unsure of what Willson will bring to the Ashe universe, the anticipation around the seemingly positive, evolved, and, above all, healthy project is undeniable and electric.

Featured Photo Credit: TK