meta-scriptBackstage At The 63rd GRAMMYs: Miranda Lambert Talks The GRAMMY Awards’ Prestige During A Trying Year | GRAMMY.com
Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert

news

Backstage At The 63rd GRAMMYs: Miranda Lambert Talks The GRAMMY Awards’ Prestige During A Trying Year

In the latest episode of Backstage At The 63rd GRAMMYs, thrice-nominated country luminary Miranda Lambert considers the weight of a GRAMMY win during an unprecedented time

GRAMMYs/Mar 11, 2021 - 10:50 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything, and the GRAMMY Awards are no exception. Not only did the ceremony need to move from last January to March 14, 2021, but it’s happening in an unprecedented, partly virtual fashion.

The magnitude of the crisis flecks Miranda Lambert’s words as she chats about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show in the latest episode of Backstage At The 63rd GRAMMYs. 

“This year, I’m just glad they’re having the GRAMMYs,” says the country star, who is nominated for Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song (“Bluebird”) and Best Country Album (2019’s Wildcard) at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show. 

“It’s prestigious. The GRAMMYs is something that every artist works really hard to be a part of,” Lambert continues. “So, I’m glad to be back here.”

Watch Miranda Lambert’s final expressions before the ceremony above, and be sure to tune into the 63rd GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, March 14 to watch Lambert perform—and find out if she’ll win!

Backstage At The 63rd GRAMMYs: Brandi Carlile Praises The "Artistic Threads That Chain Us All Together" Ahead Of Music’s Biggest Night

HARDY Press Photo 2024
HARDY

Photo: Robby Klein

interview

HARDY On New Album 'Quit!!' & How "Trying To Push My Own Boundaries" Has Paid Off

On his third album, the self-described "black sheep" of country music proves he's here to stay.

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2024 - 04:04 pm

Haters take note: nothing fires up a country boy like HARDY more than a naysayer. And this redneck has a long memory.

Despite the coveted catalog of country music hits to his credit — tunes he wrote for artists like Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Morgan Wallen, plus his own work as a solo artist — HARDY's third album begins with a three-minute response to a heckler who once left a nasty note in his jar in place of a tip.

That moment may have occurred a decade ago, but it's key to HARDY's defiant persona. In fact, the album's title is exactly what that note read — Quit!! — and its cover art is the actual napkin the message was written on, which the singer/songwriter has held on to all these years.

HARDY laughs off the memory at first, but as the title track plays on, his olive branch soon turns to coal. "I'm not the GOAT, I'm the black sheep hell-bent to find closure," he barks as the song escalates. "I can't let go — a note somebody wrote like ten years ago put a chip on my shoulder. If you wanted me to quit, you should've saved it, bro."

The takeaway here? HARDY won't quit. Or, to quote another Quit!! banger, "I DON'T MISS," when a hit is in the crosshairs, he "don't hit nothing but the bull's eye."

No doubt, he has the numbers to back it up. HARDY linked up with Florida Georgia Line after moving to Nashville in the 2010s, and landed his first country No. 1 as a songwriter in 2018 thanks to the duo and Wallen, with the smash "Up Down." As he began building a solo career — releasing a pair of EPs in 2018 (This Ole Boy) and 2019 (Where to Find Me) — he continued delivering chart-topping hits for FGL, Shelton, LOCASH, Wallen, Dierks Bentley, and more. As Quit!! arrives, HARDY boasts 15 No. 1 hits: 11 as a songwriter, and four as an artist.

Along the way, HARDY also established his Hixtape series, a countrified version of a hip-hop mixtape now three volumes deep, bringing together friends and superstars like Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Thomas Rhett and a host of other stars to collaborate. Not only did Hixtape Vol. 1 land HARDY his first No. 1 as an artist in his own right — the Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson team-up "ONE BEER" — but it put HARDY's shapeshifting musicality front and center.

"A lot of people ask, 'When did you decide to jump into the rock and roll thing?' HARDY, who uses his last name as his stage name, says. "I feel like I've always dipped my toes in it here and there, and a lot of my songs have been really close to it but not quite there. Hixtape, especially Vol. 1, I was definitely foreshadowing my sound, and I really didn't even know it at the time."

By now, modern country musicians regularly reflect influences from beyond Nashville's confines. But HARDY has played a big role in rock's country crossover, as he gradually showed more of his Mississippi-bred, guitar-riffing roots on his 2020 debut album, A ROCK. He fully embraced them on the 2023 double album, the mockingbird & THE CROW; while the first half has more country-oriented tunes like the Lainey Wilson-featuring murder ballad "wait in the truck," he lets loose on THE CROW.

"THE CROW will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am," he asserts. "It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record."

HARDY has not only been an architect of this genre blending, but also its chief proponent — so much that in 2023, the L.A. Times crowned him "Nashville's nu-metal king." On Quit!!, he cashes in that currency with the gargantuan guitar riffs and bombastic beats popularized by acts like Limp Bizkit, and leans deeper into the rhythms and playful lyricism of hip-hop, a skill he recently flexed at the request of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre on a hicked-up rendition of Snoop Dogg's G-funk classic "Gin and Juice."

Ironically, the further HARDY gets from straightforward country music, the closer he gets to who he really is as an artist. Below, the chart-topping star details the backstory of Quit!!, his conflicted relationship with the country-music formula, and how he'll continue pushing boundaries within the genre and beyond.  

