meta-scriptAlana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation. | GRAMMY.com
Alana Springsteen Press Photo 2023
Alana Springsteen

Photo: Lily Nelson

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Alana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation.

Budding country star Alana Springsteen details how her debut album, 'TWENTY SOMETHING,' completes a journey of self-expression — and helps others do the same.

GRAMMYs/Aug 23, 2023 - 07:28 pm

By the time Alana Springsteen was 9 years old, she knew she was destined to be a singer/songwriter — so much so that she wrote a song about it.

"It was called 'Believe,' as cheesy as it sounds," the rising country star recalls with a laugh. "It was about believing in myself and how my parents believed in me, and knowing, even from that young, that I was going to do this and I could do this. I remember playing it for my parents and they were in tears. They were like, 'Okay, we get it. We're gonna do this. We're gonna take you to Nashville.'"

Sure enough, that November, Springsteen and her family headed to Nashville, meeting with folks at Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and Broadcast Music Inc (BMI). Instead of brushing off the then-10-year-old, each person she met invited more people to come hear her, and eventually got her set up with some writing sessions. At 14, she moved to Nashville, and officially began her career with her first publishing deal.

Now 22, Springsteen just released her debut studio album, TWENTY SOMETHING. The album carries the same conviction and authenticity that she showed in those rooms when she was 10. Over its 18 tracks, TWENTY SOMETHING intricately details the woes of growing up in three parts: messing it up, figuring it out and getting it right.

A major theme on TWENTY SOMETHING is also one of Springsteen's mantras: "we don't chase, we attract" (a line that sneaks its way into the flirty "look i like"). While that sentiment can seem ironic for someone who has been chasing her dream for 13 years, it's a perfect portrayal of who she is as an artist — one whose confidence radiates and resonates.

Whether she's owning her own faults on "if you love me now" and "hypocrite," expressing insecurities on "chameleon" and the title track, or reclaiming her narrative post-breakup on "you don't deserve a country song" and "tennessee is mine," Springsteen's self-awareness is remarkable for someone so young. Her perceptive storytelling and pop sensibilities make for a captivating kind of country reminiscent of young Taylor Swift (who is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Springsteen's biggest inspirations, as she details in "taylor did").

One of her most powerful statements comes on album closer "amen," an acoustic tune in which she gives herself permission to navigate life on her terms. At her album release party in Nashville on Aug. 15, Springsteen closed her set singing "amen" on her own, stepping out into the crowd to declare its final verse a cappella: "And no I ain't got all the answers/ But I'm finding mine for damn sure/ And I mean it, so I'm sayin' it again/ Amen."

"The best thing that I ever did was double down on my truth and my story," Springsteen says. "Never giving up on that vision that I had in my gut, listening to that. My blind faith and blind confidence has been my superpower."

One of the biggest factors in Springsteen's decade-plus journey to TWENTY SOMETHING was the struggle to find the right team, which she's now found in people like her manager, Basak Kizilisik. But even before she felt things were completely right, others around her could feel her star power — including superstar songwriter Liz Rose, with whom Springsteen co-wrote two songs on the album.

"I've known her since she moved to town, and we never really wrote until the last year and a half. I was like, 'Why the f— am I not writing with Alana Springsteen?'" Rose says. "She knows who she is as an artist, and she's spent a lot of time not taking anything for granted. She just knows that she doesn't know everything, [which makes her] a fantastic songwriter."

Country star Mitchell Tenpenny — who co-wrote and features on "goodbye looks good on you" — has seen that same spark since he began working with Springsteen in 2021, and especially while they were on tour together in early 2022. "I watched her control the crowd with just an acoustic guitar. And that's when you know, man," Tenpenny says, referring to Springsteen as a "little sister." "She is just the total freaking package." 

Springsteen is the lead songwriter on all 18 tracks and co-producer on all but two, with guitar and piano credits across the album as well. Not only does that add to the intention behind her music, but it's an indication of the growth that she's felt — and presented — with TWENTY SOMETHING.

"The entire goal of this record, for me, is to really get to know myself for the first time," she says. "It was about acceptance, growth, empowerment, learning to trust myself again. And that's a journey that I hope everybody has the courage to go on when they listen to this album."

