meta-scriptIs Nashville Really A 10-Year Town? Walker Hayes, HARDY, Lainey Wilson & More Country Hitmakers On How The Wait Pays Off | GRAMMY.com
Is Nashville Really A 10-Year Town? Walker Hayes, HARDY, Lainey Wilson & More Country Hitmakers On How The Wait Pays Off
Lainey Wilson performs at Live In The Vineyard Goes Country in Napa, California in 2021.

Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage

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

Eight of country music's rising stars, from Hailey Whitters to ERNEST, detail how their long-awaited dreams came true — and why Nashville success stories rarely come overnight.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2022 - 03:18 pm

Nashville may be known as Music City to most, but to those in the music industry, it's the "10-Year Town." While overnight successes can happen, for most creatives, it's a slow and steady climb — and in Nashville specifically, the story often goes that it takes a decade before catching that big break.

Acts like reigning ACM and CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Carly Pearce and CMA New Artist of the Year (and 2022 Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee) Jimmie Allen — who moved to Nashville in 2009 and 2007, respectively —  are a testament to this adage. So is rising star Hailey Whitters, who even wrote a song titled "Ten Year Town" in 2017; she proclaims in the final verse, "This next song could turn it all around."   

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter is part of country's latest class of artists who are making waves years after their start in Music City. That class includes Walker Hayes, whose "Fancy Like" went from TikTok sensation to GRAMMY-nominated No. 1 hit last year — 17 years into his time in Nashville —  and Jameson Rodgers, who saw his first No. 1 as a singer with 2020's "Some Girls" 10 years after he moved to Music City. 

"I compare it to going to law school or medical school," Rodgers says. "It takes moving here and meeting as many people as possible. It takes being poor for a few years while you work on your craft. The early years prepare you for what's to come. It's a crazy dream to chase, but I'm really glad I did it."

Below, discover the journeys of Whitters, Hayes, Rodgers, and five more of their country cohorts, and hear their testimonials on why the Nashville grind is worth it. 

ERNEST

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Flower Shops," a duet with Morgan Wallen, broke the top 20 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in June 2022

ERNEST has been writing songs since middle school and credits a trip to the Grand Ole Opry in the fourth grade for further igniting that fire for music. "Even as a fourth grader I was like, 'I want to do this one day,'" he recalls.

The singer saw early success co-penning No. 1 songs for Chris Lane ("Big, Big Plans"), Morgan Wallen ("More Than My Hometown") and Sam Hunt ("Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s") but it was his Flower Shops (The Album) that set the bar even higher. "With the Flower Shops album, I've come into full form as my country artist self," he says. "I'm still going to be growing always and evolving, but this is me. This album is me, and I'm here."

Though he's a native Nashvillian, ERNEST says 2022 marks 10 years since he began pursuing music. Fittingly, he agrees that Nashville is a 10-year town. "Obviously there are people that have success super early on and get that lucky break immediately but as [hit songwriter and Big Loud Records Partner] Craig Wiseman said, 'Everybody pays their dues — you either pay them at the beginning, or pay them at the end.'"

Hailey Whitters

Hometown: Shueyville, IA

Arrived in Nashville: 2007

Signed label deal: 2020

Big break: 2020's The Dream, which Whitters self-funded and self-released

Hailey Whitters picked up the guitar at 14 and has been writing songs ever since. Whitters' earliest influences include '90s country radio titans Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, the Chicks and Tim McGraw. Little did she know that decades later, she'd have her songs recorded by Jackson, Martina McBride and Little Big Town. 

"Growing up adoring country radio, I think I knew early on [I wanted to be an artist] — but I had no idea how to go about it, because no one from my town had ever tried," Whitters says. "I had a guidance counselor in elementary school tell me if I wanted to be a country music star, I had to learn how to write my own songs, so I started doing that."

Whitters' relatable storytelling on songs like the autobiographical (and fittingly titled) "Ten Year Town" eventually caught the attention of Music Row, and she signed with Big Loud Records' female-driven imprint Songs & Daughters in 2020. Her infectious breakthrough single, "Everything She Ain't," goes for adds at country radio June 27 — nearly 15 years after she relocated from her native Iowa to Nashville. 

So, what's Whitters' opinion on the 10-year town philosophy? "Everyone's experience is different," she says. "I will say in my time here, I've found that most things that last weren't the things that happened overnight."