You grew up in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. What role did music play in your upbringing?

My dad introduced me to rock and roll in general, but it was his era of rock and roll. Whatever you define as classic rock and everything under that umbrella. But music was a big deal in Philadelphia and it still is. There were tons of cover bands, and a lot of [my] buddies were into music. So that had a big influence on me. 

I, thankfully, was in that last era of kids that the only time they got to hear a song was on MTV or on the radio. And I remember hearing "In the End" [by] Linkin Park, and then getting Hybrid Theory on CD. I remember the first time I saw [Limp Bizkit's] "Nookie" video on MTV. I was heavily influenced by all that stuff. I'm very thankful that I grew up in the era before the internet was really big.

Were you into country music back then?

Surprisingly, not at all. Not until Eric Church, Brad Paisley, a couple of people started singing about stuff that really piqued my interest. But no, I didn't really listen to much country. 

I think the only country that I listened to, if you even call it that, was Charlie Daniels. He played at the Neshoba County Fair. I got to see him twice. But even he was more of, like, you'd almost call it more Southern rock. For some reason, country music at the time didn't do it for me. It took me a long time to get into it.

You recently re-envisioned "Gin and Juice." Were Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre big artists for you when you were younger?

Yeah, especially Snoop. Snoop was in his later years when he started doing more pop stuff. I was a little too young for Doggystyle. I was 4 years old when Doggystyle came out, so my folks weren't letting me listen to that. But I will say, [Dr. Dre's 1992 album] The Chronic and especially [1999's] Chronic II, those records were huge. And anything that Dre touched after that, like all the beats he produced for 50 Cent, and obviously I'm a huge Eminem fan. I mean, all the way up to Kendrick [Lamar]'s early stuff.

I don't know how much they influenced me musically, but I definitely listened to both of them at the time.

You've got so many projects and co-writes and stuff going on, always. Is it easy to pinpoint where your journey to Quit!! began?

I can tell you for a stone-cold fact that "BOOTS" [from A ROCK] is responsible for the album Quit!! That was the first song that I ever wrote that had a breakdown in it. And when I played that live before it came out, people didn't know it, so it was a little different then. But once the song came out, and we started playing it live, it was bigger than "ONE BEER." It was bigger than "REDNECKER." It was the biggest song in our set, and to this day, it's still one of the biggest songs in the set. 

But because I love the rock and roll sound so much, that's the song that I was like, Okay, this is working, because these people are losing their s— when we go into this song. So, then, that inspired me to write "SOLD OUT," and once "SOLD OUT" came out, and we started playing that song, that song was even bigger than "BOOTS," and it was heavier than "BOOTS." After "SOLD OUT," it was "JACK," and it's just a snowball of writing heavier songs and having the courage to keep going. "BOOTS" crawled so that Quit!! could run, you know? That was definitely the song that started it all.

The new album builds on the mockingbird & THE CROW and the direction you were heading.

Yeah, I think it builds on it maybe in the sense that there's a lot more screams, and maybe more breakdowns, and it's a little heavier than the mockingbird & THE CROW at times. But it is also very different. There's a lot more, like, pop-punk stuff and, I don't even know what you would call it, post-hardcore-sounding s—. 

But all of the rock and roll stuff stands on the shoulders of THE CROW. It will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am. I mean, it definitely teed me up. It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record.

I like that word, courage. It's not a word I expected to hear out of you based on your persona, but that's a very interesting way to phrase it.

No, I mean, the metal and country cultures are very, very, very different. There's never fear, but there's definitely, what's the right way to say that? You know, there's like when we throw like the goat horns and s— on the screen. Country has a big Christian background, and metal is like the exact opposite of that, and those can clash a lot, but there's definitely a little bit of some reserve — it seems to not get too much push back — mixing the two. My mom's not crazy about it, but what can you do?

And you have moments like "wait in the truck," where you're not writing for the party. Do you see yourself pursuing those avenues more often? Does the world want to hear HARDY reflect?

You mean like more of the deeper country stuff?

Correct, yeah.

I hope. That's the s— I love. I feel like they're so few and far between. Like, "wait in the truck," we just got so lucky. I feel like "ONE BEER" was kind of the same. Like, it's gotta be the right day, and the right time, and the right people in the room to really tell a story. It's tough. But I would love to continue to have those cool story songs. 

But what I will say is there's a lot of gray area between the black-and-white of HARDY country and HARDY rock and roll. I'm still going to put out country songs. The gray area is that to me and to a lot of people, they're all just HARDY songs. But I have so many songs that I have written that I wanna put out that are so, maybe if they're not storylines, they're even deeper down the rabbit hole of thought-provoking stuff, like "A ROCK," or maybe even "wait in the truck," or even a song I have called "happy," on the last record — just songs that are very, very thought-provoking. 

Just trying to push my own boundaries of country music, and not everything is right down the gut, you know, "let's go to radio with it." But just really trying to experiment with what I wanna say with country music. So, yes, there's definitely more of that coming.

You're playing your first headlining stadium gig in September. How has performing in those venues, and anticipating that, informed how you write? Are you writing for the stage?