While the numbers show that she is certainly making an impact — with more than 100 million career streams to date — Springsteen's autobiographical style and knack for catchy melodies resulted in a slew of recognition even before TWENTY SOMETHING arrived. Along with being honored as part of 2023's CMT Next Women of Country Class and MusicRow's Next Big Thing, the singer was also one of eight rising country stars selected to perform at Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest in June.

And accolades aside, the fan reaction is enough evidence that she's achieving her goals. "As someone who just turned 18 and about to go to college this album to me is like a guidebook on how to navigate this part," one fan wrote in an Instagram comment. As another added, "This is what new + upcoming artists should be aiming for on debut or sophomore releases."

As she continues to grow her budding career, Springsteen will likely also continue hearing the inevitable question, "Are you related to Bruce?" The answer is no — but she's also not keeping the name for clout.

"I never wanted it to feel like I'm just taking advantage of that name and using that as, like, clickbait or anything," she asserts. "That's the opposite of what I'm trying to do." 

Though Springsteen says that she's "definitely thought about" a stage name in the past, using her birth name is the only way her music would feel as true as she's always intended it to be. And as she's proved so far, she knows she has what it takes to compete with big guns like The Boss: "I'm making my own name."

Is Nashville Really A 10-Year Town? Walker Hayes, HARDY, Lainey Wilson & More Country Hitmakers On How The Wait Pays Off

Brittney Spencer performing on "Fallon"
(L-R) Brittney Spencer, Mickey Guyton and Maren Morris perform on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in November 2023.

Photo: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

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Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment

Between Lainey Wilson's first-ever GRAMMY nominations and Brittney Spencer's highly-anticipated album arriving Jan. 19, female country artists are making bigger statements and waves than they have in decades — and there's plenty more where that came from.

GRAMMYs/Jan 18, 2024 - 06:46 pm

Country music has long felt like a boy's club.

From the genre's humble beginnings of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Jimmie Rodgers, through the outlaw movement of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Merle Haggard, to more modern day giants like Garth Brooks, George Strait and Tim McGraw, men have been dominating the genre for nearly a century.

Even now, megastars like Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs and Zach Bryan have comfortably inherited the position, virtually ruling the airwaves of country music and beyond for the majority of 2023. Those three have almost single-handedly helped the genre become arguably the biggest it's ever been — and it's finally opening the door for women to join in.

As the genre has boomed over the last year or so, it's created an opportunity for female artists to get in on a bigger slice of the pie. While the guys were out there wooing the mainstream, a handful of ladies were making their own fair share of noise with superstars Lainey Wilson, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves and Carly Pearce showing the genre what girl power is all about, and representing at the 2024 GRAMMYs as a result.

Of course, a handful of female artists have been able to push through the cracks through the years, from Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. But historically, women have largely been chasing equal stature in the country music limelight. The genre's gender gap came to a head with 2015's "Tomato-gate" controversy, when radio consultant Keith Hill compared radio airplay to a salad, with the men as the lettuce and women as a tomato garnish.

Although airplay hasn't necessarily grown (a recent study found that female artists received an abysmal 11 percent of airplay in 2022), that hasn't stopped women in the genre from making an impact. In the last few years, a growing group of women have been rewriting the rules, nabbing major award nominations and wins, selling out headlining tours, notching No. 1s and breaking records — and they only seem to be gaining speed.

As a new year begins, take a look at a few of the ways women are breaking through in country music.

GRAMMY Representation

For the past few GRAMMYs ceremonies, we've been seeing more and more female names in country music listed among the nominees.

The shift was first really felt at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards in 2021, when women dominated the nominations thanks to the colossal successes of Best New Artist nominee Ingrid Andress, country stalwart Miranda Lambert and female supergroup the Highwomen (comprised of previous GRAMMY winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires).

Female artists have continued to carve out their spot in GRAMMY history with nominations and wins. One of the most notable wins came in 2023, when Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde's history-making duet, "Never Wanted To Be That Girl," claimed Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

Pearce is once again nominated in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category at the 2024 GRAMMYs, this year for her chilling duet with decorated tunesmith Chris Stapleton, "We Don't Fight Anymore," which could find her claiming the prize for a second consecutive year.

While women don't dominate the Country Field nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Pearce isn't alone. There's plenty of success stories throughout the categories, and one of the people leading that charge is Lainey Wilson.