HARDY

Hometown: Philadelphia, MS

Arrived in Nashville: 2010

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "One Beer" feat. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson hit No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase charts in December 2020

HARDY never intended to be an artist. As a teenager, he learned about songwriters and became a fan of Rodney Clawson, Casey Beathard, Eric Church and Brad Paisley. He started writing songs at 17, and in the nearly 14 years since, he has authored 10 No. 1 songs including Blake Shelton's "God's Country," Florida Georgia Line's "Simple," Morgan Wallen's "Up Down" and Dierks Bentley's "Beers On Me." But it wasn't until producer Joey Moi reached out that his career path changed. 

"He was my favorite producer of all time," HARDY says. "He had just produced 'Up Down,' and it was climbing up the charts, and he called me and said, 'Dude, if you ever wanted to cut a record, I would love to cut a record [for] you.' A switch flipped in my head, and I said, 'Okay, let's do this.'" 

While he's managed to earn two No. 1s as an artist in his own right, HARDY feels he hasn't arrived quite yet. "I think a lot of artists never really have that moment," he says. "Part of their muse and part of what drives them and keeps them going is always looking for something more."

Jameson Rodgers

Hometown: Batesville, MS

Arrived in Nashville: 2010

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Some Girls" reached No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase in October 2020

Jameson Rodgers can't remember a time when he wasn't singing. As a kid, he'd walk around school belting Travis Tritt's "Here's a Quarter" and other '90s hits. His first musical memory is a Garth Brooks show at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN, at age 5. "He used to break his guitar on stage every night back then," Rodgers says. "Seeing him do that, as a young kid, I felt like I knew I wanted to do that someday, but I was too young to process it."

Rodgers picked up guitar in college and began writing songs. An Eric Church show during his freshman year reaffirmed the feeling that Garth had inspired: "I knew that I had to chase this dream."

He didn't know anyone when he moved to Nashville in 2010, so he went to every open-mic night he could and quickly made friends with HARDY, Hunter Phelps and Jordan Davis. He's since had two No. 1 songs as an artist with "Some Girls" and "Cold Beer Calling My Name" (a duet with Luke Combs), as well as co-written Chris Lane's No. 1 hit "I Don't Know About You" and songs for Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.

Lainey Wilson

Hometown: Baskin, LA

Arrived in Nashville: 2011

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Things a Man Oughta Know" hit No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase in September 2021

Lainey Wilson's success story is practically the definition of the 10-year town sentiment: In September 2021, 10 years and one month — nearly to the day — that she moved to Nashville, her debut single, "Things a Man Oughta Know," hit No. 1 on the Billboard and Mediabase country radio charts. (Thanks to her 2022 Cole Swindell collaboration, "Never Say Never," she's already notched her second chart-topper.)

"I've been blessed with several milestone 'pinch me' moments, especially within the last year, and I feel like I'm always going to be a work in progress," Wilson suggests. "I don't know if I'll ever feel like I've fully arrived. But I will say, when my deddy [sic] called the first time he heard my song on the radio, that was a pivotal moment."

Wilson first performed in public at her kindergarten graduation. Even at just 5 years old, she knew she wanted to sing for the rest of her life.

"I wrote my first song at 9 years old and took a family vacation to Nashville," she recalls. "I remember exactly where I was on the interstate with my family when I said, 'This is home.' I knew in my heart I was going to be a part of the country music family in some way. I've never had a doubt."

Shy Carter

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Arrived in Nashville: 2011

Signed label deal: 2020

Big break: 2021's The Rest of Us EP, which has garnered more than 12 million streams on Spotify

As a songwriter, Shy Carter has co-written countless country hits like Kane Brown's "Heaven" and "Good As You," Keith Urban's "Never Coming Down" and "God Whispered Your Name," and Sugarland's "Stuck Like Glue." While he knew he wanted to be an artist from a young age, singing along to songs in his bedroom, it took years of writing hits for other artists before his artist dream came to fruition. 

In 2020, he released his spirited debut single, "Good Love" and landed on MusicRow's "Top 100 Songwriters of 2020" list. The Rest of Us EP followed in 2021, and included the raucous ode to a night out with his buddies, "Beer With My Friends," featuring Cole Swindell and David Lee Murphy. To date, he has amassed 35 million streams worldwide across all on-demand DSP platforms.

"I've had a particular vision for how I want the music to feel and how I want to bring people together from all different walks of life," Carter says of his artist career. "There have been a lot of wonderful things happening in my career, and I'm so grateful for all of it. But there's a lot more to me as an artist, and I'll be arriving live in living color very soon."

While Carter agrees that Nashville is a 10-year town, as it has taken him a decade to launch his artist career, he says there are exceptions. "I have seen some people blow up really fast, and I'm glad to see it! I'm happy to take the journey slow and steady and soak up every moment."