Yeah, 100 percent. I would say, 75 percent of the time you're writing for the stage — even if it's not for myself, if I'm writing for somebody else — I'm definitely writing for the stage. I cannot tell you how many times I've sat in the room and been like, This s— is going to pop off live! And then try to put the other writers in that headspace.

Like on [Quit!! track] "JIM BOB," when we did the pow-pow-pow! thing, I'm like, just think about how cool it's gonna be live, and living in that headspace, because that's where it all comes to life. That's the end product.

Writing for the stage is something that a lot of people do. And that's why songwriters love going out on the road, is because they go out and they write songs with these artists, but they love watching the show because they get to see what really translates live, and then take that back to the writing room and try to recreate that.

Did that kind of experience have anything to do with you making the move to a marquee artist? Because not all songwriters can make that jump. Or was that always the plan?

Yeah, I mean, it was always that kind of thing. I was fortunate that I got to see Morgan [Wallen] perform "Up Down," and FGL perform a couple of their songs before I made the jump into an artist. I kind of already scratched that itch a little bit. 

The Nashville writing scene can seem like a 9-to-5 kind of boring thing. But it doesn't sound that way from the way you describe it.

It's a little bit of both. The funny thing about that is like, if you walk into a publishing company, 10:30, 11 o'clock, whenever people start getting there, it's a bunch of dudes or girls standing around drinking coffee, hanging out. It's like a break room, and then everybody's like, "All right, well, y'all get a good one." And then everybody goes into their own rooms. That part of it is very 9 to 5. 

But there is definitely — especially with our group of people, when you get on something that is so special, it's beyond, like, "We're writing a hit today." There's just something that transcends that. I don't know how to describe it, man. That's when it's really, really, really, really great. The Nashville process, that's what it's all about — having those moments in the room where you're like, "This is special," and, like, "We're witnessing something special that is going to affect people on a global or on a nationwide scale." 

I remember when we wrote "wait In the truck" and how we were all just gassing each other up because we were like, "Dude, this song is gonna help a lot of people." And that's when the 9 to 5 goes away. We're being creative together, and it's a special thing. 

There's been so many moments like that, where you're just so thankful to be a part of a great song, and how hyped everybody is. It's a feeling that's really, really hard to beat. 

More Of The Latest Country News & Music

Tom Petty
Tom Petty performing with the Heartbreakers in 2008

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

feature

How 'Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration' Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation

On 'Petty Country,' Nashville luminaries from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Luke Combs make Tom Petty’s simple, profound, and earthy songs their own — to tremendous results.

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 03:42 pm

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed in 2024, how would we define them? For fans of the beloved heartland rockers and their very missed leader, it's a compelling question.

"It's not active rock. It's not mainstream rock. It's not country. It would really fall in that Americana vein," says Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group. "When you think about what his lyrics were and are about, it's really about the American condition."

To Borchetta, these extended to everything in Petty's universe — his principled public statements, his man-of-the-people crusades against the music industry. "He was an American rebel with a cause," Borchetta says. And when you fuse that attitude with big melodies, bigger choruses, and a grounded, earthy perspective — well, there's a lot for country fans to love.

That's what Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management bet on when he posited the idea of Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty, a tribute album released June 21. Featuring leading lights like Dolly Parton ("Southern Accents"), Willie and Lukas Nelson ("Angel Dream (No. 2)," Luke Combs ("Runnin' Down a Dream"), Dierks Bentley ("American Girl,") Wynonna and Lainey Wilson ("Refugee"), and other country luminaries covering Tom Petty classics, Petty Country is a seamless union of musical worlds.

Which makes perfect sense: on a core level, Petty, and his band of brothers, were absolutely steeped in country — after all, they grew up in the South — Gainesville, Florida.

"Tom loved all country music. He went pretty deep into the Carter Family, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the folk, Americana heart of it," says Petty's daughter, Adria, who helps run his estate. "Hank Williams, and even Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline… as a songwriter, I think a lot of that real original music influenced him enormously." (The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds' Gram Parsons-hijacked country phase, were also foundational.)

A key architect of Petty Country was the man's longtime producer, George Drakoulias. "He's worked with Dad for a hundred years since [1994's] Wildflowers, and he has super exquisite taste," Adria says.

In reaching out to prospective contributors, he and fellow music supervisor Randall Poster started at the top: none other than Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. "Having Willie and Dolly made people stand up and pay attention," Dreakoulias told Rolling Stone, and the Nashville floodgates were opened: Thomas Rhett ("Wildflowers"), Brothers Osborne ("I Won't Back Down"), Lady A ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"), and so many others.

Each artist gave Petty's work a distinctive, personal spin. Luke Combs jets down the highway of "Runnin' Down the Dream" like he was born to ride. Along with Yo-Yo Ma and founding Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Rhiannon Giddens scoops out the electronics and plumbs the droning, haunting essence of "Don't Come Around Here No More."


And where a lesser tribute album would have lacquered over the songs with homogenous Nashville production,
Petty Country is the opposite.

"I'm not a fan of having a singular producer on records like this. I want each one of them to be their own little crown jewel," Borchetta says. "That's going to give us a better opportunity for them to make the record in their own image."

This could mean a take that hews to the original, or casts an entirely new light on it. "Dierks called up and said, 'Hey, do you think we would be all right doing a little bit more of a bluegrass feel to it?' I was like, 'Absolutely. If you hear it, go get it.'"