More than a decade after moving to Nashville, Wilson's fourth studio album, Bell Bottom Country, has been propelling her to the forefront of the genre. The album helped earn Wilson a nomination for Best Country Album — one of her first two career GRAMMY nominations, the other for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Save Me," her evocative collaboration with country-rap trailblazer (and 2024 Best New Artist nominee), Jelly Roll.

One of the genre's most enduring duets of 2023, Zach Bryan and Kacey Muscgraves' "I Remember Everything," is also in the running for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Along with debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reigning atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for 16 weeks as of press time, the collab continued Musgraves' GRAMMY success. Also nominated for Best Country Song, "I Remember Everything" brings Musgraves' nomination total to 13; as of press time, she's won 6 GRAMMYs, including the coveted Album Of The Year in 2019 for Golden Hour.

Seasoned singer/songwriter Brandy Clark secured the most nominations of all the female country artists, with 6 nods across the Musical Theater, Americana and Country categories. Notably, her twice-nominated "Buried," included on her self-titled LP, nabbed nominations for both Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.

Dolly Parton earned her 54th GRAMMY nomination this year, for Best Country Solo Performance for her solo version of one of her earliest hits, "The Last Thing On My Mind." First released in 1967 as her debut duet with Porter Wagoner, the 2023 version of the song features Parton's signature, soulful vocals and was included in the I Am a Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 tribute album.

Elsewhere in the 2024 GRAMMY nominations, pop-country darling Kelsea Ballerini is nominated alongside Wilson in the Best Country Album category with her Rolling Up the Welcome Mat EP. The triumphant and soul-bearing project led to one of her most commercially and critically successful years to date (more on that later).

Growing Success At Country Radio & Beyond

As her two GRAMMY nominations indicate, Lainey Wilson was arguably country music's woman of 2023. Notching four trips to the top of the Mediabase Country Airplay chart in 2023, she set two records: most No. 1s by a female country artist in a calendar year and most No. 1's on Billboard's Country Airplay chart by a female artist this decade. This was thanks to her own "Heart Like A Truck" and "Watermelon Moonshine," as well as her HARDY collaboration "wait in the truck" and the aforementioned Jelly Roll team-up "Save Me."

Beyond her profound radio success, 2023 also saw Wilson nab four ACM Awards and five CMA trophies; at the latter, she won Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and the coveted Entertainer of the Year, whose last female winner came in 2011 with country-turned-pop superstar, Taylor Swift.

Wilson's fellow Best Country Album nominee, Kelsea Ballerini, also had a banner year. While her nominated Rolling Up the Welcome Mat EP didn't spawn a radio hit, it made quite an impression on streaming and social media. Due to its raw account of her public divorce from singer Morgan Evans, Ballerini's latest project helped her sell out her headlining tour, receive an invite to perform on Saturday Night Live, and earn an array of major award nominations.

Another proven hitmaker, Carly Pearce, nabbed her fourth No. 1 with her heartbreak anthem, "What He Didn't Do," which reached the top of the Country Aircheck/Mediabase chart last March. Newcomer Megan Moroney topped the same chart in June with her 2022 debut single, "Tennessee Orange," which helped her have a remarkable breakout year including her first award and a sold-out tour.

Rising country star Priscilla Block also secured a No. 1 on Mediabase's Country Airplay chart with her Justin Moore duet, "You, Me, and Whiskey," while more veteran act Gabby Barrett — who scored back-to-back No. 1 hits on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in 2020 and 2021 — reached the top 10 of the chart in 2023 with her single "Pick Me Up."

Female Artists On the Horizon

In the last 12 months, rising female country artists hit their stride, bringing a lot of promise to tackling the genre's gender gap. Hailey Whitters landed her first chart entry on both Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot 100 charts with her breakthrough single, "Everything She Ain't," which broke the top 20 on the former tally. Sister duo Tigirlily Gold saw their debut single, "Shoot Tequila," surge into the top 40 on country radio while they also juggled making their Opry debut, a loaded touring schedule and the release of their acclaimed Blonde EP.

Aside from the radio dial, women also had massive years on the road, earning major touring slots with some of the genre's big hitters. Big Loud prodigy Ashley Cooke put out her debut effort, Shot in the Dark, which propelled her onto Luke Bryan's Country Again Tour and Jordan Davis' Damn Good Time Tour. Meanwhile, Ella Langley, a country-rocker in the making, spent her year alongside Riley Green and Jon Pardi, as songs from her debut EP, Excuse the Mess, garnered millions of streams.