Tenille Townes

Hometown: Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada

Arrived in Nashville: 2014

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Somebody's Daughter" reached the Top 30 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in May 2019

When Tenille Townes was 9, Shania Twain pulled her up on stage to sing. "That lit a fire in me and made me believe anything was possible," she remembers. 

By 14, Townes was traveling back and forth to Nashville. Ten years later, in 2018, she signed with Columbia Nashville and caught attention with her thoughtful songwriting and powerful story songs "Somebody's Daughter" and "Jersey On the Wall (I'm Just Asking)." 

Both tracks topped the Canadian Country Airplay charts while "Somebody's Daughter" peaked at No. 26 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Named the 2020 ACM New Female Artist of the Year, Townes' star has only continued to rise. By 2021 her Jay Joyce-produced debut album, The Lemonade Stand, was named Country Album of the Year at the JUNO Awards in her native Canada. A believer in the 10 year town adage, Townes says Nashville continues to embrace and inspire those who are brave enough to keep showing up.

"It's a welcoming community, and at the same time it's also hard to not bend and shift your shape to fit in," she says. "I also believe there's validity in the 10,000-hour theory, and that arriving to a solid foundation of your craft is connected to the time you put in — however many years that amounts to in any town."

Walker Hayes

Hometown: Mobile, AL

Arrived in Nashville: 2004

Signed label deal: 2017

Big break: "Fancy Like" hit No. 1 on the Billboard and Mediabase country charts in July 2021

"Nashville, to me, is a 17-year town," Walker Hayes says. "It is not a town you come and conquer overnight. There's really no such thing as an overnight success. 'Fancy Like' did pop overnight, but it took multiple jobs, a lot of heartbreaks, financial woes that I don't ever want to go back and relive."

It took nearly two decades and three record deals before Hayes achieved a No. 1 single with "Fancy Like." Hayes (who had moderate success with 2017's "You Broke Up With Me" which peaked at No. 10 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart), admits his story isn't the norm, as he didn't play his first show until he was 23 at local Mobile bar the Yacht Club — a night he says "changed my life." 

When he and his wife came back from their honeymoon, the couple drove their U-Haul to Nashville. Two weeks later, Hayes found himself at Nashville's preeminent listening room, the Bluebird Café, where he was introduced to the magic of songwriting. He walked out of the venue having written his first song and hasn't stopped since.

"I wouldn't change my journey for the world," Hayes says. "To me, the adventure is what's priceless. That's what shapes us. I'm so grateful for how the journey has unfolded."

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Remembering Toby Keith: 5 Essential Songs From The Patriotic Cowboy And Country Music Icon
Toby Keith performs at the 2021 iHeartCountry Festival in Austin, Texas.

Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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Remembering Toby Keith: 5 Essential Songs From The Patriotic Cowboy And Country Music Icon

After a two-year battle with stomach cancer, country star Toby Keith passed away on Feb. 5 at the age of 62. Revisit his influence with five of his seminal tracks, including his debut hit "Should've Been a Cowboy."

GRAMMYs/Feb 7, 2024 - 04:39 pm

We may have known about Toby Keith's stomach cancer diagnosis for nearly two years, but that didn't keep the news of his Feb. 5 death from hitting hard. The oftentimes outspoken country music star enjoyed a three-decade career as one of the genre's beloved hitmakers, courtesy of unabashed hits like "Who's Your Daddy?," "Made In America" and "I Wanna Talk About Me."

Occasionally his in-your-face persona clashed with folks, particularly when it came to his political views in recent years. But for the most part, it was Keith's blue-collar upbringing and work ethic that shined through and resonated with his legion of listeners. 

It wasn't until his thirties that the future Songwriters Hall of Famer landed his first record deal in 1993, following years grinding away as a rodeo hand, in oil fields and as a semi-professional football player to make ends meet. The Oklahoma-born crooner would go on to record 20 No.1 hits, sell over 40 million records across 26 albums, and gross nearly $400 million touring — cementing himself as one of country music's most successful artists in the process.

As we look back on Keith's life and legacy, here are five essential cuts from the seven-time GRAMMY nominee, whose memory will live on in the hearts of country music artists and fans alike.

"Should've Been A Cowboy" (1993)

Few artists strike gold with their maiden release, but Keith did just that when his song "Should've Been A Cowboy" launched in February 1993. The upbeat track received widespread acclaim, eventually reaching No. 1 on the Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart a few months later.