"It had the diversity that the Petty women like on the records," Adria says, elaborating that they wanted women and people of color on the roster. "We like to see those tributes to Tom reflect his values; he was always very pro-woman, which is why he has such outspoken women [laughs] in his wake."

Two of Petty Country's unquestionable highlights are by women. Margo Price chose "Ways to Be Wicked," a cut so deep that even the hardcore Petty faithful might not know it; the Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) outtake was buried on disc six of the 1995 boxed set Playback.

"Man, it's just one of those songs that gets in your veins," Price says. "He really knew how to twist the knife — that chorus, 'There's so many ways to be wicked, but you don't know one little thing about love.'" Founding Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell features on the dark, driving banger.

And all interviewed for this article are agog over Dolly Parton's commanding take on "Southern Accents" — the title track of the band's lumpy, complicated, vulnerable 1985 album of the same name. "It's just revelatory… it brings me to my knees," Adria says. "It's just a phenomenal version I know my dad would've absolutely loved."

"It's one of Dolly's best vocals ever, and it's hair-raising," Borchetta says. "You could tell she really felt that track, and what the song was about."

Adria is filled with profuse gratitude for the artists preserving and carrying her dad's legacy. 

"I'm really touched that these musicians showed up for my dad," she says. "A lot of people don't want to show up for anything that's not making money for them, or in service to their career, and we really appreciate it… I owe great debt to all of these artists and their managers for making the time to think about our old man like that."

Indeed, in Nashville and beyond, we've all been thinking about her old man, especially since his untimely passing in 2017. We'll never forget him — and will strum and sing these simple, heartfelt, and profound songs for years to come.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide: Adria Petty, Mike Campbell & More On The Enduring Significance Of Tom Petty's Wildflowers

Johnny Cash performing in 1997
Johnny Cash performing in 1997

Photo: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

news

'Songwriter' Highlights Johnny Cash's Mighty Pen: Inside This Seldom-Heralded Aspect Of The Man In Black

A new archival release drawn from 1993 sessions, 'Songwriter' illuminates Cash's skillful way with a lyric and melody — apart from simply being a great interpreter.

GRAMMYs/Jun 26, 2024 - 04:03 pm

When you think of Johnny Cash, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's the penitentiary serenader. The Rubin-retrieved elder statesman. The Man in Black who walked the line and fell into a burning ring of fire. Maybe even Homer's chili-pepper-hallucinated coyote on "The Simpsons." But what about Cash, the songwriter?

Certain hits of his — like that aforementioned mariachi-powered classic — were by outside writers. And an inarguable component of Cash's genius is how he could take a song by Merle Travis ("Dark as a Dungeon"), Bob Dylan ("It Ain't Me Babe") or Nine Inch Nails ("Hurt") and utterly inhabit it.

But simply a master interpreter he wasn't. From "Cry! Cry! Cry!" to "I Walked the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," Cash had a hand, in part or in whole, in writing some of his most monumental tracks. So why didn't this descriptor ever quite stick?

"Bob Dylan said he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He didn't say 'songwriters'; he said 'poet laureate,'" John Carter Cash — the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash — tells GRAMMY.com. "So, I think his contemporaries knew it, but not as many as the fans, because I think his image overshadows all that somehow."

With this in mind, John Carter helped bring a posthumous Cash project to life — one that celebrates his sometimes undersung facility in this department.

Welcome to Songwriter: An 11-track collection of previously unheard Cash originals from across the decades, like "Have You Ever Been to Little Rock," "I Love You Tonite," and "Like a Soldier." The album was recorded in 1993 at LSI Studios in Nashville, as songwriting demos.

John Carter always knew about the existence of these sessions — after all, he played guitar on them.

"Dad didn't really have the intention of releasing these as a body of work at that time, because he was sort of changing his mentality about his records," he explains. "I think he wanted to look at his old albums that had been successful — and this was right before he did the American Recordings stuff."

Read more: 10 Ways Johnny Cash Revived His Career With American Recordings

Despite existing in this liminal zone, the songs Cash tracked are superb. Opener "Hello Out There," which John Carter believes to be about the Voyager launches, is essentially Cash's "Space Oddity" — a cosmic statement from a typically boots-on-the-ground artist.

The following track, "Spotlight," finds the Man in Black singing to, well, the spotlight: "Don't let it show/ That my heart went with her when I let her go/ Don't let anybody see deep within the soul of me/ Or they will see that something there is not quite right." The highlights just roll on, from the entrancing psychedelia of "Drive On" to the spare, poignant "She Sang Sweet Baby James."

Wisely, John Carter and co-producer David "Fergie" Ferguson, who'd worked with Cash since the 1980s, stripped away some dated production, and centered Cash’s hypnotic performances. They also brought in musicians who'd worked with Cash: guitarist Marty Stuart, now-departed bassist Dave Roe and drummer Pete Abbott.

In the original session, Waylon Jennings sang on "I Love You Tonite" and "Like a Soldier"; in the 2020s, Vince Gill added vocals to "Poor Valley Girl," and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach added some simmering, bluesy guitar to "Spotlight."

When Ferguson heard the material for the first time, he was floored — by his voice, for one thing. "And what a good job they did recording it," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It could have just as easily been screwed up — been distorted, or had a big hum in it. Nowadays, you can take care of a lot of that, but a lot of it can't."

