meta-scriptMeet Charles Wesley Godwin, The Rising Country Singer Who's Turning "A Very Human Story" Into Stardom | GRAMMY.com
Charles Wesley Godwin press photo 2024
Charles Wesley Godwin

Photo: David McClister

interview

Meet Charles Wesley Godwin, The Rising Country Singer Who's Turning "A Very Human Story" Into Stardom

With his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of family life, Charles Wesley Godwin has become one of country music's most promising new stars. As he begins his 2024 tour, the singer/songwriter details his unexpected journey to the stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 06:17 pm

Charles Wesley Godwin never intended to play for audiences when he picked up a guitar for the first time in college. Now, the 30-year-old Godwin is a full-blown country star, playing stadium shows and prestigious music festivals as one of the genre's fastest rising talents.

Godwin's musical power and allure lie in the ability to inhabit both a superstar persona and family-man image. He's equally comfortable belting his raucous, anthemic "Cue Country Roads," and serenading his baby daughter in "Dance in Rain," a touching song about his vision for her future. Tapping into his West Virginia roots and family history, Godwin's authentic, raw storytelling hasn't just widely resonated — it's helped the singer realize his calling.

Known for his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of human experiences, Godwin first endeared himself to audiences with songs like "Hardwood Floors," a sweet love song to his wife, and "Seneca Creek," a ballad from his first album, 2019's Seneca. Across three studio albums thus far, Godwin mixes powerful vocals and relatable, heartfelt lyrics, aligning him with the likes of Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson.

The son of a coal miner and a teacher, Godwin dreamed of playing professional football and attended West Virginia University to study finance. After moving on from college football dreams, he taught himself guitar, learning country classics to fill the football void.

But while studying abroad in Estonia, one of Godwin's roommates took his guitar to a club show and coaxed Godwin up on stage after the set. His cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" — Godwin's college theme song and current show closer — earned him his second gig, performing at a fashion show. He was hooked.

After college, Godwin spent most of a decade touring relentlessly, crisscrossing the country to play bars and coffee houses. As he transitioned from covering favorite songs to writing his own, Godwin honed his writing chops and musical voice, intent on figuring out who he would be as a musician.

His latest studio album, 2023's aptly titled Family Ties, showcases the versatility and emotional depth that continues to make his songs resonate intensely. It includes upbeat country bangers like "Two Weeks Gone" and "Family Ties"; ruminations on deep generational connections to family, including his journey to understand his dad in "Miner Imperfections" and recounting his mother's heart-wrenching experience in "The Flood"; and raw, personal reflections on his love for his children, from "Gabriel" to "Tell the Babies I Love Them."

After signing his first major record label deal and opening for Zach Bryan in 2023, Godwin will spend 2024 headlining shows around the United States, also supporting Luke Combs on several dates and playing festivals like Stagecoach, Bonnaroo and Under the Big Sky.

Ahead of his tour launch on April 4, Godwin spoke with GRAMMY.com about his inspiration and writing, chasing his musical dreams, and his favorite career "pinch me" moments — so far.

How did you get started in music?

I watched the Avett Brothers in the 2011 GRAMMYs and was wowed by it, and thought maybe picking a guitar up would be a productive hobby to have. And then over time I began to realize I actually had the talent.

That hobby worked out okay.

I've always joked — even though people are like "Oh man, that's crazy, you didn't find it until you were in your 20s" — I'm like, "Well, at least I found my thing." I feel very fortunate. I feel like things could have easily gone a different way.

Was music of interest to you? What kind of music did your parents play when you were growing up?

My dad listened to oldies radio, a lot of pop music from the '60s and the '70s. I had a lot of the Beatles songs and CCR songs stuck in my head as a little kid.

I would casually consume whatever was put right in front of me, but I wasn't big into music. I was worried about sports. I wanted to be good at football.

What was it like for you picking up a guitar the first time?

It was frustrating. My fingers wouldn't go where I wanted them to. And it seemed very difficult. But I would just bite it off in 15-minute chunks each day. I wouldn't quit.

It wasn't until about a year into it that I could actually start stringing chords together. My dad had gotten a mining engineering degree, and to do some pretty high-level calculus, he always told me when I was growing up, "Math, it just clicks one day, as long as you don't give up on it."

Tell me more about your dad, for whom you wrote "Miner Imperfections." It sounds like you got your work ethic from him.

When he grew up, most of his friends were getting drafted to Vietnam. He had applied for the mines and he gave himself a timeline. He said, If the mines don't call within two weeks, I'm going to join the Air Force, because if I'm gonna get sent to Vietnam, I might as well join on my own terms. He ended up getting called by the mines and went underground in his early 20s. And worked his ass off.

He'd met my mom, and they created a better life for themselves. [They] were able to elevate themselves economically and give my brother and I a great life growing up, and the ability to chase our dreams.

He didn't love the mines, but he was good at it. And it was a way for him to make a good living. My dad had an amazing work ethic. He was very, very hard-nosed, independent, principled. And he taught me a lot of that.

