Originally appeared on E! Online
Blake Shelton really couldn't have been more like all of us in 2020.
Teleconferencing into The Ellen DeGeneres Show Sept. 28 to discuss the upcoming season of The Voice and his thriving Smithworks Vodka brand, the 47-year-old country music superstar declared his new mantra for the waning months: "2020 sucks and I refuse to spend another minute of it sober."
He could trace the bad times back, really, to losing Best Country Solo Performance to Willie Nelson at that January's Grammys, with the second big blow coming not quite two months later. On March 12, he was in Omaha, Neb., overseeing the stage setup for the that night's performance, the 12th date of his Friends and Heroes 2020 tour, when he was forced to make the call.
Then-girlfriend Gwen Stefani was with him, the two set to take the stage together to belt out their single "Nobody But You," with her film producer brother Todd Stefani capturing footage for a live video.
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"We had a whole plan," Shelton noted to host Ellen DeGeneres. "And then we obviously, like everybody else in the world, just pulled the plug on the thing and went to Oklahoma."
Because after that, there was little else to do except decamp to his sprawling 1,200-acre ranch where he'd crown the 18th winner of The Voice virtually on the May season finale and otherwise just...hang.
Well, and one other thing.
It felt like forever that the world has been waiting for music's most endearing opposites to just get married already. So Stefani's October 2020 Instagram sharing that he had proposed at their Oklahoma homestead was just the sort of news the world needed to close out a dumpster fire of a year.
"Didn't have any idea, nobody knew. I think he had told my dad on my birthday about two weeks earlier, and I gotta tell you, I was sorta like, What's happening with us?" Shelton admitted after to Jimmy Fallon. "It was kind of in my mind like, We've been together a long time now. What's going on? I was in that place in my head."
But once that OMFG impressive square-cut bauble was on her finger, she realized, "It was right on time," as she put it on Today. "I think in a romantic way when you fall in love so hard and so unexpectedly and so late in your life, you think, 'I wanna marry you, like now!' That's the first romantic reaction," she continued. "Let's go get married, you know?"
Given the timing of their coupling, though, two pals and coworkers pulling each other out of the depths of heartbreak as they were each reeling from the end of their respective marriages, she allowed, there was "a lot of healing to do."
And apparently there was no place like Shelton's Oklahoma home to do all of that healing in.
"It was cool because Gwen's—the time that she spent in Oklahoma over the years has been like a week here, a week there," Shelton noted to DeGeneres of the stretch that saw them quarantining in the small lakeside town from March to late July. "But she got to be there and actually see it go from pretty much winter, to spring, to summer, and see some seasons change. And it's actually the first time that I've been able to be there for that long to see all that happen again. So we loved it."
Throw in frequent visits from her sons with ex-husband Gavin Rossdale—Kingston, 17, Zuma, 15, and Apollo, 9, the boys Shelton now says he "can't imagine my life without"—along with her brother's brood and a friend or two and you've got quite the fun summer vacation.
The group of California transplants "all seemed to love their time outside of the city with plenty of space and being outdoors," an insider told E! News at the time. "Blake is a great host and has made everyone feel welcome. They are all one big family."
Now fully past those early days when Shelton was marveling about how the 53-year-old ska rocker from Orange County, Calif., had entered his world after his split from fellow country powerhouse Miranda Lambert and "saved my life," the two—who returned to his ranch for their 2021 country-meets-glam vows—have settled into the type of solid partnership that could easily survive the months in isolation that have rocked so many other celeb pairs.
Sure, they had a bit of work to focus on. There was the continue success of "Nobody But You" and work to be done culling together home footage for their next project, their joint "Happy Anywhere" single.
"I don't know why over the years I've kind of become a video camera geek, even though I don't even know how to work these things," Shelton confessed to DeGeneres of their July release. "I've got a few cameras that I have no business owning, let's be honest." Fortunately, as a film producer, he continued, Stefani's brother is "really good at all that stuff."
So when they decided to put out a little brightness into the world, they realized they could combine the five years' worth of home movies, vacation footage and snippets of their afternoons on Lake Texoma with a few hours of filming on the ranch. "So Todd got the camera out and we shot a few set ups of us singing the song," Shelton explained. "And he edited that thing and then put the video together. And it ends up being maybe my favorite video I've ever had, just because it's just so honest and real, you know."
Plus it gave the rest of us a look at what the two are like when they're not gussied up for The Voice cameras or red carpet photographers, label-loving Stefani trading her Vivienne Westwood wares and signature red lip for the cowboy boots she's spent the last five years wearing in.
With no in-person events to attend or arenas packed with people to entertain, the couple relished simply being together in a way not always possible when you have two thriving music empires to tend to. "We've been doing things that I've wished I had time to do for the last 20 years," Shelton said during a July appearance on Today.
Before returning to their $13 million San Fernando Valley mansion to get back to all the work required to juggle two massively successful careers (there's a reason, after all, that Shelton is up for four trophies at the Sept. 28 People's Choice Country Awards), their daily agenda included tending to their garden, blackberry picking and gaping at the animals that tended to roam around their massive property. (Well, that, and the occasional ill-advised home haircut.)
"It was me, my three boys, Blake, and then my brother, his wife, their two little babies, kids, and then her sister and then a friend," Stefani detailed to Jimmy Kimmel Live guest host Dua Lipa of those early weeks. "It was really actually a lot of fun at first. Because it's like, all of the sudden, work is over and you just get to indulge."
And for her and her boys that meant endless stretches to enjoy the types of activities that had Stefani gushing to Marie Claire about the welcome change in scenery afforded to her in the Midwest. "We cook and get muddy and dirty," she told the mag in 2017. "There are ATVs. Being a mother of three boys, it's kind of the perfect place."
So in between baking loafs of sourdough bread, they made good use of their acres of social distancing-friendly space. "The kids have had a fun summer in Oklahoma at the lake fishing and swimming," the source tells E! News. "They spend a lot of time outdoors and its completely different from their life in L.A. They ride ATVs and horses at the ranch and have learned a different way of life. They love their time there."
Ditto Stefani, who told Dua Lipa she still can't believe how much she enjoys this slice of Americana.
"I grew up in Orange County, so I don't know if you've been down there, but it's nothing like the middle of America and our nature was the beach," she explained. "So to be able to be in Oklahoma and be able to experience a ranch kind of vibe is just something I never ever had, so it's just been really, it's been great, amazing."
Particularly when she'd wander about getting surprised by the local inhabitants. "Every day was like a new thing," she shared, "like a baby armadillo today or a baby wild hog."
And just maybe that interview was the first indication that something new was on the horizon. Because Stefani didn't totally shut it down when Dua Lipa accidentally referenced Shelton as her legal spouse. Taking just a beat, the singer responded, "Um, well, he's not my husband. But that sounded cool when you said it."
(Originally published Oct. 3, 2020, at 12 a.m. PT)
Watch the People's Choice Country Awards Thursday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. on NBC and Peacock.