NASHVILLE — In the summer of 2020, four months after the pandemic, Priscilla Block was bankrupt and forced to vacate the apartment she rented in a medium-sized complex near Music Row. She was cleaning Airbnbs for money, and the work had dried up. Her mother and sister came to town to help her move into a much grittier shared house nearby.
“I cried. I just felt like I had failed so much,” said Block, 26, one afternoon last month, parked in front of the house in her white jeep, a stopover on a tour of daunting places she’d seen over the years. called home for years.
The small, dilapidated house had no air conditioning and during that hot season she contracted Covid-19 after a night out at a local bar. Quarantined and sick, Block continued to write songs, including one about another accident that same night: running into an ex.
She’d been posting songs on TikTok for a few months by then, including loud, smart, uplifting feminist country songs like “Thick Thighs” and “PMS.” But this song, “Just About Over You,” was different, a smoldering ballad that balanced resentment with determination. She uploaded a video of her singing it, and her fans reacted feverishly, raising money to record it professionally. Three weeks later, when she self-released it on streaming services, she went live on TikTok to thank them.
“I thought my life had changed then, you know?” she said. “I Thought That Was” the†
The next day, “Just About Over You” unexpectedly topped the iTunes sales chart. For Block, who moved to Nashville right after high school in 2014 and sang in bars for tips in between other make-ends meets, the shock was sudden. Before long she had a recording contract, a publishing deal and on Friday she will release her full-length debut album ‘Welcome to the Block Party’.
It’s a refreshing and accomplished pop-country debut album, and an ambitious one too. At a time when female performers are scarce on country radio, it is full of songs that loudly announce their intentions. The sheer magnitude of some of the album’s choruses—on “My Bar,” “Heels in Hand,” “Wish You Were the Whiskey” and others—reminiscent of the power country of the 1990s and early 2000s, when the genre got its cues from arena rock, and when the pop ambitions were still free. Nothing about this album is shy.
Earlier in the day, Block sat at a table in the Listening Room, a café and performance space where she used to work. Her hair was up in a turquoise scrunchie that matched both her fingernails and her gum. She wore a marble-dyed mesh shirt, tight jeans, high heels and an abundance of rings and necklaces. “Stylish and trashy,” she joked, adding, “I like to wear clothes that fit my hourglass shape, which covers the entire body.”
If Nashville was inhospitable to female performers, it is exponentially more so for anyone who strays from the strictly forbidden beauty standards. As a young artist, Block found her role models far from country music; “I would see Beyoncé on TV standing up and like she was a fat girl, and that was cool.”
Block faced resistance from her earliest days in Nashville: “I remember sitting with someone and it was that conversation, ‘I’m saying this in a nice way, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you need to lose weight if this is the career path. that you really want to stock up.’”
The tumultuous “Thick Thighs”, which had been a breakthrough on TikTok, was written in a fit of rage. “I’ve been hearing about ‘dad bods’ for a little too long / So what about my muffin top is wrong?” she sings sharply and adds an implicit eye-roll to the chorus: “I can’t be the only one who likes/Extra fries over exercise.” When she first performed it at the bar where she sang covers of Carrie Underwood and the Chicks for tips, the audience sang along to the second chorus.
But when it came time to release her first EP (released last April) after signing her deal, she opted for a series of heartbreak ballads in love. “I had that fear of being the ‘funny song’ girl,” Block said. “I can be the funny girl or I can be the girl who opens her eyes. The girl who screams her eyes or the girl who tries to cheer up the girl who screams her eyes.”
But an urging from her label’s president: “She told me, ‘That’s new. That’s you. And that sucks for someone to say that. I really want to make sure that doesn’t get lost.’” — made her realize how crucial both parts of her creative personality would be to her album.
The album’s final track, “Peaked in High School,” plays to her humorous side, with Block jubilantly rejecting the mean girls who made teenage life difficult: “I’ve got a deal, you’re divorced / You see my face on billboards / I changed the number that still calls you.” But the smokiness of her heartbreak songs is powerful, often emphatically about an ex who still seems to linger – on the stubbornly resilient “My Bar” he tries to show up at her local watering hole (“You think you’re such a star). but here’s the funny part / No one even knows who you are”), while on the slick kiss-off “I Bet You Wanna Know,” he’s painted as a stubborn shadow that Block can’t quite shake off.
Block’s mix of brutality and fear is powerful, and a far cry from the music she made when she first came to Nashville – “Taylor Swift meets Miranda Lambert” – and was creating Pinterest boards to map what her style and aesthetic should be. “I was basically trying to cover up everything about me, you know?”
Now she leans in the glare. In her jeep, she drinks water from a tumbler controlled by a fan, covered in glitter and engraved with the names of several of her songs. She is giving a concert for the release of her album at the Las Vegas branch of the Nashville bar she prefers. And she’s looking for like-minded people: “My goal is to do a ‘CMT Crossroads’ with Lizzo, and have her play a damn flute on ‘Thick Thighs’!”