Then, there are the songs; Ferguson calls "Spotlight" "poetic in a lot of ways," and singles out "She Sang Sweet Baby James" as "kind of folky Johnny, storytelling Johnny. That was one of the first I heard where I said, Man, that's so good. I've never heard that. I was really surprised."

He's excited for the fan reaction to "Hello Out There." "When he does those echoes — 'Calling, calling, calling,' those are not digital echoes," he stresses of that recurrent hook. "He wanted them there. That ain't something we chose to do, but I really like those."

Ferguson also hails its lyrical timeliness: "It's kind of him singing about the world going to s—. He had a naturalist part of him. He loved Mother Earth."

John Carter is thrilled about the dynamism, and variety, of the material on Songwriter. "There are silly, fun songs. Ther are songs of faith, there are songs of his love — specifically for my mother," he says. "There's songs of loss and sadness. There's songs of mystery and eternal yearning that happen to also be gospel songs.

"It's a bright time in my memory of my father, even though he did have his ups and downs through his time period," John Carter concludes. "I hear his personality when I look through these songs. I hear his depth that he was a deep thinker and that he believed what he believed, and that's what it was. I hear the mystery that he perceived."

But one mystery should be cleared up right now: Johnny Cash was a great songwriter, on top of everything else he's famous for — and here are 11 colorful, memorable points of proof.

How Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation

Chapel Hart, Reyna Roberts, Camille Parker, Breland, Julie Williams, Kentucky Gentlemen
Top row: Chapel Hart; Middle row: Reyna Roberts, Camille Parker, Breland; Bottom row: Julie Williams, Kentucky Gentlemen

Photos: Top row: Catherine Powell/Getty Images for CMT; Middle row: Terry Wyatt/WireImage, Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BRELAND & Friends; Bottom row: Catherine Powell/Getty Images for Black Opry, SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

interview

What's The Future For Black Artists In Country Music? Breland, Reyna Roberts & More Sound Off

With a wave of talented Black acts shaking up the country music scene, the genre is reaching new heights. Six rising stars unpack country music's complicated past, celebrate recent victories, and predict what's next.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:29 pm

Shaboozey's "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" is flipping country music on its head. His genre-bending hit, which interpolates J-Kwon's 2004 hip-hop smash "Tipsy," replaced Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in April — marking the first time that two Black artists held the No. 1 spot back-to-back on the chart.

The history-making feat — and the massive success of "A Bar Song" — is a major win, especially given how Black artists have historically been shut out from country music, even in the last 10 years alone. In 2016, for instance, Beyoncé and The Chicks' CMA Awards performance of "Daddy Lessons," a country-leaning tune off the Houston native's sixth album, Lemonade, caused an uproar within the country music community, with many fans boycotting the show. Beyoncé later hinted that the backlash birthed her country-tinged 2024 LP, COWBOY CARTER, as she "did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive."

Then, in 2018, Billboard controversially removed Lil Nas X's GRAMMY-winning, Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring smash "Old Town Road" from the Hot Country Songs chart as it was poised to claim the top spot, because it didn't "embrace enough elements of today's country music." Lil Nas X's comment on the dispute perfectly depicted the ongoing debate around what qualifies as country music: "The song is country trap. It's not one, it's not the other. It's both. It should be on both [charts]."

Mainstream country music has long been a white, straight, cisgender male-dominated genre. But in recent years, an influx of Black country artists have been challenging the traditional norms of what country music looks and sounds like. In turn, they're helping the genre become more accessible and appealing to a broader audience — and it's forcing even some naysayers to pay attention. 

Along with Shaboozey, many rising artists are incorporating hip-hop and R&B elements into their country music. Tanner Adell's viral hit "Buckle Bunny" features rap-inspired verses and thumping bass; a guitar-fueled rap cadence carries BRELAND's "My Truck"; and Blanco Brown's "trailer trap" helped his line dance smash "The Git Up" top the Hot Country Songs chart for 12 nonconsecutive weeks in 2019. Several artists are leaning more into the traditional sound, too, as evidenced by the latest singles from Tiera Kennedy ("I Ain't a Cowgirl") and Chapel Hart ("2033").

Trailblazers like Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and Mickey Guyton have been pivotal to disrupting the scene and opening doors for marginalized acts. Rucker's "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," from his 2008 country debut, Learn to Live, earned him a No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart — the first Black artist to celebrate such an achievement since Charley Pride's "Night Games" in 1983. With 2017's "Heaven," Kane Brown made history twice: he was the first artist to top all five Billboard country charts simultaneously, and the first Black country artist to earn RIAA Diamond certification with an original song. Guyton's history-making feat came at the 2021 GRAMMYs, where she was the first Black woman ever nominated for Best Country Solo Performance, for her autobiographical "Black Like Me."

As country music continues to evolve, how will it make more room for boundary-pushing Black artists? GRAMMY.com tapped six rising stars — BRELAND, Chapel Hart, Kentucky Gentlemen, Camille Parker, Reyna Roberts, and Julie Williams — to discuss the future of a genre that has historically lacked diversity, the undeniable impact of Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER, and the artists that inspire them to push forward.

Quotes from these interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Shaboozey's "A Bar Song" and Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" are among 2024's biggest songs regardless of genre. What do you think are the key ingredients for making a great country song? How has it changed?