"Should've Been A Cowboy" takes on a distinctly traditional tone as Keith romanticizes cowboy culture by referencing classic westerns like Gunsmoke with nods to Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty in addition to six-shooters, cattle drives and Texas Rangers abound. The tune also reinforces the notion that cowboys just have more fun, whether its "stealin' the young girls' hearts, just like Gene [Autry] and Roy [Rogers]" or "runnin' wild through the hills chasin' Jesse James." 

By the looks of Keith's career, he certainly had his fair share of fun, and it may not have come if it weren't for "Should've Been A Cowboy."

"How Do You Like Me Now?!" (1999)

After a successful '90s run (which included two more No. 1s in "Who's That Man" and "Me Too"), Keith kicked off the 2000s with his fourth No. 1 hit, "How Do You Like Me Now?!" In signature Toby Keith fashion, he confronts his haters by asking the titular, rhetorical question, posed to his high school's valedictorian — who was also his crush. "I couldn't make you love me but I always dreamed about livin' in your radio," he sings on the brazen chorus.

The song is a stern reminder to never let anyone keep you from chasing your dreams; it's also a lesson of standing strong on your convictions. Its message also proved fitting for Keith's career: After Mercury Records Nashville rejected the song (and its namesake album) in the late '90s, Keith got out of his deal with them in favor of signing with DreamWorks Records, with whom he released the project a year later. Not only did the single go on to spend five weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, but it became the singer's first major crossover hit.

"Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" (2002)

Keith was never afraid to share his opinion in public or in song, especially when it came to displaying his patriotism and appreciation for those who protect the United States. While the Okie approached this from a softer side on 2003's "American Soldier," his most renowned musings on the subject without a doubt came a year earlier with "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)."

On the angsty ballad — which was written in the wake of his father's March 2001 death and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — Keith channels a universal feeling of American hurt and pride. "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" inspired an equal outpouring of support and outrage that, for better or worse depending on where you stand, helped cement the song into the annals of country music lore.

"I Love This Bar" (2003)

We've all got our favorite watering hole full of its own quirks and characters, from winners to losers, chain-smokers and boozers. Keith taps into that feel-good, hometown hang feeling with "I Love This Bar," a lighthearted tale from 2003's Shock'n Y'all that makes dingy dive bars feel like the prime party destination.

The midtempo track — Keith's 12th No. 1 — further plays into country music drinking tropes as Keith proclaims, "I like my girlfriend, I like to take her out to dinner, I like a movie now and then" before making a hard pivot, adding "but I love this bar." 

All joking aside, the song, and all of the unique individuals described within it, have a harmony to them inside those hallowed walls. It's a kinship that seems more and more difficult to find in today's world, and a sentiment best captured at the song's conclusion: "come as you are."

"As Good As I Once Was" (2005)

Your best days may be behind you, but that doesn't mean you can't still live your best life and thrive in the present — even if you don't get over hangovers as quickly as you used to.

That youthful wisdom is distilled into every lyric of "As Good As I Once Was," a reminiscent story in which a then-44-year-old Keith recounts his prime as a lover, drinker and fighter humbly. That being said, his pride is still quick to take charge with convictions like "I still throw a few back, talk a little smack, when I'm feelin' bullet proof."

Lasting six weeks at No. 1, "As Good As I Once Was" was the biggest of the 15 chart-toppers Keith tallied in the 2000s. And though he scored one more in the following decade (along with several other hits, including the playful drinking song "Red Solo Cup"), "As Good As I Once Was" will live on as one of Keith's quintessential messages of fun-loving confidence: "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once, as I ever was."

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Big First Wins At The 2024 GRAMMYs: Karol G, Lainey Wilson, Victoria Monét & More
Lainey Wilson at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Big First Wins At The 2024 GRAMMYs: Karol G, Lainey Wilson, Victoria Monét & More

The 2024 GRAMMYs were momentous in a myriad of ways, including major firsts. Here's a rundown of big first wins by Paramore, Zach Bryan, Tyla and others.

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2024 - 01:07 am

That's a wrap for Music's Biggest Night! The 2024 GRAMMYs were extraordinarily stuffed with incredible moments, from performances to historic wins to unforgettable surprises.

Several of the most memorable moments came from first-time winners. In fact, there were 126 at the 66th GRAMMY Awards, spanning a wide array of talent across genres. From Colombian songstress Karol G to indie rock supergroup boygenius and country singer Brandy Clark, take a look at some of the biggest acts that took home their very first golden gramophones.

Miley Cyrus Celebrated Her First Wins With A Pumped-Up Performance

Miley Cyrus may have taken home the coveted Record Of The Year for "Flowers," but a different Category may have been the biggest achievement. Just before her performance on the GRAMMY stage, Cyrus won her first-ever golden gramophone for Best Pop Solo Performance.