As I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate him more and more. And [my parents] gave me the mental tools I needed to be able to go through that whole crucible of going all across the country for a decade and sleeping in my car and playing in bars and restaurants and cafes, basically living well below the poverty line for many years, to make this dream of mine come true.

I think the very first song of yours I heard was "Seneca Creek." What's the story behind that song?

That's about my grandparents, on my mother's side. My mom's side of the family is from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. They're part of the hillbilly highway, they moved up to Canton, Ohio. My granddad was working for Ford Motor Company. And he got drafted to go fight in Korea. So he went off and was a tank commander and fought in Korea for two years and went back to the Ford Motor Company when he got back.

They started a family and started building a life. They ended up moving back to West Virginia in the early '60s, and took over my great grandfather's General Store and farmed cattle. My grandmother was the postmaster.

They had a remarkable life, full of highs and lows and it was a very, very human story. And I thought it translated well into song.

What experiences in your life have colored the kinds of stories you want to tell in your music?

I draw on my family, my wife and my kids. That's really some of the most profound experiences I've had.

My dad, when he was my age, was crawling in less than three feet of coal. So I don't want to write too much about "playing on the road was hard."

One strong point of mine is I can observe somebody else and find the little nuggets of humanity to put into song that can still seem very personal and moving to people.

But you've also got these deeper generational connections and stories, too.

I have a lot of interesting family members in the family tree that I've been able to pull from. My mom's side came over in the potato famine in the mid-1800s. My dad's side, a lot of them were even here before the United States was the United States.

There's a lot of interesting and rich family history to draw from — moonshiners on my mother's side, there's been soldiers, drunkards, teachers and miners. My great grandfather on my dad's side, he used to eat a raw potato in the mines every day for lunch until Italians came over and showed the Irish guys how to eat better.

You've talked about your music sounding like it's from West Virginia. What does that mean? What is West Virginia music to you?

Before I put my first record out, I understood that I needed to find what my natural voice was. And make sure that I wasn't just trying to mimic somebody else.

I would not be able to pull off sounding like I'm trying to sing rodeo country. But I can sound like I'm from West Virginia, because that is the truth.

I think it has to have some bluegrass, if we're talking country music. Because you [also] got [late West Virginia native] Bill Withers, who is one of the best soul singers ever.

Stories about rural places and working class people often get tokenized and stereotyped. When you're writing songs, how do you honor the people you're writing about instead of making them stereotypes?

I just try my best. There's been a lot of lines that when I'm working on songs over the years, I've been like, "that's not it," and then put a line through it and try to come up with something better or more positive or more honest.

I'd rather shine a light on the more admirable character traits, either people in my family that I'm writing about or made up characters. I also try not to make it too unrealistic. I have a lot of songs about regret, which is something that [is] very human. But I definitely don't want to go around glorifying things that aren't really good for society or community.

You've talked about how you felt stuck when you wrote your latest album, Family Ties.  What was that feeling? And how did you get out of that rut?

I had a bunch of people on payroll for the first time in my life. Labels had come into the picture; my wife was just about to have our second child; we had a house we just bought the year prior. I had all these things around me that I'd never had around me before. I was putting pressure on myself, because I wasn't just this broke guy anymore that only needed enough to fill up his gas tank.

I let that affect my mind and my creativity, and my productivity with the notebook. The way I got out of it was just realizing — this sounds so cliche, but it's true, and it's true with music, and so many other things in life — that you can only control the things that you can control.

I felt like writing about my family is what I wanted to do. Just because there's so much love and guilt that I was feeling at that time. The birth my children — my daughter just being born, my son was still really young, with my wife and, being gone for hundreds of days [in] years prior, but then I was home that whole pandemic year, which was this super special time, but also just so weird after all those years of being gone all the time, and then going back to being gone all the time.

Now that all of that hard work has started paying off, what have been some of your biggest "pinch me, I can't believe this is happening" moments?

Recently, I opened for Jason Isbell and for Turnpike Troubadours. Those were folks that I was listening to a decade ago, in the middle of the night, trying to drive home from some gig far away.

And throughout our tour this year, we're doing these Luke Combs dates, and the Avett Brothers are on two of them. The whole reason I picked up a guitar, here we are over a decade later, and I'm going to be shaking their hands before we play a stadium. And this whole thing started with me just sitting on a couch in college watching them at the GRAMMYs. So that's gonna be a "pinch me" moment, for sure.

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Luke Combs
Luke Combs

Photo: Zack Massey

list

Tracing Luke Combs' Journey To 'Fathers & Sons' In 10 Songs, From "Be Careful What You Wish For" To "The Man He Sees In Me"

Country phenom Luke Combs' new album, 'Fathers & Sons,' is a touching tribute to his two boys, and a reflection of his journey as a new father. Here are 10 songs that trace his process of growin' up, gettin' old, and now, watching his sons grow up.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 07:38 pm

As a country artist of remarkable detail and relatability, Luke Combs has the songwriting muscle to deliver a gut-wrenching punch — and his latest set might be the biggest heart-tugger yet.

On June 14, the country star will release his fifth album, Fathers & Sons, which sees Combs stake his claim on songs about family, devotion and belonging. While those are all themes he's explored throughout his five-album discography, he's never honed them quite like this.