Brandon Campbell of Kentucky Gentlemen: All the best country songs have authenticity and truth. From the feel-good jams to the heartbreak, it's all about relatability and people being able to see themselves and what they've experienced in those songs. 

BRELAND: A great country song tells a linear story in which all of the lyrics relate back to a central concept. My favorite country songs also include elements of wordplay where a word or phrase is flipped, usually at the conclusion of the chorus.

I think the structure of country songs is about the same as it was 20 years ago, but there has just been some changes sonically. I've noticed fewer country songs have bridges, and the songs tend to be shorter now in general, which is consistent with trends across the music industry as a whole.

Reyna Roberts: It's about the instrumentation, lyrics and heart that's put into the music and how authentic it is. I personally love slide guitar, banjos, fiddles, harmonicas, and acoustic guitar, so those are key instruments in my music. I always make sure the foundation of classic country music is there and build upon that. Storytelling is equally as important; I pour my everything into the melodies and lyrics in every song I write.

Trea Swindle of Chapel Hart: The instrumentation has changed so much. Now there's the electric guitars and 808s. I think whenever Jason Aldean did "Dirt Road Anthem," it introduced 808s to country music and set off the whole bro-country moment. 

And, the thing about country music is it's all about the story, and it's all about the experience of creating music that has heart and soul and an impact. It's not like an AI-generated song with country buzzwords like truck, snake, boots, hat. That's not what it makes it country, and sometimes, it's not in the instrumentation that makes it country. You can hear a Vince Gill song, and it doesn't have a single guitar in it. It's all piano, but it's country at its core.

Camille Parker: I'm constantly referencing music that has lasted decades and speaks to people in a real way. The best country songs make people feel seen regardless of where they're from. I grew up on traditional country songs like "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" by Charley Pride and "You Don't Know Me" by Ray Charles. Those songs have evergreen lyrics, amazing production, and make you feel something real every time you hear it.

Julie Williams: All my favorite country songs pull me in with the storytelling and transport me to another place — either a memory of some place I've been or to an imaginary world. These stories can be raw and vulnerable or fun and lighthearted. Another core piece is a great melody, one that makes you want to jump in and sing along and gets stuck in your head. But we're in an exciting time in country music where we're hearing more types of stories like Mickey Guyton's "Black Like Me" and Brittney Spencer's "Thoughts and Prayers." 

Like most genres and sounds, the origins of country music are largely Black — why do you think it's been difficult for its roots to be widely acknowledged? Do you feel that's changing?  

BRELAND: Country music is undeniably influenced by Black musicians and Black culture, as with all American musical genres. But from the beginning of country music's popularization, there has been a concerted effort to separate it from its Black roots. In the '50s and '60s, country songs by white artists were considered country songs and hillbilly music, and country songs by Black artists were labeled and marketed as race records and eventually the blues. Since then, both genres have evolved in different directions, and their shared history is only now being discussed.

Williams: Mainstream country music has evolved into a genre rooted in patriotism, conservatism and general pro-America sentiments. For there to be an acknowledgment of the erasure of Black country music pioneers, there would have to be a wider acknowledgement — or, more specifically, a reckoning — that America hasn't always been so great. And, for some, that feels threatening.

Derek Campbell of Kentucky Gentlemen: There's a long history of people being unaware or not fully acknowledging Black efforts and contributions across many different genres. That's changing largely due to the fact that so many new people are discovering their love for country music. Those same people have joined in on important discussions while deep diving into its roots. They've had an incredible curiosity for acts like us who have been working in the genre all these years. 

Parker: More people are discovering missing pages in country music's history. For some, it may be difficult to challenge what they thought was a complete story, but it's important to acknowledge the past so we can all move toward a more informed and honest future.

Swindle: Since country is cool now, audiences far and wide are finding people they like and all these subgenres of country, or even some of the old-school, tried-and-true stuff. Every other genre has branched out, and I'm so glad that country is finally joining the party.

We all tell the same stories. Like Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" for instance. How is that different from [rapper] Mike Jones' "Back Then"?

Danica Hart of Chapel Hart: When we were on "America's Got Talent," I said "Country music doesn't always look like us." And I think, for so long, country music has done what has made country music billions of dollars. Country music has never had a Black superstar, but that also takes a lot of money for a label. The industry has just been working the formula that has worked for them for hundreds of years.

With social media, everything's just right at the tips of your hands. Back in the day, you had to go on a radio tour, you had to go do the arena tour — you had to get in front of somebody before you would reach a million people. Now you can get on TikTok and be like, "Go stream my music" and get a million followers. There's an evolution going on that's really in favor of all artists.

Read More: Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter' 

How has "the Beyoncé effect" helped thrust country music even further into the mainstream and make it more inclusive? 

B. Campbell: It's been great to see so many of us Black country artists gain visibility, and it's been even better seeing more broad audiences feeling more comfortable being country music fans. In all of our years doing this for a living, we've never seen more Black people and people of color in the audience dancing and singing back at us. It's been truly incredible and game-changing.

BRELAND: Beyoncé is helping to evolve country music because she brings with her a diverse group of millions of non-traditional country music listeners into the format. For decades now, country music has felt, to a lot of Black people, as a white space, so few Black artists and fans have felt safe and accepted in it. But now, the demographics are changing, and they have been in the years leading up to COWBOY CARTER.