Beyond commercial success, there are a slew of burgeoning female singer/songwriters who are also poised to break through. Alana Springsteen, who released her three-part twenty something project in 2023, is establishing herself as one of the newest (and most relatable) voices in the country-pop world. Meanwhile, Lauren Watkins — who doubled down in 2023 with two EPs, Introducing: Lauren Watkins and Introducing: The Heartbreak — is reinventing the neo-traditional, retro country music of generations past.

Similarly, "The Voice" alum Emily Ann Roberts is out to make traditional country cool again as demonstrated on her debut LP, Can't Hide Country, while Catie Offerman, a powerhouse multi-instrumentalist, is bringing her Texas charm and clever turns of phrase into the country mainstream one infectious single at a time.

Next up is Brittney Spencer, who will release her debut album, My Stupid Life, on Jan. 19. As her glistening, genre-bending music continues to gain commercial traction, she's already loved by critics and artists alike; Maren Morris just recruited her for a dynamic performance of "The Tree" on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" alongside Mickey Guyton.

While it's impossible to mention all of the country women out there making moves, it's more than evident that female artists are ready to take up more of the country music landscape than ever before — and 2024 might just be the year that women finally get their due.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

Bonnaroo 2024 Recap Hero
Ethel Cain performs at Bonnaroo 2024.

Photo: Ashley Osborn for Bonnaroo 2024

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9 Epic Sets From Bonnaroo 2024: Ethel Cain, Melanie Martinez, Megan Thee Stallion & More

With an exciting mix of rising stars and big-name performers, Bonnaroo 2024 brought another year of showstopping performances to Manchester, Tennessee. Revisit some of the most intriguing sets from The Japanese House, Interpol and more.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 06:40 pm

The 2024 iteration of Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was an absolute scorcher — even without the 95-degree highs.

The weekend brought some of the hottest names in music for a stacked lineup of buzzy newcomers and hitmaking veterans. From the Red Hot Chili Peppers' spectacular return to touring with John Frusciante, to Dashboard Confessional's star-studded Emo Superjam, to Billy Strings joining Post Malone for "rockstar," to Chappel Roan singing to a wig, there was no shortage of unforgettable moments at The Farm. 

While this year was the literally hottest that Bonnaroovians had seen in a few years, sweating through shirts (or lack thereof) proved completely worth it as some of the biggest iconoclasts came together and brought their all. It was electrifying, whimsical and at times emotional — and the bright, sunny skies served as the perfect backdrop for it all. 

If anything, the blistering — and briefly thundery — weather was a testament to the enduring nature of music fans; folks from all over the globe will never miss a chance to watch their favorite artists. Relive the magic with nine of the most exciting sets from Bonnaroo 2024.

The Foxies Took Technical Mishaps In Stride

The Foxies performing at Bonnaroo

The Foxies | Yvonne Gougelet for Bonnaroo 2024

Nashville's premier glitterpunk exports the Foxies delivered a fun, crowd-pleasing set Thursday night on the Who stage, even despite a flurry of audio issues and technical hiccups. The Roo crowd was forgiving, though, and the band rewarded us with some of the best songs from their catalog — plus a cover of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy."

"Summer Never Dies," "Timothee Chalamet," and "Little Monsters" all landed perfectly, but the group's personality shone brightest during their newest release, "Natural Disaster." It couldn't have been a more apt song for Bonnaroo's carefree setting — an ode to feeling free and accepting the wildest parts of yourself. 

"A huge theme while we were writing ['Natural Disaster'], for me, was when I was 20 living in Brooklyn, how I was, all the cringey stuff that I did as a young adult," The Foxies frontwoman Julia Bullock told GRAMMY.com backstage. "I wish I wouldn't have shied away from it, or been embarrassed by it — I wish I'd leaned into the cringiness. This is an anthem for that: if I could do it all over again I would just embrace the fact that we are all just weird." Indeed we are, Julia.

