HunterGirl's 'Red Flag Anthem' Kicks Off New Era In Her Fast-Rising Career

Photo: Kristin Barlowe

HunterGirl offered a glimpse into her life unlike ever before with her new, rock-infused “red flag anthem.” In doing so, she quickly cultivated a strong connection with other young women.

The Winchester, Tennessee-born singer-songwriter, 25, beamed as she spoke with iHeartCountry about her newly-debuted single, what’s coming up next for her, and some of the “pinch me” moments she’s marked in her career so far. HunterGirl, whose real name is Hunter Wolkonowski, captivated the country when she finished runner-up on American Idol in 2022. She’s since been named among the 2024 CMT Next Women of Country, delivered her first-ever performance at the historic Grand Ole Opry, became the first female country artist in more than 30 years to write her debut radio single by herself, and more.

Bad Boy” arrived on Friday (May 17), one day after HunterGirl attended the 59th ACM Awards at the world headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. The song is “about my questionable taste in men,” HunterGirl laughed as she spoke with iHeartCountry. She described the “jaded” men with tattoos she can’t resist trying to “fix.” She said she “couldn’t quit smiling and laughing” in the studio the day she wrote “Bad Boy,” and even before its release date, sneak peeks HunterGirl shared on TikTok and Instagram garnered eager comments from young women who could relate to the song. On the same day she released “Bad Boy,” HunterGirl announced her label debut EP, Tennessee Girl, is due on June 7.

Tennessee Girl shows the different sides of my personality,” HunterGirl said in a statement. “I separate songs into two categories in my head, Blue Jean and Leather Jacket songs. Blue Jean songs are the ones I write in my bedroom opening my diary to the world. Leather Jacket songs are where I want to feel tougher and have fun. Most people have only seen the Blue Jean side of my personality, but with this 6- song EP, I have the chance to show the full picture of me as an artist.”

  1. "Bad Decisions" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski, Lindsay Rimes, Joybeth Taylor)
  2. "Clockworks" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski, Lindsay Rimes, Joybeth Taylor)
  3. "Weather in Tennessee" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski, Warren Garrett, Joybeth Taylor, Gabe Foust)
  4. "Ain’t About You" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski)
  5. "Bad Boy" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski, Lindsay Rimes, Greg Bates)
  6. "Pretty Much" (Tristyn Hunter Wolkonowski, David Fanning, Josh Kear, Andy Sheridan)

Produced by Lindsay Rimes 

“I would describe it as fun, energetic, kind of a ‘red flag anthem’ in a way, always running to the ‘Bad Boy’ …I think this is just a side of me I haven’t shown yet, and I just wanna show the goofy and the fun, and just kind of making fun of my love life,” HunterGirl said with a laugh as she spoke about her new single.

HunterGirl grew up in Winchester, Tennessee, a city in Franklin County of fewer than 10,000 residents as of 2022. It’s located approximately 90 miles southeast of Nashville. HunterGirl grew up looking up to legendary female artists like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, though she also blended other genres into her taste in music with artists like P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and more. The first band she was ever part of was a blues band, she remembered. “I feel like there’s country and a little bit of rock in here, but I feel like it’s me. I feel like this EP and the music I’ve been working on here lately…every song is just a piece of my life and a different story, and I’m hoping that it connects with the people out there that are going through certain situations and they find themselves in that song.”

The former American Idol contestant started writing music when she was 9 years old. She’s always appreciated “getting my thoughts out on paper, and how much it helped me just get things out. I call it my form of therapy.” HunterGirl pointed out “Red Bird,” a ballad she performed during her time on the long-running competition show, as a song about a personal moment in her own life that has since resonated with many others. “My mom told me when I was little I saw a cardinal and that meant somebody was watching over me.” That, along with her experience working with veterans’ organizations using music therapy to tell their stories in song, showed her “how music connects us. …I think it’s just that moment where music heals everybody, and no matter the genre, no matter the song, every song is some kind of healing in a way, and I’m just glad that I get to be a part of it.”

HunterGirl got a powerful impression of the impact of her own story when she wrote her raw, honest ballad, “Ain’t About You.” The fast-rising country star admitted that she wrote it at “one of the lowest points in my life,” wondering whether her music career would ever work out. She grabbed her guitar and decided to write a song that she never expected anyone to hear. HunterGirl said she avoided playing the song for anyone “for a long time” out of nervousness. But eventually, she came to the realization that connection with others comes from enough openness to show “the ugly parts (of yourself), the very honest, raw feelings that you have…It’s scary sometimes, thinking of these things that you just sing in your bedroom by yourself, thinking somebody’s gonna hear it. Watching how that song connected with others and people feeling that same way, it helped me as much as it helped the (listener).”

Her vulnerability paid off big time.

HunterGirl is the first female country artist in more than three decades to write her debut radio single by herself. HunterGirl said it was an emotional moment to reach that milestone. “I think because with ‘Ain’t About You,’ I never thought anybody would hear it, and then that being my first song at radio…(There are) so many incredible women in country music, and people that I’ve looked up to. …(I’m) very happy I got to have that.” She performed the record-breaking ballad when she stood in the legendary circle on the Grand Ole Opry stage, making her emotional debut earlier this year with her family and friends sitting in the audience.”

Now, HunterGirl is looking ahead to a year packed with live performances with star-studded lineups (she's previously opened for a growing list of well-respected artists, including Old Dominion, Florida Georgia Line, Kane Brown, Alan Jackson, Lainey Wilson, Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels, Sara Evans). HunterGirl one of hundreds of artists performing at CMA Fest — hailed longest-running country festival in the world — and reuniting with American Idol judge Luke Bryan on his headlining “Mind Of A Country Boy Tour,” which also includes Tenille ArtsChayce BeckhamGeorge BirgeKing CalawayDillon CarmichaelLarry FleetElla LangleyTracy LawrenceKameron MarloweChase MatthewMeghan PatrickLily RoseJosh RossAlana SpringsteenZach Top and DJ Rock on select dates. HunterGirl will also join Kimberly Perry, formerly of The Band Perry, on her first-ever solo headlining tour with other CMT Next Women of Country. Other artists in the lineup include Tanner Adell, Madeline Merlo, Jenna Paulette and Abbey Cone.

HunterGirl beamed as she reflected on the “bucket list” items she’s crossed off and the “pinch me” moments she’s reached, especially since playing music in bars and restaurants as young as 13 or 14 years old. She told iHeartCountry she’s “over the moon” about upcoming tour dates, and looked ahead to her next chapter of music “really soon.”