If Beyoncé's fans and all of the other people inspired to broaden their musical horizons as a result of her album are willing to continue supporting Black artists in country, and the genre in general, this can be a really powerful and sustainable development in country music.

Swindle: It piqued the interest of people who may have naturally gravitated toward hip-hop or R&B. Now that Beyoncé decided to do a country album, it forced a lot of other platforms to say, "Okay, Beyoncé's doing it, but look at all these other artists," so it just shined a brighter light — and that, I appreciate.

Roberts: My numbers have grown exponentially over social media and DSPs. A lot of fans that don't typically listen to country music are now listening to my album and experiencing my art. (Editor's Note: Roberts was featured on COWBOY CARTER track "BLACKBIIRD" with Brittney Spencer, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy; she also offered background vocals for "TYRANT.") 

My goal has always been to reach people within and outside of the genre, and that's what's happening now. Many people didn't entirely see my vision before, but now I feel like people can see it clearly.

Parker: I feel so confident creating across genres and blending sounds because of artists like Beyoncé. She's shown us that you become the mainstream by creating art that resonates. COWBOY CARTER lets people imagine new possibilities in collaboration and expression. I love that she made this record so intentionally, and it's been a gift to witness people all over the world fall in love with a genre so many of us were raised on.

Williams: There are many folks that might not have felt like country music was a genre that they enjoyed, or even felt safe engaging with, so they might not turn on a country music radio station or go to a country music festival. And the country music industry gatekeepers that control those means of music discovery haven't historically played artists of color.

What's incredible about the Beyoncé effect is that people are going around those middlemen. Fans are discovering new Black country artists directly on social media.

In putting out COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé has put a spotlight on Black country. I have personally seen an increase in my numbers on streaming, social, and press hits. Black country artists have been out here for a while hustling and trying to be heard, but as a driver of culture, Beyoncé helped elevate the movement to an international stage. 

Where do you think diversity within country music stands these days?

Roberts: I feel like it's changing by artists like myself, and others who are acknowledging the history of country music and the true legends behind the genre that most people don't know about. Of course, I'm speaking about Linda Martell, Leslie Riddle, Tee Tot Payne and so many others who created what we consider to be classic country, and who taught Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash and so many other phenomenal artists that we uphold today.

Parker: I've experienced firsthand some of the progress that's been made, and it's truly special.  I think fans are connecting to our authenticity, and it's exciting to see more people from different walks of life at the shows and supporting us online.

Country music has such a powerful opportunity to make our space even more supportive of art and the people that create it. We're seeing all kinds of artists fall in love with country music, and I'm excited to see more collaborations. 

BRELAND: Diversity within country music is at a very pivotal inflection point. We're seeing more Black artists on the Billboard charts, and women like Lainey Wilson finding unparalleled success. There are finally more conversations about diversity that are happening within the genre.

However, many of these Black artists are not getting played at country radio, are not able to secure significant opening tour slots, and are not being given the same opportunities to sign record deals and release music at a higher level. All of those things need to continue to change for us to see sustainable careers of these diverse acts.

Swindle: I feel like the diversity has definitely changed. It's taken leaps and bounds, but in my heart, I just can't wait until we get to the point where people won't have to say, "She's a great Black country artist." No, she's just a great country artist. That's the goal. Because at the end of the day, it's about the music regardless of who's singing it.

Wiliams: It's getting better, but we have a long way to go before country music is [fully] welcoming and safe for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. A big part of that is not only diversifying the artists that are on stage, but also the people behind the scenes: industry folks, producers, engineers, musicians, photographers.

Read More: How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre 

In what ways can the industry do a better job at championing Black country artists? 

Williams: Right now, the industry does a great job of championing Black country artists around Black History Month and Black Music Appreciation Month. But I would love to see more love from the industry throughout the year.

Folks can make sure when they are organizing festivals or radio hours that they include Black artists, and also make sure when including those artists, they don't just give them the worst spot and call it a day. When putting together tours and support slots, booking agents can consider Black artists to add to the lineup and help introduce them to fans that might not discover them otherwise.

Roberts: The industry can have us perform at award shows that's within country music — and outside of country music, like the GRAMMYs — while putting the same amount of resources, attention, promotion, and money into us as other artists in the genre, as well as playing our music on country radio and radio stations outside of country. Black artists who have impacted the country legends also deserve formal recognition by organizations like the Country Music Hall of Fame.

BRELAND: The industry has to understand that positioning Black artists in this genre isn't going to work the same ways it would for a white artist. Our stories and our struggles are unique, and trying to erase our race from that narrative doesn't benefit anyone.

On the flip side, none of the Black artists I know in this space want their Blackness to be the only aspect of their story that gets told, either. And unfortunately, since 2020, it seems like most of the opportunities that come up for Black artists in country are addressing exactly that. So, the industry has to better understand the nuances of our existence in this space and work with us to find the best ways to support. 

The music industry is going to have to be more willing to play Black artists on country radio, book more Black artists on festivals and opening tour slots, and support Black artists editorially and on playlists. We need all of the same opportunities as our white peers, and additional support to push back against the systemic obstacles that have been put in our way.

B. Campbell: Placing more resources behind Black country artists is needed. Also, expanding the idea of what country music looks like can help continue to open doors. When you expand that narrow idea of what country music is to what reflects reality, then more of the world will be ready for us and our music.

