LOS ANGELES (AP) — There was an unexpected success story in music last year, one that continues to snowball: Country music, with its loyal audience at the edges of the pop mainstream, dominated the charts.
Some of the biggest albums and songs of the year were dedicated to country musicians such as Morgan Wallen, Zach Bryan and Luke Combs, whose hits surpassed country radio stations and the pop circuit.
But when the 2024 Grammy nominations were announced last November, something seemed off. The country was not represented in the main categories, except for Jelly Roll and The War and Treaty, which competed for the best new artist. It’s a rare loss for a genre that has topped the charts all year. The lack of nominations surprised even Recording Academy CEO and President Harvey Mason Jr.
“We need to work more with the voters of the country and continue to invite more voters of the country into the process,” he told The Associated Press at the time.
That doesn’t happen often: In 2019, Kacey Musgraves won album of the year at the Grammys for her “Golden Hour,” a release celebrated for its innovative take on the country genre that combines elements of pop. and disco. It’s the kind of innovation that the Recording Academy always celebrates.
Country music continues to break new ground. In July, country artists occupied the top three spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for the first time in the chart’s 65 years: Jason Aldean’s “Try That In a Small Town” hit No. , within a short week, followed by Wallen’s “Last Night” and Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The latter also won song of the year at the 2023 Country Music Awards (CMA), even though the original was written in 1988.
Oliver Anthony’s viral hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” also reached No.
Wallen operates as if in a category by himself. His latest album, with its inventive exploration of trap mixed with soulful country, titled “One Thing at a Time,” spent 16 weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart in 2023 , which means it holds the No. 1 spot throughout the year. 30% of the year. And their album was released in March. It also meant that Wallen’s album spent more time at No. Not surprisingly, “One Thing at a Time” was the most sold album in the United States last year.
Across iHeartRadio stations, Wallen has 2.1 billion potential listeners.
Beyond Wallen and other chart hits, new country talents are beginning to experience some success mixing other genres, such as Jelly Roll’s hip-hop mix (with “Need a Favor”), “Watermelon Moonshine” by Lainey Wilson, a reference to Deana Carter, and Bailey Zimmerman by hard rock in addition to “Rock and A Hard Place.” (Wilson is the only woman on the list, but more attention can and should be given to other newcomers, such as Gabby Barrett, Carly Pearce, Ingrid Andress, and others.)
When pop began to adopt a “sexless” approach to music, this trend outside conventions also opened the doors of country, and served to explain its renewed popularity. At least, that’s what Dan Smyers of the three-time Grammy Award-winning duo Dan + Shay believes. “There are so many different sounds in country today,” he said, which has inspired crossover moments in recent years, such as his group’s song “10,000 Hours,” which featured Justin Bieber and heard on Top 40 radio.
Entering spaces open to all genres allows discovery. “Someone who was probably listening to the Top 40 station in their hometown said, ‘Oh, that’s good. I love that song. I never listened to country,'” Smyers said. “And then they started digging through the catalog and listening to our back catalog, or other country artists, and they fell in love with it. And now it’s like a perfect storm with streaming. “
“Because I am in the industry, I can confidently say that the country is bigger than before. I think we’re in a very strong position,” said award-winning “Small Town Boy” singer Dustin Lynch. Especially in country, artists can now play with different sounds. “I was able to do traditional country leanings (music) and I was successful with that, and also with a straight-up rock song.”
He says that country music is now in a position where people that “we probably never gave a chance to” are listening to country music with an open mind.
And maybe there is some truth to that. According to Luminate, country music experienced the largest week of streaming in 2023, a whopping 2.26 billion streams, according to Data and analytics platform Midyear Music Report. In the first 26 weeks of 2023, the platform found that the consumption of country music in the United States increased by 20.3% within a year, a figure for which Wallen is particularly responsible: it accounts for 40 % of the country’s consumption growth. last year.
The historical genre is enjoyed by English-speaking Americans, but Luminate’s reports also show growth in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, and Vietnam. That’s something Darius Rucker has noticed firsthand. “I’ve seen what the country is doing, especially in Europe. It’s been crazy. I’ve been on tour in Europe and you know, we’re doing great. And it’s great to see what America is up to until,” he said. “People didn’t want to adopt it, and a lot of people are adopting it now.”
“It just goes to show that country music is no longer the brother of rock and roll,” he added.
Smyers has his own theories about why country music is experiencing this explosive period. “Western culture is having a good time,” he theorized, referring to the success of the popular television series “Yellowstone.” “It’s a big step for that kind of popular American country sound,” he said, serving as another platform for viewers who might become country music fans.
But ultimately, he believes that “people are hungry for authenticity in everything in life, in television and film, especially in music,” he said. “And I feel like country music has more credibility than anything else.”
Up-and-comer Megan Moroney agrees. “I think people are more attracted to authenticity now,” he said, noting the “real-life lyrics” of country music.
Thanks to social networks, where there are “a lot of false things,” he believes there is a hunger to tell the truth. That’s why he describes his single, “I’m Not Pretty,” not as a “country song,” but as a “cultural song,” with lyrics that address universal concerns like cell phone alienation and insecurity.
Genre veterans also noted country’s big year. Reba McEntire, who joined “The Voice” as a coach for the first time in 2023, replacing Blake Shelton, sees her role there as an opportunity to champion this era of country artists. “I’m just staying in my lane and doing the best I can to support country music,” he told the AP. Next month, Dan + Shay will join him, John Legend and Chance the Rapper as season 25 coaches, marking the first time that half of the four coach spots will be filled with country musicians.
Garth Brooks also saw country music enjoying a new opportunity to expand its reach, and he did so in a big way. In May of last year, Brooks announced that he would be launching his own radio station with a TuneIn streaming platform called The Big 615, with a focus on traditional country music not seen on the major labels, which dominate on the radio. She hopes to use it to empower more women, as well as have a positive influence on country music’s growing global footprint.
“If you like country music,” he said, “they will try to fix your music if you take it outside the United States, which usually means taking steel guitars and fiddles. Now, that doesn’t work for us anymore,” Brooks told the AP, referring to the old radio structures.
“So what I love, is that it’s freshly cooked in Nashville and it’s a global station. Then, you’ll hear it the moment he goes out on the road. I’m proud of it”.
And if his career serves as evidence of country music’s enduring appeal, this new breed of performer has even more exciting things ahead of him.
The 2024 Grammy Awards will air live on February 4 on CBS and Paramount+ from the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.