"This award is amazing, but I really hope it doesn't change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday," Cyrus said while accepting her first award.

"Flowers" is featured on Cyrus' 2023 album Endless Summer Vacation. "Flowers" was also nominated for GRAMMYs for Song Of The Year.

Karol G's First GRAMMYs Resulted In Her First GRAMMY

Karol G has had a meteoric rise over the past several years, and that continued unabated at Music's Biggest Night.

At the 2024 GRAMMYs Premiere Ceremony, Karol G won the GRAMMY for Best Música Urbana Album, for her 2023 LP Mañana Será Bonito. (She'd previously been nominated at the 2022 GRAMMYs, for the same category, for KG0516.

"Hello everybody, my name is Karol G. I am from Medellín, Colombia. This is my first time at the GRAMMYs, and this is my first time holding my own GRAMMY," she said, utterly concisely.

Victoria Monét Completed A Lifelong Goal…

Victoria Monét won big at the GRAMMYs, including taking home the award for Best New Artist. The singer also took home golden gramophones for Best R&B Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for Jaguar II.

Monét has been nominated for 10 GRAMMYs over her career as both a solo act and songwriter. When accepting the GRAMMY Award for Best New Artist, Monét compared herself to a plant growing from soil. 

"My roots have been growing underneath ground, unseen, for so long, and I feel like today I'm sprouting, finally above ground," she said.

…And So Did Coco Jones

Monét’s fellow R&B nominee — and one-time collaborator — Coco Jones also turned a nearly 15-year journey into GRAMMY success, winning Best R&B Performance for her song "ICU."

Tyla, Me'shell NdegeOcello & Kylie Minogue Won In First-Time Categories

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, there were three new Categories — which meant three inaugural winners. South African singer/songwriter Tyla took home her first GRAMMY with her win for Best African Music Performance for her smash hit "Water," while Me'shell NdegeOcello and Kylie Minogue notched their second wins each, in the new Best Alternative Jazz Album and Best Pop Dance Recording Categories, respectively.

After 16 Years, Paramore Got GRAMMY Gold 

Myspace-era alt wizards Paramore enjoyed a stunning resurgence with their 2023 album This Is Why. They'd been nominated in past ceremonies — their first nominations coming in 2008 — but at the 2024 GRAMMYs, they nabbed the trophy for the prestigious Best Rock Album Category. And with their first win, they made GRAMMY history: Paramore is the first female-fronted rock band to win Best Rock Album.

Lainey Wilson Continued A Massive Year With A GRAMMY

Much like Tyla, country star Lainey Wilson nailed it on the first try — as far as the Recording Academy goes. She was nominated twice at the 2024 GRAMMYs, and took home a golden gramophone for Best Country Album, for Bell Bottom Country.

Clearly, the phenomenon of a first-time GRAMMY nominee taking it home transcends genres and continents.

Second Time Was A Charm For Zach Bryan

Country great Zach Bryan's been nominated before — at the 2023 GRAMMYs, for Best Country Solo Performance, for "Something in the Orange."

This time, he brought home the golden gramophone for Best Country Duo/Group Performance, for "I Remember Everything." Bryan was also nominated for Best Country Album (Zach Bryan) and Best Country Song, also for "I Remember Everything."

First-Time Nominees Boygenius Won Three Times

Women dominated the 2024 GRAMMYs, which certainly applies to boygenius — who consist of three women, and cleaned up at the ceremony. And, they too were first-time nominees

Boygenius took home three GRAMMYs revolving around 2023's the record, including Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance — both for the stirring, gender-flipped "Not Strong Enough."

Peso Pluma Went From First-Time Nominee To First-Time Winner

Música Mexicana, stand up! Upstart Peso Pluma took home the GRAMMY for Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano), for his tremendous album GÉNESIS.

As the status of Mexico on the global stage continues to swell, take Pluma's win as a sign to keep your ear to the ground.

Brandy Clark Left A Winner

Roots-heavy singer Brandy Clark's been nominated for 17 GRAMMYs over the years, but never gave up.

At the 2024 GRAMMYs, she won for Best Americana Performance for "Dear Insecurity" — and she played a corker of a version at the Premiere Ceremony with the string duo SistaStrings.