Hart: There are artists that labels lose money on every day of the week. I think the way to change is to take a chance on a Black artist. The money's got to be lost anyway.  

Now that we see there's Black people that exist in this space, let's throw some money behind it and see what happens. That takes a conscious, bold, and brave effort, but it also requires a little digging and getting educated about who's out there. When they're playing their shows, are people showing up? Are they selling out theaters?

I think consumers forget that the people have the power. We saw that when someone called a country radio station and requested Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM." Everybody flooded that particular station until they finally were like, "Fine, we will play the song." There's a charge to the fans and the consumer to be more proactive in helping to promote Black artists.

What do you make of how Black artists have been standing out within the country community as of late?

Parker: It was exciting to see so many Black women enter the country space a few years ago — it was a big part of why I moved to Nashville to start my career. I've noticed the more brave you are, the more likely you are to create real, lasting change. Our industry is changing, and there are so many of us who want to serve music fans in new, creative ways.

D. Campbell: It's been such a blessing to have so many new fans searching for our music, coming out to shows while we're on the road, and asking to hear more of us. We can't wait to see how this carries us moving forward.

BRELAND: The Black artists in country music right now are incredibly talented and all have great stories and approaches to their craft. And I've done everything in my power to elevate them, whether it's bringing them on tour or out with me at my annual BRELAND & Friends benefit, collaborating on songs with them, or just keeping an open dialogue going with them. We have a great community of Black artists that all have the potential to be very successful, and I love to see it.

Williams: It's incredible that Black country artists have been standing out in the country music community — and long overdue! To see Shaboozey killing it with a No. 1 song and a packed CMA Fest stage, it gives me hope. Any win for a Black country artist is a win for the whole culture.

What contemporary artists have you seen break barriers? And who are some newcomers that are doing the same?

D. Campbell: We humbly name ourselves; showing up as our entire selves is daring in a genre that for decades proved it didn't believe we belonged, but we do it anyway. When you see the barriers being broken, it makes it easier to get up and do what you were born to do each and every day because you know it's possible. Also, Brittney Spencer's vulnerability and versatility have been breaking barriers for a while now. 

Williams: Mickey Guyton has been in Nashville for years, putting out incredible music, playing the game, and fighting for her voice to be heard. But in 2020, she put out "Black Like Me," a song that was unapologetically her and has inspired a new wave of artists to be our authentic selves despite what have been told is "commercial" or "acceptable" in country music.

BRELAND: Mickey revolutionized this space by talking about her experiences at a time where she was one of the only ones doing it. Her GRAMMY nomination [for Best Country Solo Performance for "Black Like Me "in 2021] inspired so many artists, including myself, to believe success was possible here. 

I also think about artists like Nelly, who for the last 20-plus years has blurred the lines of where country music fits into the larger conversation of Black culture. I've been inspired by how seamlessly he weaves between the hip-hop and country worlds.

Artists like Brittney Spencer, Shaboozey and Tanner Adell have all been bringing a new energy into the genre and all of their debut projects are very strong. Seeing Shaboozey's chart topping success with his single, Tanner's movement as an independent artist, and Brittney finally getting her flowers after over a decade in Nashville — all of those artists motivate me to keep going. 

Williams: Brittney Spencer is such an incredible songwriter and an even better artist and performer — I was lucky to write my song "Big Blue House" with her. I appreciate how she uplifts those around her. She is such a force! 

Rissi Palmer started Color Me Country Radio on Apple Music to highlight artists of color in country music and educate folks on the history of country music. She also awards Color Me Country grants to help smaller, independent artists fund their projects.

Denitia Odigie is another artist you cannot miss. Her voice is otherworldly and her blend of classic country sounds with modern twists is so fresh and unlike anything I'm hearing out of Nashville.

Swindle: Darius [Rucker], who first dominated the world with Hootie & The Blowfish, then he said, "I'm going back to my South Carolina roots, and I'm going to sing what I want sing from my heart," even though he didn't look like what most people were expecting country music to be.

That authenticity shines through every time. It's undeniable, and that's with anything. I've seen some artists try something because they think it's trendy, but the minute they just start being themselves, that's when it sticks. 

Where do you think country music is headed in 2024 and beyond?

Roberts: I believe it's going to be a blending of genres. I call my music Country Plus, which is country, hip-hop, rock, and pop. My vision is to create music that is innovative, and to do collaborations that bridge the gap between other genres and country music. I want to work with artists that have inspired me outside country music, including Megan Thee Stallion, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, and Rival Sons.

B. Campbell: With the idea of country music expanding, there are more voices that are going to be heard and more stories that are going to be told. So many more people are seeing themselves in our music and this genre.

BRELAND: Country music is just getting started. It's the final frontier for really well-written songs, which the listening public is desperate for more of, and I think it's going to continue getting more diverse in the process.

Devyn Hart of Chapel Hart: Country music is about to do some things, and I don't know if everybody's ready for it, but it's happening already. There are so many subgenres — country-pop, country-soul, country-hip-hop, country-rock. It's like a melting pot.

Parker: Country music will always remain because of its power to tell stories. My hope is that, in the future, we will see more art that tells our stories more authentically, creatively, and uninterrupted by anything that doesn't push us toward the future. 

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices