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Not her first Rodeo

Janet Devlin told David Hennessy about her new music that has brought her chart success that had previously escaped her, dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder and why, after baring her soul about alcoholism, eating disorders and more, she is ‘freer’.

Janet Devlin has broken the top 40 for the first time with her latest single, Emotional Rodeo.

Showcasing a new country sound, the track follows her Confessional album in 2020 and is her first taste of a new album to follow later in the year.

Janet Devlin was still a teenager when in 2011 she auditioned for X Factor. She wowed the judges and would go on to finish 5th in the competition overall.

But things were not always easy for her away from the cameras. She would struggle with issues such as alcoholism, self harm and eating disorders. She would reveal all of her struggles in her 2020 album Confessional which was accompanied by a book.

You must be buzzing with the success of Emotional Rodeo…

“I cried my eyes out on Sunday and then got back to the studio with my team on the Monday and was like, ‘What do we do now?’

“And they’re like, ‘Just keep going’.”

I didn’t realise you hadn’t broken the top 40 before so it was a big deal for you..

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“And it’s funny because my first album was literally 150 sales away from being in the top 40.

“We literally just didn’t have the budget to do any more marketing.

“My whole career has just been any money I have to make music, I basically spend all on the music and then try my best to put it out there.

“But this one, I don’t know what’s happened.

“I don’t know what’s changed because every time I put music out, I’m obviously there and I’m asking people to get it and the hardcore, the loyal guys do but getting people a bit on the periphery to get something is very difficult.

“So I don’t know how this happened.

“I don’t know why there was a change with people just being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll get this’, but I’m so appreciative of it.

“I really didn’t anticipate it with the first single.

No, I’ve always wanted to end up in country.”

There is something different this time with your new country sound, is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

“I always said to myself that once I hit 24, I was going to go into country.

“Obviously, lockdown happened and pushed me back, but I’ve been writing this album since ’21 but I’ve known I’ve wanted to do country for way, way longer than that.

“It’s been a little bit sad seeing people being like, ‘Oh, you’re just jumping on the country bandwagon’.

“I’ve known I’ve wanted to be in country music since I was 20.

“That was my distinct plan: I’ll jump into country because I did grow up with it. It’s been a part of my life.

“And then to have people that I thought would have been a bit more friendly- Because that’s what I’ve only known of country music fans: Friendly and nice and welcoming- To have only a few just being like, ‘Oh, way to go bandwagon jumping’.

“I’m like, ‘Oh shut up’.

“I’ve always kind of swapped in and out of genres.

“I did a lot of Irish folk on the last one.
“I get it.

“I get that it’s going a bit mainstream now, but I got picked on in school for listening to country music.

“I was the weird girl.

“I was a horse girl who listened to country, of course I was gonna get bullied.

“So to go through all of everything and then to be met with some people just questioning my authenticity as a country music fan is very sad.”

Who were your big country inspirations?

“Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson were big, big, big ones for me.

“I have memories of taking my horse up the mountains- I was maybe 10, 11 years old- And I would sing Garth Brooks to the horse the whole time.

“And then Dolly obviously.

“When I was a kid as well: Shania, the big pop country era was massive.

“I liked how much fun she looked like she was having.

“My brother used to print CDs for me and my dad to listen to because I used to competitively showjump horses.

“My brother would just burn a new CD every week with loads of country music.

“That was just what I grew up with.

“And then me and my mum would listen to Big Tom, God rest him, whenever I used to go to singing lessons or I was going horse riding.

“My parents were big fans which obviously naturally leads to me being a big fan.”

So this isn’t a phase? You have experimented with different genres before..

“No, the country was supposed to be the long haul plan.

“I was allowing myself to switch through genres before but I wanted to end up in country for numerous reasons.

“My songwriting lends itself to country music.

“My whole career I’ve always had people telling me about the storytelling element of my voice and stuff.

“I feel like country songs are for storytelling.

“I love the storytelling element of it.

“But what I’ve always loved about country music is the clever twists in a song: The little turn of phrase that makes a song really fun.

“I think I’m funny sometimes so I like to write the occasional funny song. There’s a few of those on this album.

“And then there’s a few like Emotional Rodeo which is literally just supposed to be having a good time, having fun.

“And then I’ve done what I’m known for in the rest of the album, poured my heart and soul into the ballads and the softer songs.”

There are a number of songs on the album that deal with Borderline Personality Disorder, a condition that Janet has been diagnosed with and is managing.