Fred again.. Proved To Be Dance Music’s Latest Hero

2022 saw Fred again.. rise as one of dance music's most promising new stars with the release of his compilation album, USB, and his third studio album, Actual Life 3 — and both helped him win his first pair of GRAMMYs in 2024. USB's "Rumble" (a collaboration with Skrillex and Four Tet) scored Best Dance/Electronic Recording, and Actual Life 3 took home Best Dance/Electronic Music Album.

Taylor Swift & Kacey Musgraves Celebrated Historic Firsts

While winning a GRAMMY was nothing new to 2024 winners Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves, they both had feats that marked big firsts in GRAMMY history. Swift became the first artist to be awarded Album Of The Year four times with her win for Midnights, while Musgraves' win for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for her Zach Bryan collaboration "I Remember Everything" made her the first artist to win in all four Country Field Categories.

Keep checking GRAMMY.com for stories about the 2024 GRAMMYs — and the Recording Academy thanks you for tuning into Music's Biggest Night! If you missed it, stream it on Paramount+ for maximum musical glory.

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Lainey Wilson On How Her Stardom Is A Testament To "Believin' And Receivin'"
Lainey Wilson

Photo: Erick Frost

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Lainey Wilson On How Her Stardom Is A Testament To "Believin' And Receivin'"

Lainey Wilson continues her massive ascent with two 2024 GRAMMY nominations, Best Country Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance alongside Jelly Roll. The singer details the "wild" ride that helped her become country music's latest female superstar.

GRAMMYs/Jan 30, 2024 - 04:10 pm

Two days before the 2024 GRAMMY nominations were announced, Lainey Wilson's rise as one of country music's biggest stars was solidified in a major way: the Country Music Association Award for Entertainer of the Year.

"That was probably one of the very first moments where I was like, Wow, my life really is changing," Wilson tells GRAMMY.com. "But I think all the years of nothing happening has prepared me for moments like that. It's a slow and steady wins the race kind of feeling."

Wilson's win was as shocking to her as it may have been to those watching — considering her competition was titans Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Carrie Underwood, and Morgan Wallen — but it certainly wasn't undeserved. In 2023, Wilson played nearly 190 shows (including direct support on Combs' stadium tour), headlined her own sold-out tour, and became the first woman to reach No. 1 on country charts four times in a calendar year. 

Her rapidly growing success also resulted in two GRAMMY nominations at the 66th GRAMMY Awards: Best Country Album for her fourth studio album, Bell Bottom Country, and Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Save Me," her moving duet with Best New Artist nominee Jelly Roll.

But as Wilson suggested, these accolades didn't come without years of hard work. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee from her tiny hometown of Baskin, Louisiana in 2011, she didn't sign a record deal until 2018, and her first hit didn't come until 2021. Even so, that first hit — a poignant ballad titled "Things A Man Oughta Know" — was also her first No. 1.

Since then, Wilson's true-to-her-roots persona and bell-bottomed image has nearly taken over country music. Her vintage-inspired voice and raw storytelling strikes a chord with traditionalists and modern country fans alike, and she's already dabbling in the acting world ("Yellowstone" fans may know her as Abby) and serving as the face of major brands like Coors Light and Wrangler.

To say her grinding has paid off is an understatement. But according to Wilson's Instagram post reflecting on her massive 2023 — and her already stacked touring schedule for 2024 — "we are just getting started."

As Wilson closed out her busy 2023 with another milestone, a mini Las Vegas residency, the country star sat down with GRAMMY.com to reflect on the wild ride she's enduring — and why she had no doubt her childhood dream would come true.

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In your Entertainer of the Year speech at the CMAs, you said "It finally feels like country music is starting to love me back." That was pretty powerful.

Thank you. When you're from a town of 200 people in Northeast Louisiana, you're surrounded by country music. It's the soundtrack of your life. And so I had no choice but to eat, sleep and breathe country music, and I've dedicated my life to it. 

I wrote my first song at 9 years old, I started playing guitar at 11, and that's when I started working on this. I didn't just start working on this when I moved to Nashville in 2011. I've dedicated my life to it. And it really is cool to just feel like that little 9-year-old girl who was writing her first song, that she wasn't completely crazy. 

You told GRAMMY.com in 2022, "I don't know if I'll ever feel like I've fully arrived." Did this past year change that?

I've arrived. It's amazing how different you can view things a year later. I know I've arrived, and I'm stepping into it. 

I feel like this past year, it's just been a lot of big steps and having to level up. Every single person on my team has had to just rise to the occasion. Whether it's my band, my merch guy, whether it's my management, the songwriters, everybody's just had to be like, Okay, we're entering a new phase of this journey. I've arrived.

I know you're so humble, but how could you not feel like you've arrived after this kind of a year, right? But it's awesome to not just see the accolades say that, but for you to actually feel it.