Combs is now a proud papa of two; he and his wife, Nicole, welcomed their first son in 2022 and their second in 2023. Fathers & Sons is a 12-song reflection on his experiences as a dad thus far, as well as the unique bond between parents and children.

The new album's highlights, like the mortality-addressing "In Case I Ain't Around"; the dewy, contemplative "Whoever You Turn Out to Be"; and the meditation on memory "Remember Him That Way," are sure to resonate throughout Combs' sizable fan base and beyond.

It's a natural progression for Combs, who has charted the prizes and pitfalls of growing up since his 2017 debut, This One's for You, whether in hits like his Eric Church collaboration "Does To Me" or deep cuts like "Memories Are Made Of." (He even named Father & Sons' 2022 and 2023 predecessors Growin' Up and Gettin' Old.)

His preternatural knack for a heartfelt story song extends to songs he didn't write, too, as his cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" became his biggest hit to date in 2023 and scored him two GRAMMY nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

The familial sentiments of Fathers & Sons have often appeared in Combs' music as well, making his album full of "dad songs" all the more fitting — and continuing his beloved reputation as one of country music's most relatable superstars.

If you're unfamiliar with Combs' back catalog — or just want a refresher — use these 10 songs to trace his evolution from longing for the carefree days of teenhood to fully embracing fatherhood.

"Be Careful What You Wish For" ('This One's for You,' 2017)

Basically Combs' spin on the Beach Boys' "That's Not Me," "Be Careful What You Wish For" reflects on his adolescence — when he had a fire in his belly to hurtle out of his circumstances into the unknown. The result plants seeds for the realizations he passes to his kin on Fathers & Sons.

In the song, an 18-year-old and newly emancipated Combs says sayonara to his "one-horse" town, before realizing the grass ain't always greener. "Sometimes things ain't what you think they're gonna be," Combs sagely warns in the pre-chorus. "What you want ain't always what you need."

"Memories Are Made Of" ('This One's for You,' 2017)

When you look back on your youth, what stuck in your craw most — generic milestones, or fleeting, stolen moments? Chances are, it's the latter, as Combs memorably argues in another This One's for You cut, another dispatch from his youth that resonates with Fathers & Sons.

Therein, he and his ne'er-do-well friends, fresh out of high school, crack open cold ones under a bright blue sky. "Just a couple buds and a good buzz, that's all it was," he sings in the chorus. "But that's what memories are made of." On Fathers & Sons, he seems to recognize his boys will remember the small moments, too — and those are often the ones worth cherishing most.

"Even Though I'm Leaving" ('What You See is What You Get,' 2019)

Many tracks on Combs' second album, What You See is What You Get, showed his maturation as a man and a songwriter, but one served as his introduction to paternal matters: "Even Though I'm Leaving."

The tear-jerker charts the evolution of a father-son relationship, from Dad evacuating a monster under the bed, to seeing his son off to the military, to eventually saying goodbye before his passing.

As the father assures the son in all of those stages, he'll always be there for his boy, even when he isn't physically there. It marked a poignant foreshadowing to Father & Sons' masterful interrogations of mortality and eternal family bonds.

"Dear Today" ('What You See Is What You Get,' 2019)

As What You See is What You Get winds down, the spectre of time still weighs heavily on Combs. "Dear Today" is just that — a letter to Combs' present self, from his future self. (There's a tint of that on "My Old Man Was Right," the penultimate track on Fathers & Sons.)

"You're the only one with a choice in the matter," tomorrow Luke gently, yet firmly, prods. Call your mom, have a drink with your dad, "put that diamond on her hand." What an effective framing device, to capture the crossroads we all face on the cusp of our thirties — another prelude to Combs' advice to his sons on Fathers & Sons.

"Does to Me (feat. Eric Church)" ('What You See Is What You Get,' 2019)

A few years before welcoming his first son, Combs hinted to Rolling Stone that he was ready to settle down. "I'm almost 30 years old now, and I'm not going to be out at the bar every night," he said in 2019. "I just want to grow up a little bit." "Does to Me" is a terrific inventory of what resources, exactly, he possesses in order to carry out that mission.

He's unflinching about the ways he's an ordinary, average guy. After all, the opening line is "I was a third-string dreamer on a second-place team."

But as "Does to Me" lays down, "achievements" have nothing on qualities that really matter, like being a good brother, or romantic partner. Fertile soil for a real man to grow from — and eventually pass on to his own boys.

"Doin' This" ('Growin' Up,' 2022)

In "Doin' This," Combs cements his life mission — regardless of whether it brings him fame and fortune.

He'd still be Luke Combs even if he wasn't Luke Combs, he explains. Whether at the Grand Ole Opry or some watering hole, picking up a guitar and laying waste to a besotted crowd is why he was put on this planet. "I'd still be doin' this if I weren't doin' this": simple, evocative, masterful.

While "Doin' This" isn't necessarily centered around a theme of family, it makes all the sense in the world that his devotion to his boys is in parallel to his devotion of the craft — proof of which is all over Fathers & Sons.