Written with Ben Earle of The Shires and Kaity Rae (GIRLI, Beth McCarthy),  Emotional Rodeo is a reflection of the soaring highs and plunging lows of living – and loving – with BPD.

“BPD means that I feel my feelings way harder than the average person and it’s very hard.

“I’m medicated so things are much easier (now) but I remember the pain of just my feelings for my whole life.

“I find that ballads for me are easy to write because of the fact I have BPD so I poured my heart into the really, truly meaningful songs.

“But Emotional Rodeo, for me was just that moment of now that I’ve seen a bit of a silver lining through getting medicated and attending therapy and all this- I just want to have fun with it.

“For something that’s owned me for so long, just play about with it because I make no secret about it.

“When I start dating someone, I’m like, ‘Hey, I have this thing’.

“And they don’t believe me and I’m like, ‘I really need you to listen to me when I’m saying this’.

“And then three months down the line when they’re in too deep, they’re like, ‘You didn’t warn me’.

“I’m like, ‘I did’.

“So I wanted to put it in musical form to be like, ‘Hey, I’m a lot to handle’.

“The album is an emotional rodeo because you’ve got your fun songs, songs for the girlies on a night out and you’ve got like your rock songs.

“But then on the flip side, you’ve got softer, almost a bit Americana-esque  and then you’ve really got the ballads that truly discuss heartbreak and just the struggles of whatever I’ve been through.

“So it’s definitely ups and downs and everywhere in between.”

And that is life with Borderline Personality Disorder. Do you find it’s something that not many people understand..

“Yeah. It’s not something that you’re born with.

“It is a condition that is derived from trauma, but not necessarily a trauma, multiple traumas.

“I think that was a hard pill to swallow when my psychiatrist explained it to me.

“I asked him.
“I was like, ‘You’re telling me that had people not hurt me really badly and awfully, I wouldn’t have this condition…’

“And he’s like, ‘No, you wouldn’t’.

“So that was really difficult and hard to hear.

“I think people don’t understand it because it’s not really talked about that much.

“The average person, mood-wise, will go from maybe like four to six in a day max, whereas someone with BPD can go from zero to 10 in a day but like multiple times in a day: You can wake up in the best mood of your life. By lunchtime, you’re contemplating your own end. And by dinnertime, you’re laughing about it again. It’s a lot, and especially when it comes to matters of love.

“It’s awful. It’s all consuming, and your moods are incredibly dependent on the person that you’re dating or whatever.

“It’s a pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy.”

You’re medicated now but for a long time  you weren’t…

“I wasn’t.

“I remember multiple times after years of being sober, wondering why everything still hurt.

“I was like, ‘I understand why I drank because this is so painful. Existing emotionally for me is a lot and I feel drained. My feelings are ruling my world’.

“And to actually go and get a diagnosis and find out, ‘Hey, it’s because you have this thing’.

“Because I remember initially with the last album when I told people about all the things I went through: The self harm, eating disorders, the alcohol, the drugs, whatever.

“People were like, ‘Oh, she’s clearly just making this up because nobody has all those things’.

“Then I remember looking up the diagnostic criteria of borderline personality disorder and that list of all the things I have done is on there literally on the NHS website.

“I was like, ‘Oh, okay. That explains a lot’.”

It’s a shame that even though you’re better now, those traumas have left a mark on you…

“But from getting a diagnosis and getting medicated for it, I’m not owned by it anymore.

“It’s a thing you’re not even promised when you get into recovery for it.

“There’s no real getting better but you might get manageable with it and have control over it.

“It might just be a part of your life for the rest of your life.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to find a medication and a psychiatrist and a therapist, a team, who has really worked for me.

“I can feel my feelings but I’m not overwhelmed by them.

“And things still hurt but it’s not in the way that it used to be.

“I’m just forever grateful that I’ve cracked the code with it a little bit.”

You turn 30 this year, are you positive when you look ahead regarding your BPD?

“I’m positive about everything nowadays.

“I’m just having a good time.

“I think what I wanted with this album was, I just wanted to have fun.

“I wanted to work my butt off but I wanted to have fun  while doing it.

“Obviously there’s times where it’s not fun, that’s okay.

“But most of the time, I’m just working hard and trying my best to have a good time with it and that’s all I can do.

“I’ve made an album I’m really proud of.

“So far so good as far as putting it out in the world and I’m just gonna keep chugging until they say I should stop.”

Was it important after Confessional which was so personal and so involved to make something that was just fun and less serious?