The Japanese House Brought Love And Light

The Japanese House performing at Bonnaroo

The Japanese House | Yvonne Gougelet for Bonnaroo 2024

Since its 2015 inception, The Japanese House has always been in the zeitgeist. Where Amber Bain's heavily layered, mournful music was inescapable during the pale-grunge Tumblr era, it now occupies a much lighter space. Coming off of a banner year and a critically acclaimed album, In the End it Always Does, Bain has been embracing her pop side like never before.

Her set was a cornucopia of new and old sounds, the most exciting part of which was her new song, "Smiley Face." Written a year ago when Bain met her current fiancée on a dating app, "Smiley Face" is bright, soft, and sploshy, fraught with the energy of someone falling deliriously in love. "[When we first met] she lived in Detroit and I lived in London, and I would stay awake until she fell asleep," Bain tells GRAMMY.com of the song. "We were in different time zones. I was running on nothing — I felt a bit high." 

Like the rest of her discography, the song held the audience in the palm of its hand, this time enveloping us in a warm, flickering glow. "I could be losing my mind but something's happening," Bain sang, naturally, with a smile on her face. 

TV Girl Delivered A Masterclass In Melodrama

"I have a bit of stage fright," revealed TV Girl singer Brad Petering before the group's second to last song. Even if he felt it, stage fright wasn't apparent during the indie pop band's hour-long performance. Their set felt like a dream; onlookers got lost in the moment, spinning, swaying and dancing in the refreshingly cool breeze. 

It fell serendipitously near the 10th anniversary of their debut, French Exit, an album that launched them into the limelight as stalwarts of indie pop. Songs like "Louise" and "Lovers Rock" felt almost nostalgic 10 years on, and newer cuts like "99.5" and "The Nighttime" blended right in. Backed by a full band — including backup singers Kiera and Mnya, whose powerhouse vocals could've made for their own show — TV Girl turned already dynamic songs like "Birds Don't Sing" and "Not Allowed" into even fuller, radiant versions of themselves. 

Ethel Cain Took Us To Church

Ethel Cain performing at Bonnaroo

Ethel Cain | Ashley Osborn for Bonnaroo 2024

Despite its small size, there was no more perfect space for an Ethel Cain set than the reserved, remote That Tent in the quiet corner of Bonnaroo. Her performance saw the quaint venue packed to the brim, 1000-odd people staring back at Cain in dumbstruck awe, as her band played through songs inspired by Christian music and Gregorian chant.

Beginning with unreleased song "Dust Bowl" and the haunting "A House in Nebraska," Cain's performance was an intense, resounding 40 minutes that traversed between peace and emotional turmoil, much like all of the songs from her breakthrough album, Preacher's Daughter. The euphoric response from her overflowing audience left little doubt that her songwriting can break down walls; she's a timeless act, and her Bonnaroo set proved it.

​​Neil Frances Set Themselves Apart

There are a number of artists with variations of the name Neil Frances — or at least that's what it looked like from this year's Bonnaroo bill. One difference in letters, and you may have found yourself at the Other Stage at 6:15pm on Saturday, seeing Neil Frances instead of Neal Francis. But, whether you've been a fan of Neil Frances for years, or you wound up there by mistake, the indie-dance duo would not have let you leave disappointed. 

Backed by a live full band, their set felt like a psychedelic ode to the club, to dancing, and to feeling free. And their live production is every bit an artistic endeavor as is being in the studio. 

"We've always preferred to play with a live band; there are so many things that we do live that are completely different from the record," the duo's Marc Gilfry told GRAMMY.com. "It's fun, it's dramatic, and we have really great musicians."

Read More: NEIL FRANCES Just Want To Have Fun & Get 'Fuzzy'

Melanie Martinez Gave Us A Peek Inside Her Mind

Melanie Martinez performing at Bonnaroo

Melanie Martinez | Dusana Risovic for Bonnaroo 2024

Adorned with bows, horns, over-the-top dresses, and a multi-eyed, alien-like prosthetic mask, Melanie Martinez was dressed exactly how you'd think she would. With a stage setup of greenery, giant mushrooms, nymphs, and various mythical elements that seemed to revel in its own kitchiness, the details of Martinez's intricately-woven performance art unfolded around the audience, song by song, immersing everyone in a world of weird, elaborate fun.

Her dancers wove through a delicately choreographed, three-act narrative, taking the crowd through her three albums in chronological order, telling the story of the Cry Baby character, who first appears in her debut album, Cry Baby. The character transforms from baby to child to young adult, and finally, to a fully grown, pink-skinned being in the third act. Martinez's set was artistry in every sense of the word, taking fans through the ups and downs of youth and coming-of-age through rich metaphor and lyrical imagery — and prompting delighted sing-alongs as a result.

Interpol Were A Quiet Gem

Interpol performing at Bonnaroo

Interpol | Ismael Quintanilla III for Bonnaroo 2024

More than 25 years into their career, there's still something very disarming about Interpol. Maybe it's their effortless, NYC cool, or that they still know how to build the type of tension that gives you chills. Or maybe it's that they're men of very few onstage words — and when they do speak, you feel as though you've been given a gift.

Three things can be true, and they were for Interpol's Bonnaroo set Friday Night. Not ones to waste time talking, the three-piece rock band played an unbelievably tight 75-minute set, mostly sticking to a reliable selection of early hits, largely from their 2004 album, Antics. The crowd didn't seem put-off by the lack of chatter, as everybody had some singing along to do — because it was impossible not to.

Milky Chance Never Stopped Dancing

Milky Chance performing at Bonnaroo

Milky Chance | Douglas Mason for Bonnaroo 2024

Milky Chance wants you to dance. The German duo-turned-quad may have steadily transformed since their early folk days, but they've never abandoned their ability to make every beat danceable and each chorus undeniable. And on stage, they were having a ball.

With a set that included both 2012 hit "Stolen Dance" and their latest, "Naked and Alive,'' their evolution from folk renegades to breezier, disco-pop pundits is on full display — and we're glad they brought us all along for the ride. 

Speaking to GRAMMY.com backstage, bassist Philipp Dausch discussed their journey: "It was quite a process to become the band we wanted to be. Our music has always been in-between electronic and folky, so we put a lot of work into becoming that band on stage as well. We love rhythms and beats. We like when music moves you."

Megan Thee Stallion Declared This A "Self-Love Summer"

Megan Thee Stallion performing at Bonnaroo

Megan Thee Stallion | Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2024

No one is doing it like Meg. A highlight of day four — and perhaps the entire weekend — was Megan Thee Stallion's riotous, yet charming Sunday night set. Clad in a yellow-ombre bodysuit and welcomed by a crowd chanting her name, the Houston hottie commanded the What stage in a manner that suggested it won't be too long until she's in the headlining slot.

"Real hot girl s—," she screamed at the crowd, who didn't hesitate to scream back. It was clear she was on a high; not only was it her first Bonnaroo set, but it also followed back-to-back sold-out shows in her hometown of Houston, making it an absolutely monumental weekend for the rapper. 

Her and her dancers shook, twerked, and rolled through each hit without ever losing breath control — even during what she deemed the "personal section" of her set. And that portion was aptly-named; beneath the ass-shaking and thumping beats, "Cobra" brought about an air of sadness during an otherwise infectiously playful and positive performance. 

The lyrics chronicle her mental health struggles over the years amidst personal traumas and virulent online abuse. "Man, I miss my parents," she sang of her late parents, on what happened to be Father's Day. But shortly after the poignant moment, Megan quickly returned to her signature body-moving, sex-positve calling cards, "WAP," "Savage," and "Body," during which she declared this summer a "Self-Love Summer." That's some Real Hot Girl S— we can get behind.

15 LGBTQIA+ Artists Performing At 2024 Summer Festivals

Queer country feature hero
(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

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

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

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"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: Sunscreen & Suntans Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from our talented members. This summer playlist is a vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping as you soak up the sun.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:38 pm

Did you know that among all GRAMMY U members, songwriting and performance are some of the most sought after fields of study? This playlist dedicates a space to hear what these members are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that members are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 15 to 25 songs that match each month’s theme. This summer playlist is vibrant mix of bubblegum pop and soulful tunes that will have you bopping and singing as you soak up the sun. So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our next playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify, Apple Music and/or Amazon Music link to the song. Artists must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects aspiring professionals and creatives ages 18-29 with the music industry's brightest and most talented minds. We provide a community for emerging professionals and creatives in addition to various opportunities and tools necessary to start a career in music. Throughout the program year, events and initiatives touch on all facets of the industry, including business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

Former GRAMMY U Reps Heather Howard, Sophie Griffiths and Samantha Kopec contributed to this article.

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