"Used to Wish I Was" ('Growin' Up,' 2022)

You can only be yourself — that's the central message of this equally great Growin' Up cut, where Combs reflects on all the people he could be, and once ached to be.

He could have finished college — or pursued football, hunting or fishing with more chutzpah — but that's not him. This "North Carolina good ol' boy" is what he is — and he's not losing sleep over that pesky fact anymore. By knowing himself, Combs establishes himself as a man of integrity, which is exactly who his sons need as a role model.

"Where the Wild Things Are" ('Gettin' Old,' 2023)

Across his discography, Combs expertly builds out his family dynamics, and that continues on "Where the Wild Things Are." The song concerns a hell-raising brother, who pointed his Indian Scout motorcycle toward Southern California to indulge in earthly pleasures.

After detailing a wild night of brotherly bonding in the Hollywood Hills, the song ends in tragedy, when the "wild as the devil" brother crashes his motorcycle and perishes. "We buried him out in the wind 'neath the West Coast stars," Combs sings, "out where the wild things are."

If any father's lesson is to be taken away from this song: there's a time and a place to enjoy life in all its wildness, without risking calamity. It continues the life lessons Combs touches on again in "Growin' Up and Gettin' Old," and later on Fathers & Sons.

"Growin' Up and Gettin' Old" ('Gettin' Old,' 2023)

Oh, to be in your early thirties — you can't stay out as late, the hangovers hit harder. Overall, your perspective shifts dramatically, and you realize nothing lasts forever.

"I'm still bending rules, but thinkin' 'fore I break 'em/ And I ain't lost a step, I just look before I take 'em," Combs sings on "Growin' Up and Gettin' Old."

As usual, this ever-nimble songwriter nails this pivotal time of life — and takes a hard look in the mirror, taking inventory before undergoing his journey on Fathers & Sons.

"The Man He Sees In Me" ('Fathers & Sons,' 2024)

With Combs still being a very recent father, his sons are at the age where he can do no wrong upon Fathers & Sons' release. Even so, he fears the day that illusion erodes, and lead single "The Man He Sees In Me" details his anxiety over this eventuality.

The song's not fatalistic, though; it's aspirational: "Maybe I'll finally be the man he sees in me" flips into "I hope he's trying to be the man he sees in me."

As Combs wrote in a letter to his boys upon the release of "The Man He Sees In Me," "With this song I want you to know that even though I'm not perfect, I try my hardest every day to be the best version of myself for you both."

He stresses that sentiment throughout Fathers & Sons — an album with a lot of introspective and self-realizing precedent in Combs' increasingly touching discography.

2024 GRAMMYs: Luke Combs & Tracy Chapman Team Up For A Surprise Duet Version Of "Fast Car"

Tanner Adell Press Photo 2024
Tanner Adell

Photo: Chase Foster

interview

Tanner Adell's Big Year: The Country Newcomer Talks Stagecoach, "BLACKBIIRD," & Meeting Her Childhood Idols

As Tanner Adell continues making waves in country music, she shares some of the most monumental moments from her career so far — from featuring on Beyoncé's critically acclaimed 'COWBOY CARTER' to making space for Black women at the CMT Music Awards.

GRAMMYs/Jun 6, 2024 - 02:48 pm

With one bold tweet, Tanner Adell's life changed.

"As one of the only Black girls in the country music scene, I hope Bey decides to sprinkle me with a dash of her magic for a collab," she wrote, minutes after Beyoncé premiered "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" and "16 CARRIAGES" during this year's Super Bowl in February.

At first, Adell was mocked for her pitch. "You're trying too hard, love," one user said. Another chimed in, "Baby, that album is finished with all the songs cleared. I don't know about this one. Maybe, open for the tour," another user remarked.

But she wasn't bothered by the chatter: "Those people said I look desperate, I'm like, 'You must not know me, b—!" Adell reveals to GRAMMY.com with a hearty laugh. 

Confidence is the inner core of the Tanner Adell ethos. And her boldness paid off because shortly after when Beyoncé approached her to feature on COWBOY CARTER.

In Adell's first music release of 2024, she appeared alongside Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts in Beyoncé's cover of "BLACKBIIRD" by The Beatles. It was a full-circle moment for Adell in more ways than one, as her father used to sing the song to her as a child. Little did she know, decades later, she would popularize the track's backstory — the plight of Black women in the American South — alongside one of her heroes.

But before Adell became one of Beyoncé's songbirds, she was also the Buckle Bunny. On the 11-track mixtape, Adell traced the provocative tales of an acrylic nail-wearing, lasso-wielding heartbreaker. But for every Black girl that listens, it's more than a country project. It's also a reminder that it's okay to be feminine and girly, just like Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift.

Among her rodeo of exciting firsts, Adell tacks another on June 8, when she makes her debut at Nashville's Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest. She'll perform on the Platform Stage at the stadium; the next day, she'll play a set at the Good Molecules Reverb Stage outside of Bridgestone Arena.

Below, hear from Adell about her most memorable firsts thus far, from having her debut daytime television performance on "The Jennifer Hudson Show" to bonding with Gayle King behind the scenes at Stagecoach Music Festival.

Seeing Her Breakthrough Single, "Buckle Bunny," Have A Second Life

I released "Buckle Bunny" on the Buckle Bunny EP in July 2023. I actually teased it on social media first. Almost nine months before that, I had gone super viral with it. It was doing incredibly well, so my plans were to release it in January or February of last year. But, I ended up signing a record deal in December of 2022. There were plans for it at that time, but the timeline kept getting pushed back. It turned into a fight to get that song back into my hands, which was what prompted me to go independent. Eventually, I was able to work with my label, shake hands, and mutually part ways.

I started this year as an independent artist with this song that everybody loves. It's become a huge part of my brand, but it's really my life story. People might think it's a dumb song that was easy to write, but I was called a "buckle bunny." As a teenager growing up between Los Angeles and Star Valley, Wyoming, I was into glam country, and "Buckle Bunny" is the pinnacle of that. 

"Buckle Bunny" was my first single that charted. I felt like I finally had broken through that invisible box that Nashville put me in as a country musician. It was me saying, I'm not going to follow any rules. I'm going to be as true to myself as possible.

We, as Black women, have been fighting our whole lives. We've been fighting for space. I'm purposely trying to bring softness into the picture, allowing women who listen to my music to know that it's okay to feel that way. We don't always have to have our walls up.

"Buckle Bunny" is aggressively confident, but I think that's the door to softness. You have to be self-assured to let your walls down. My newest single, "Whiskey Blues," is my next step into that. I have another song on my social media, "Snakeskin," that people want me to release. "Buckle Bunny" is like the girl who protects those softer moments.

In a way, I look at all of this as a relationship between Tanner Adell, the artist, and Tanner, the person. For me, Tanner Adell is the buckle bunny. Then, you have Tanner, who's on the inside, writing all of these songs.

Serving A Bold Fashion Statement On Her First Major Red Carpet

I wore Bantu knots! I've always loved Bantu knots in all styles, the really small ones and the larger ones. There were ideas about whether I should do a certain number of them that was significant to me in some way.

I work very closely with Bill Wackermann, who was the CEO of Wilhemina Models. He does a lot of styling and has a close relationship with my manager. So, my manager was like, "You would love him!" At the time, I was trying to hone in on what myself is. What's the message I'm trying to convey through my fashion, hair, and beauty? 

Bill sat down with me, and I told him I wanted Natalia Fedner to do my dress, which is that stretchy chain metal dress. Originally, I thought I would do my long blonde hair, but Bill was the one who told me, "This is your first major red carpet as an invited artist. Think about what you want your hair to say." As a Black woman, our hair tells 1,000 stories with whatever it is, and the lightbulb went off in my head.

I knew I wanted my hair to say everything I needed to say without having to say anything at all. I also knew there would be a lot of people who didn't know the significance behind it or just thought it was some extreme hairstyle.

I've looked very deeply into my heritage. It turns out I have a bit of Bantu heritage in my DNA. I thought that was so cool because I do love the knots so much.

The CMT Awards were a big thing at my school, Utah Valley University. Everyone would get together in the dorms and watch the show. It's crazy that a couple years ago, I was watching it, and I'm here now. I feel very respected and loved. People I've looked up to would come up to me, and I was like, "I'm a huge fan." And they're like, "No! I listened to you."

I got to meet Gayle King, who I absolutely love. I remember watching her from afar while she was doing "CBS Mornings." She saw me from across the room, and I kid you not, in the middle of her interview, she started walking towards me. She was like, "I just want to tell you that you're so beautiful. The Bantu knots are stunning." That was my favorite moment of the night.

I also had the chance to see Tiera Kennedy. She's so sweet. We got matching blackbird tattoos before that. Being on the red carpet for the first time, it was comforting to see a familiar face. It really reinforces that idea that I belong here.

Being A Part Of COWBOY CARTER

So, I'm adopted. I have four siblings. We're all biracial, but our adoptive parents are both white. Obviously, my dad is a white man with five Black children. My parents always wanted me to understand that I am a Black woman, and he was very educational when it came to music. He taught me about the Black female power players and the buzz in the industry. But The Beatles were his favorite. So, when I finally told them the news, my dad immediately got choked up. He told me that "Blackbird" was one of his favorite Beatles songs.

My dad isn't the best with words when it comes to expressing his emotions, especially in front of people. He's a quiet, reserved dude. So, he eventually texts me, sending me screenshots about the meaning behind "Blackbird." The reason why it was his favorite song was because he had Black girls, and he told me, "This is special. This is not a burden to carry, but it might be a bit of weight on your shoulders. Keep your head up high and walk knowing that this is why he wrote this song."

I can remember going to a recital as a kid and being so nervous, but my dad was so confident and excited about my abilities. Was that strategic? Was it quiet strength? Maybe. It feels like this song has been a part of my whole life. So, to be on it, on such a massive album, feels very divine.

The whole process was a surprise. It took a few weeks to set in. But I always knew I would work with [Beyoncé], and I always said it's a matter of "when," not if. 

On the day of the Super Bowl, I saw that black-and-white picture of her, and I thought it looked a lot like a photoshoot that I took the week before. Let me make a tweet, just to put it out there. I don't know — she's magical! She has her way of knowing everything that's going on all the time. 

I think that tweet has almost 10 million views. It was fun to go back to that tweet to see the people who were supporting me. And also getting to say "I told you" to the people who didn't. It kicked off a Renaissance — pun intended.

Performing At Her First Stagecoach Music Festival

I have bad social anxiety, and I get nervous in front of crowds and people. So, festivals were never something that interested me, but Stagecoach was always one I felt like I could go to. And I was not disappointed.

I had the first slot of the day, which is a s—ty slot for anyone, but you have to pay your dues in country music. It's how you build your cred with these festivals, to show you're a hard worker and will perform like you're at a sold-out show in Madison Square Garden. And I did.

Mentally, I prepared for no one. I told myself it was okay if nobody came, and I'll perform like I always do. I'll figure out where the camera is and perform it for the jumbotron, so if no one comes to the pit, the people watching the livestream will have a great show. 

Well, I didn't have an empty pit! People showed the f— up and out. I heard people in line thought they were going to miss it because the gates opened late. Within the first 10 minutes, the VIP pit was half-filled with people screaming and running in their sweet little cowboy boots and hats. That never happens at Stagecoach or Coachella, but it's a testament to the relationship I built within my listeners. It was eye-opening for me. I don't think I'm ever going to play to a dead crowd again.

Before, Levi's reached out and said I was the first artist they wanted to collaborate with for Stagecoach. So, they custom-made my outfit. I told them I have these ribbons, inspired by my mom, who was a rodeo queen. I also told them if they can't incorporate them, I probably won't do it. But they loved it! And it was special because it came back to my mom. She was a winner, so when I wear the ribbons, I'm also a winner.

My mom has competed in over 1,000 competitions and probably places in half of those. In Wyoming, we had a big wall, covered in those IQHA (International Quarter Horse Association) ribbons. She gave me a strong sense of competition.

Making Her Debut On Daytime TV

I have overcome very serious, debilitating stage fright. I don't get nervous anymore, and performing live is my favorite thing. But I was not prepared for what a television show taping looks like.

We had a soundcheck, and there were a bunch of suits in groups of threes and fours standing everywhere. There were all these cameras and lights. Then, I start realizing I'm about to meet J. Hud, who I made little custom Crocs for. It was a dream come true.

I know a lot about her story. We have very different upbringings, but we're similar in the sense of trying to stand on ground that isn't steady. I see her as someone who is a great example. She's reached so many different avenues. For me to be able to sit down with an EGOT winner is a great honor. 

I kind of like to keep my manifestations as quiet as possible. I don't tell anybody anything, but an EGOT is something I wouldn't mind having, you know?

I look at her as a woman who exceeded greatness. So, it was just amazing — and for my first television debut. I felt like this is right for me.

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

CMA Fest 2024 Playlist Hero
(L-R) Kelsea Ballerini, Dalton Dover, Chase Matthew, Jelly Roll, Ella Langley, Dasha, Avery Anna, Breland

Photos (L-R): Jason Kempin/Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BRELAND & Friends, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio, Amy E. Price/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images, Brynn Osborn/CBS via Getty Images, Jason Davis/Getty Images for SiriusXM, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BRELAND & Friends

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Get Ready For CMA Fest 2024: Listen To A Playlist By Dasha, Ella Langley, Chase Matthew, Avery Anna, & Dalton Dover

As country stars and fans flock to Nashville for CMA Fest, five of the lineup's most exciting acts curated a playlist of the songs they're looking forward to hearing live — from Shaboozey's "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" to Lainey Wilson's "Watermelon Moonshine."

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2024 - 02:25 pm

For more than 50 years, the Country Music Association has hosted the genre's biggest annual party in Nashville, Tennessee: CMA Fest. Originally dubbed Fan Fair, what began as a 5,000-person celebration of country music has turned into a four-day festival that draws an estimated 90,000 people each day. And with the genre being at an all-time high, the 2024 iteration of CMA Fest might just be the most thrilling yet.

The 51st annual CMA Fest will take over Nashville from June 6-9, with upwards of 300 country artists performing. As rising stars — and returning CMA Fest performers — Avery Anna, Dalton Dover and Chase Matthew will tell you, the magic of the weekend affair has always come down to the fans.

"I love the connection that the festival provides between artists and fans," Anna says. Dover adds, "Whether it's being reunited with those I've met in the past or getting some time to say hello to all the new faces in the crowd, it's just so special to be able to connect with everyone over our love for country music."

Matthew, who grew up in Nashville, has been part of both sides of CMA Fest. "I've seen CMA Fest grow to become this epic event that every music fan should experience," he says. "It's a great opportunity for fans to see and interact with their favorite country stars, as well as discover new artists they may not have had the opportunity to hear yet."

Even Dasha, who will be experiencing her first CMA Fest this year, knows just how important it is to any country music artist or fan: "CMA Fest is such an iconic celebration of country music."

Thanks to the runaway success of her hit "Austin," Dasha will be taking the Platform Stage at Nissan Stadium, which will highlight two budding stars each night amid performances from the genre's biggest names. "When I got that call, I got online to see the number of seats there and my jaw was on the ground," she recalls. "That'll be my biggest show to date, and I can't wait to show the people what we've got."

This year's CMA Fest also marks a first for Ella Langley, who will make her inaugural appearance on the Chevy Riverfront Stage in a "full-circle moment." And in teasing what she'll bring to her set, Langley encapsulated the energy of CMA Fest as a whole: "I hope the fans are ready for a bunch of dancing, a good message and a really good time."

As they prepped for CMA Fest 2024, Ella Langley, Dasha, Chase Matthew, Dalton Dover, and Avery Anna helped curate a playlist of songs they're excited to see — and perform — live. Whether or not you'll be heading to Nashville, jam out to tracks from Kelsea Ballerini, Sam Hunt, Cody Johnson, Zach Top, Megan Moroney, and more.

Shaboozey Press Photo 2024
Shaboozey

Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

interview

Shaboozey On His New Album, Beyoncé & Why He'll Never Be A "Stereotypical" Artist

After Beyoncé introduced Shaboozey to a global audience via 'COWBOY CARTER,' his genre-shattering third album arrives on the wings of his own international smash, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" and makes a declaration: 'Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going.'

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 03:40 pm

The last two months have been monumental for Shaboozey. On March 29, Beyoncé fans around the world embraced his two guest collaborations on her COWBOY CARTER album, "SPAGHETTII" and "SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN'" — and they were instantly interested in what else the Nigerian-American singer had to offer. According to his label, EMPIRE, Spotify listens of Shaboozey's music (including his first two albums, 2018's Lady Wrangler and 2022's Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die) rose by 1000 percent after COWBOY CARTER dropped.

Six weeks later, his growing fandom sent his breakthrough single, "A Bar Song (Tipsy)," to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country chart — ironically, dethroning Queen Bey's "Texas Hold 'Em" in the process. The song instantly proved to have crossover appeal, also peaking at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, along with reaching the top spot on pop charts in Australia, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.

With his third album, Where I've Been, Isn't Where I'm Going, the man born Collins Chibueze is eager for audiences new and old to get a deeper look into his ever-evolving artistry, which he's been honing for more than a decade. He leans into country and the soundtrack of the open road on "Highway" and "Vegas," while also tapping into his talent as an MC on "Drink Don't Need No Mix" with Texas rapper BigXthaPlug. He displays a softer side, too, with tracks like "My Fault," an apologetic and pleading country ballad performed with Noah Cyrus, and "Steal Her From Me," which finds Shaboozey smoldering with his own Southern slow jam.

Shaboozey's massive global recognition may be fresh, but he's here to remind listeners that he's not a new artist. In a candid interview with GRAMMY.com, the singer discusses how he's put in a decade of hard work in order to appear to be an overnight success.

You've topped the country charts as well as pop charts around the world. Do you think we are witnessing a more welcoming era in country music right now?

I think it's definitely a lot more welcoming. All these genres of music now, just because of the internet age and the access to information — like, now I can go watch Tubi, which has thousands of Western movies, and then Spotify, I can jump from listening to a Townes Van Zandt album or a Leonard Cohen album, and then I can go play Future, you know what I mean?

And then I can jump from them, and go listen to The Marías, who are friends of mine. I can listen to some indie rock music, and then I can listen to some Fred again.. or something like that. So having all that at your fingertips, I think, it's allowed for some interesting combinations in all genres of music.

I think we're the generation of paint splatter! I do think it is very welcoming. As artists we are able to connect. We can have our own micro communities. There's not just one way to connect with people now, there are so many other ways. It's different out there now, it's really different.

You're releasing your second album with EMPIRE — how has the company helped you to develop?

EMPIRE has been super awesome. I was signed to Republic for a while, for a year or two, and I saw some article where it talked about Universal partnering with EMPIRE to handle some distribution stuff. I remember talking to my manager at the time, and being like, "We should go there!"

Major labels can get pretty cluttered. Sometimes they just don't have the bandwidth to develop acts that aren't going to take off in a couple weeks or a month or a quarter. They have these quarterlies they have to meet.

So for an artist like me, who is — a lot of people like to describe me as disruptive. It's weird to describe yourself as that. I'm just being me, and people are like, "That's disruptive." But for someone like me, who's like that, it's very important for me to be innovative and push things, and change the way people consume.

I never came in the game wanting to be stereotypical, or just your usual artist. I came in just trying to be like, Man, I love art. I love being creative and that's what I am. Sometimes that's hard to package to everyone. It's like, what is it? For major labels, sometimes, they love to be like, this is pop, this is country, this is just that.

And so for EMPIRE to bring me into what they had going on, and to stick with me within these three or four years I've been with them, knowing that there has been a lot of ups and downs. There've been a lot of [times] that we thought were going to do something that [we] didn't. Because it's a process with artistry, it doesn't happen overnight. They say it takes 10 years to have an overnight success, and it's true.

Your new album flows so well. Was it written to be taken in as one complete piece?