“It wasn’t even necessarily wanting the fun, it was like once I sent my whole truth out into the world, when I really bared my soul and everything I’d been through, I just woke up freer.

“I woke up like less full of shame and less guilty.

“I just actually had the capacity to have more fun because I didn’t feel like I was carrying around this big bag of secrets everywhere.

“So just naturally this album has just been fun because I feel like I’ve set sail from the past a bit, you know?”

How did you find the reaction to Confessional? I bet that was poignant..

“People met my honesty with honesty and it was eye opening.

“It was really cathartic not just for me, but apparently for them as well.

“I know how good it feels whenever someone tells you that they have something that you have, or went through something that you’ve also gone through.

“A lot of people shared a lot with me and it was truly emotional, but in a nice way.”

Devlin’s compelling journey was captured in the 2022 BBC documentary ‘Janet Devlin: Young, Female, and Addicted.

The programme explored her own story of alcoholism and its effects on her life and on others around her, while exploring the stories of other young women suffering from the consequences of alcohol addiction in Northern Ireland.

“Through that (the album), I got to do a documentary with the BBC about my alcoholism and addiction issues in young women in Northern Ireland.

“That was very close to home for me and to be able to do a documentary like that was just other worldly, I felt really privileged.

“I was just blown away by the people who came on and shared their stories, and the feedback from that as well was amazing.

“I think it really allowed people to actually see me as a person because obviously for some people the last time they would have seen me was the glitz and glam of X Factor and TV and all that kind of stuff.”

Would you do anything differently if you could go back?

“I don’t think so because I feel almost blessed by every lesson that I’ve learned.

“I feel like I’ve lived so many lives for someone who’s turning 30 this year.

“I’ve learned a lot of really difficult hard lessons and really proven my own resilience to myself especially going through what I’ve been through.

“It really shows you who your real friends are.

“I don’t think I would change it.

“The only thing that I’d changed maybe is the heartache I’ve caused my mother. That hurts. You can’t change the past but my thing with what I’ve done in the past and the things I’ve put people through is actions speak louder than words because I sure as hell apologised a lot with empty breath back in the day, so all I can do now with my actions of staying sober, working hard and trying to be the best person that I can be.

“Hopefully that will somehow mend the hurt that I’ve caused.”

How do you feel about turning 30 this year? “I would feel worse if I wasn’t getting ID’d for energy drinks still.

“Until I stop getting ID’d, maybe then I’ll panic.

“I think I understand how much of a blessing it is to get older.

“Some people just don’t have that privilege and it feels silly to me to mourn getting older when there’s so many who I wish could grow up.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way in personal growth and all these things.

“Before I never felt my age.

“I just felt a bit behind everybody.

“I feel like I am old and ugly enough and long enough in the tooth now to be like, ‘No, I’m an adult and it’s grand’.”

It seems funny to talk about you turning 30 because you were just a teen when we first saw you on The X Factor.

What do you think about there being no X Factor anymore?

“X Factor was great back in the day when not everybody was online properly.

“X Factor and Pop Idol, I think people forget why it took off because how else was an average person who comes from nothing going to get a record deal and exposure to an audience and sing?

“I think that’s what people loved: Your mate who works in Asda could be a pop singer, have a record deal and go on to do music but I suppose now we’re living in an era where you’ve got TikTok, you’ve got YouTube, you’ve got all these social medias that you can get discovered on so you can go from nothing to something.

“I feel like it’s sad in a way but it’s also nice because people can do it themselves as well.

“All that matters is that there’s a vessel for the average person to have a career.”

Janet has lived in London for ten years now but dreams of returning home..

“My goal, honestly, is to get so big that I can move back home.

“Because people work around you when you’re successful.

“I’d love to move closer to my family if I could.”

There have been some comments about the video for Emotional Rodeo that see you wearing shorts and riding a mechanical bull..

“Honestly, I was expecting mor backlash to be honest.

“I was expecting way more.

There’s been a few comments on it.

“I’m gonna be 30 this year.

“If people can’t accept me trying to express myself, having a bit of fun and wearing a leotard- If they can’t take that and they’re maybe still seeing me as a 16 year old, that’s not my business.

“I want to wear whatever I want especially while my metabolism is holding on.”

And you can’t let the haters stop you doing what you want to do..

“I wouldn’t be doing music if I listened to them.

“I just do what my heart tells me to do and what I want to do.”

Emotional Rodeo is out now.

The new album is expected later in the year.

For more information, click here.

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