I really do. No imposter syndrome — of course, you know, I'm human, and that'll happen every now and then. But I do feel like I'm right where I'm supposed to be. And I'm soaking it up. 

These moments are going by so quick — it's important for me to realize what's happening, and accept all these gifts that the Lord has given me with a gracious heart. I'm a firm believer in believin' and receivin', and that's exactly what's happening.

Do you feel like you've been able to really take in all of the amazing things that have been happening to you?

I mean, I'd be lying to you if I told you that I have soaked up every single bit of it, because it's been a million incredible things happening. But whenever I have a moment, I try to just step away and really pay attention to what's happening. And I just take myself even back a year ago and I'm like, My gosh! 

When you just take a step back and you really think about everything that's happened, it's hard to wrap your head around. Sometimes you don't have much time to celebrate, because you gotta get to the next thing, but I think you gotta take that time. You got to. And I've got a lot of people in the industry reminding me that I gotta do that. 

Keith Urban, he's a good example — I ran into him the other day, and he's like, "You need to be celebrating these moments, but remember, no whining on the yacht." And I said, "I like that, no whining on the yacht!" We're not whining about being tired. I mean, these are the moments that we've dreamed about and prayed for. So we're stepping into it.

In all of these crazy moments that have been happening, do you ever flash back to the little girl who was eating, sleeping and breathing country music — and even the Lainey who was struggling to make a name for herself just seven years ago?

I flashback to that girl all the time, because truth is, I still feel like I am that girl. Of course. I'm not having to struggle as much, but it's still hard, and it's still grueling out here. I'm not living in a camper trailer and having to change out my propane tanks and things like that, but I'm still living on wheels. 

When I moved to Nashville, I've made a decision to not see my family on their birthdays and Christmases, and this and that and the other. And it's still the same way — which, here, real soon, that's gonna be able to shift, and I'm gonna be able to get back to the things that I've had to sacrifice for so long. 

It's weird because I'm still that same old girl. Of course I've grown, and I've changed, and developed. But yeah, I think back to her all the time. And I've always got to go back to some of those qualities that she has in order to keep moving forward.

What are some of those qualities that you think have mostly contributed to where you're at?

Work ethic. My mom and daddy are two of the most hardworking people that I've ever met, and they don't give up easy. And they raised me and my sister like two little boys. They had us out on the farm, doin' whatever, puttin' us to work — they were like, "No time for naps, get up, do your thing." That's why I have a hard time napping now. [Laughs.]

You don't really have the lifestyle to nap, so that's good.

Come January, your girl's takin' a big nap.

Yeah, you were saying that it sounds like things are going to slow down a little bit. But that's, like, a slowdown before it picks back up again, right?

Yeah, but we are going to be playing almost 100 less shows, so that right there makes me feel like I can breathe. Because, I mean, the truth is, we've been touring this heavy for years, but even last year, it was more of an opening slot — you know, I was playing 30 minutes or 45 minutes. This year, it's mainly 75-minute, 90-minute shows, and that can add up. 

I gotta take care of myself, I gotta take care of my health, so I can be 190 percent, because it kills me when I can't be. I want to walk off that stage, and I want to feel like, We came and we did what we were supposed to do. I'm excited for a little bit more rest so I can feel that way every time I walk off stage.

A 2023 Billboard piece noted that you only slept in your own bed 15 nights in 2022. How many nights would you guess you spent in your own bed in 2023?

At least double that, probably a little bit more than that. Because last year that we were touring, we were filming "Yellowstone."  

I love sitting on my front porch, drinking my coffee, sleeping in my own bed. But I'll tell you what, even just a few days at home, I'm ready to get back out on the road. 

I mean, you weren't raised to sit at home too long anyway, right?

Nope, not at all!

Well, and now, all of it has paid off in the form of two GRAMMY nominations. Have you referred to yourself as a GRAMMY-nominated artist yet? Like, has that really set in?

It's wild. Because, you know, I mean, the CMA Awards happened the same week as the GRAMMY nominations, so it was like so many things at once. A few people have, like, referred to me as that, kind of like, behind me I'm hearing it. It's crazy. I just feel so honored. 

I'm very happy with the state of country music right now. I feel like it is getting more popular by the day. It's pretty much pop culture at this point, the Western way of life.

I think that timing is everything, and what I do was not cool 13 years ago whenever I moved to Nashville. But time is a part of my story, and here we are, years later. I feel like the world wants to feel at home, they want to feel grounded. And I think that's what country music does. And I'm so proud to be in the forefront of that.