I'm a lover of a concept album. I love film, I love stories, I love payoffs. I love the hero's journey, they call it.

There is a way to tell a story in a three-act structure. And within those structures you have your rising action, you have your hero's call to action. They lead the world, you have your climax, and then you have, was the hero changed? Did they get the thing they were looking for at the end of it?

I'm a huge fan of film, huge on concepts, world building. I want something to feel immersive, so arrangement is big to me.

But before, I used to be super picky about [ensuring that] everything needs to connect, and I had to learn to let that go and just know that that's a part of me as an artist. As I create, I'm telling these stories naturally, so I stopped being too hard on myself about things needing to connect because that would cripple me at certain points. But now, again, I'm just learning how to let it go, and let it come naturally. It's cool to see that people are still saying with this project that there's still a concept there. And I'm like, oh, there is still a concept there. There is still a story.

My last project [Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die] was super inspired by western films. Old western films, like, spaghetti westerns, and the whole nature of outlaw, just like period piece western culture. So I was huge on everything needing to feel like it was period. It needed to feel like this 1800s western, and this Black outlaw and his gang.

Obviously, I wanted the [visual] content to reflect that. And then you're realizing…  Wait, every video shoot I'm having to rent western wardrobe and chaps? It's a lot to do all the time, you know? It was a commitment… and I don't wear that everyday, so it wasn't really 100 percent being authentically myself in that moment. It was like, I'm creating a character and this character is separate from me.

That's hard to do all the time. Especially when it's a period piece in the 1800s and you're in 2024. So at some point I was like, hey, I want this project to be more like, I can put something on in my closet and go shoot some content, versus having to find a western town, or a world or environment that fits the 1800s.

Do you think that Beyoncé was inspired by that album?

I definitely think so. I think that's what was cool about her project, and her entry into country. I saw a lot of similarities between the things that inspired us.

What I love about country is, I really love the old stuff that really does play into the old West, the Wild West — and I saw that Beyoncé, she would talk about little things like that, too. Like the outlaws, hangmen and six shooters, and stuff like that. So you can see that she's really inspired by that stuff as well. I was told by her team that she would definitely watch a lot of old Western films through the process of doing her project.

How has the Beyhive treated you since you appeared on COWBOY CARTER?

I love that community. Seriously, that community, they've been extremely supportive from what I've seen, because Beyoncé's message has been about shining light on people that may have been overlooked. So they definitely carry out the mission of supporting the people that Beyoncé supports. They've been amazing.

I would like to say that early on with "Bar Song," they were definitely pre-saving it, they were sharing it as much as they could on Twitter, and there were a lot of posts that I was making that were getting high viewership. You could tell that there were a lot of impressions before the "Bar Song" came out. So they're great.

Did you ever think you'd be on an album with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton?

I hoped for those things when I was creating my album. I wanted to see more hip-hop artists collaborating with people like that. I was always like, man, if I was given a $10 million budget to make a project, I'd get Willie Nelson or Hank Williams Jr. or someone like that to jump on it. I want to see something like that.

As someone whose parents grew up in Nigeria, what do you think of the global breakthrough of Nigerian artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid?

It's amazing to see. Afrobeat is definitely universal now, global like that. I think Wizkid was one of the pioneers of getting that music across the water in such a way. Burna Boy, too — if you check out his aesthetic, it's influenced by a lot of different things. He's not just wearing traditional Nigerian garments, he's wearing designer stuff, and he's got the jewelry pieces and Cartier. It's presented in a way that that style of music wasn't really represented [before] in that sense.

I lived in Nigeria for a year or two, and when I was there, there was no wifi or the internet. Now I go back and my cousins are on Netflix and on Instagram and all these places. So yeah, everything is spreading out. But as far as Afrobeat, I mean, that music is incredible, the production. It's so infectious when you hear it, but it's cool to see people of Nigerian descent, me as well, having our reach everywhere.

Davido, he reached out to me a couple days ago, he's like, "I need you to get on this record." There's a lot of Nigerian artists now that are hitting me up, and are like, "Hey, will you jump on this, will you jump on that?" I'm hearing some of those guys are trying to get into country music. It's cool to kind of have my own Burna Boy moment right now!

The new album sounds like you really worked on developing your voice as an instrument, with more singing than rapping. Is that a fair assumption?

Yeah. Being from Virginia, we didn't have those outlets to kind of hone in on. I didn't have a vocal coach, or a songwriting program, or anything like that. We kind of had to figure it out on our own.

I think that's why you have so many artists that come from Virginia where they're all very eclectic, they all have this kind of rawness to them. Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Pharrell, even Tommy Richman. He's got that song going crazy viral too. You know the song, the "Million Dollar Baby" song. It's a guy singing falsetto [like] Bee Gees over a hip-hop beat. I'm like, where did you learn to structure a song like this?

This album was that project for me. My manager here [told me] it's working, because I'm learning how to arrange music and write songs that have a broader appeal, but I didn't know that at the time. We were just having fun, just learning how to do it with whatever resources we had. It can get kind of funky.

I think my first project was very funky, and then this one was [made after] 10 years of being in it. You start to figure it out a little bit more.

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