Even out here in Vegas, people are dressed like cowboys that aren't, and I'm like, the more the merrier! If that makes you feel good, if that makes you feel like a badass or makes you feel at home, then come on with it! I know how this lifestyle and this genre of music makes me feel, so come on!

Have you seen more bell bottoms now too? 

They're everywhere. Bell bottoms are back! 

Somebody told me the other day, "You single-handedly brought back the ugliest pants in the world." And I said, "Hey, we're just over here solving a world problem."

Do you ever have a day where you wake up, and you're just like, "I don't want to wear bell bottoms today"?

I mean, if I'm going out, I'm gonna be wearing my bell bottoms. But at my house, you gon' find me with my hair on top of my head in my sweatpants. The truth is, though, when I put on these bell bottoms, I really do feel like I can take whatever it is on.

I remember getting my first pair of bell bottoms at 9 years old. That was the year that I wrote my first song, got my horse, went to Nashville for the first time, and I remember how those bell bottoms made me feel. They made me feel sassy, that I had a little extra pep in my step. So I can go from sweatpants to putting on my bell bottoms and then I'm ready! They're magic.

Have you had a chance to properly celebrate the nomination with Jelly Roll?

No, but, he's actually here in Vegas. And he's gonna be doing one of these shows with me. For me and him just being on stage together and singing this song together is going to be a way to celebrate. 

I love him. I'm just such a fan of him on and off the stage. So proud for him. This could not be happening for a better human.

I'm thankful for people like him, especially in this industry, for a lot of different reasons. But also, just to show people that, look, we all come from so many different walks of life. We all have our different stories. We all look different, sound different. We're just different. And that's what keeps life moving. And I'm just proud to be his friend more than anything.

Another person you've become close with is Ashley McBryde, who gave you some advice to "reach over the wall" for rising artists the way she did with you years ago. Especially where you're at in your career now, do you feel like you've been able to do that yet?

Yeah, I feel like I'm getting to that place. I think that means taking them out on the road with you. For the Country's Cool Again Tour, I'm bringing a guy named Zach Top. He's awesome. I mean, he is country music — he has a traditional sound. I think that there's so many open lines for that, and I'm excited for him.

And then I'm bringing out Ian Munsick and Jackson Dean, and they've been friends of mine for a long time. And [another] friend of mine, Meg Mcree. She's an incredible songwriter and storyteller. Bringing folks out on the road with you, that's a way to kind of help them over that wall, but also, even mentioning their names in interviews when people say like, "Who are you excited about?" Because I think word of mouth goes a long way.

The traditional sound is definitely part of the fabric of what country music is today, going back to what you were saying about the genre being so huge right now.

There's so many different sounds going on, which is awesome. When you turn on the radio at this point, you know who everybody is, and everybody looks different and sounds different. 

I think this is how it was in the '90s. And I don't think country music has been talked about in that kind of light since the '90s. I think that they'll talk about our generation of country music like that.

Is there a song you've released, whether it's a single or an album cut, that feels the most representative of how you want to be remembered as an artist?

"Wildflowers and Wild Horses," which is our current single right now. It's really cool to be able to stand on stage every night and sing about being from five generations of farmers. 

I've always talked about how similar farming is to the music industry — I mean, you get up every day and bust your tail, and have good years and bad years, and holding on to that piece of me and holding onto that piece of where I'm from is really important to me. Because we are moving at such a fast pace that I can definitely see where you can get off track, but I'm too hard-headed for that. So I think that song is a good representation of where I am right now.

Is there another song that is representative of the kind of artist you set out to be, before big things started happening?

I think it was probably my first hit, "Things A Man Oughta Know," because it's about the way that you treat people. It's not about whether you can change a flat tire or start a fire, it's just about being a good person. That song really did kind of set the foundation for me. It was just a little piece of who I am and my story, and that's what I want people to know. I want people to just love each other and lift each other up.

If you could go back to 2017, when everything was kind of on the verge of happening, before you had your record deal and such, and tell yourself where your life was going to go in the next six years, how would you explain that?

"Girl, you gon' be tired!" [Laughs.] "But you're gonna be exactly where you're supposed to be." And truth is, even in 2017 — I mean, I sound like a little bit of a psychopath, but I knew it would be this at some point. I had that faith, and I had that weird sense of peace about it. 

This is the only thing I know how to do. This is the only thing that I'm gonna do, whether I was doing it on this level or another level. It's just a blessing that I get to get up every single day and do what I love to do and get to make a living doin' it. And get to make people feel something from my job. That's pretty cool.

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

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

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