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(L-R): Zach Bryan, Shania Twain, Brandi Carlile, Billy Strings, Orville Peck

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2022 In Review: 6 Trends That Defined Country Music

From Dolly Parton to Zach Bryan, country music's veterans and new generation found room to grow within the genre in 2022.

GRAMMYs/Dec 22, 2022 - 06:49 pm

Country music isn't always heralded as a haven for artists who fall outside the genre's accepted mainstream. But 2022 saw country music claim a bigger piece of the cultural pie than it has in recent years.

Artists are discovering new paths to success, driven by the meme-ification of culture and music and templated by stars like Walker Hayes, whose GRAMMY-nominated song "Fancy Like" broke through in mid-2021 thanks to TikTok and ended 2022 among the top five of Billboard's Hot Country Songs. Breakout stars Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman also rode online acceptance to mainstream success — the former built a career on his YouTube buzz, while the latter turned his TikTok virality into Platinum sales. 

The genre expanded in other non-traditional ways in 2022 as well. In particular, indie-rock and LGBTQIA+ artists are no longer hovering in the periphery, but making real impacts on country music listenership, thanks to worthy efforts by Waxahatchee and Adeem the Artist, among others.

As country music continues to expand its horizons into 2023, here are six trends that defined country music in 2022.

New Artists Dominated

If the emergence of new talent is a barometer of a genre's health, country music has nothing to worry about. Not since 2015 has a country artist landed on Billboard's top five Best New Artists, when Sam Hunt broke through big. But this year, country music landed two of the five spots on the year-end chart, thanks to newcomers Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman.

Bryan emerged with an audacious statement, claiming country's biggest first-week sales with his major-label debut, the triple-album American Heartbreak. The album landed at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 and topped country streaming tallies on both Spotify and Apple Music. 

Like Bryan, who first found success when his music went viral on social media, Bailey Zimmerman parlayed his online following into an impressive run with Platinum singles "Fall in Love" and "Rock and a Hard Place." Both are off of his first EP on Warner Music Nashville, Leave the Light On, which became the most-streamed all-genre debut of the year and the biggest streaming country debut of all time.

Lainey Wilson also had a banner year, proving that her No. 1 hit on country radio with "Things A Man Oughta Know" in 2021 was no fluke. In between winning new artist honors from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association this year, she landed her second No. 1 on country radio with the Cole Swindell collab "Never Say Never" in April. Most recently, Wilson became the latest country star to appear on the hit Paramount TV drama "Yellowstone"; she debuted on season five as the character Abby, performing her original songs "Smell Like Smoke" and "Watermelon Moonshine," and has become a recurring character.

After Jelly Roll made waves with his 2021 single "Dead Man Walking" and the 2022 Brantley Gilbert collaboration "Son of the Dirty South," the Nashville country rapper solidified himself as a newcomer to watch with "Son of a Sinner." The slow-burning single scored Jelly Roll his first top 10 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts, and it broke the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. He also proved his hometown pride is strong: On. Dec 9, he headlined a sold-out show at Nashville's 20,000-cap Bridgestone Arena.

Bluegrass Saw A Resurgence

You'd be hard-pressed to find another artist who has broadened the bluegrass horizon in recent years more than Billy Strings; his progressive approach to the foundational country genre pulls in elements of rock and psychedelia. While he titled his 2019 Grammy-winning album Home, on his 2022 set Me/And/Dad, Strings came full-circle to play traditional bluegrass standards with his father, Terry, like they did when he was a kid. Strings (whose birth name is William Lee Apostol) even located the Martin acoustic guitar Terry played in those early days but pawned to support the family, fulfilling Billy's bucket-list bluegrass album in more ways than one.

Representing the more traditional approach to the genre, bluegrass icon Del McCoury issued his 17th album, Almost Proud, in February. A peer and collaborator of the genre's Mt. Rushmore (Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs), McCoury is keeping the flame lit in his ninth decade — and he hasn't lost a lick of his abilities. McCoury and his sons Ronnie and Robbie pick, roll and harmonize like it's a Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry. 

Up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Po' Ramblin' Boys have tapped into a similar authenticity by playing bluegrass standards like their forebears. Although they formed around a regular gig at a moonshine distillery, their 2022 album God's Love Is So Divine walks the straight and narrow on 13 gospel bluegrass tunes. 

Old Crow Medicine Show have come a long way since O.G. bluegrass musician Doc Watson discovered them busking on the streets of Boone, North Carolina in 2000. While that growth is evident throughout 2022's Paint This Town, they incorporate bluegrass on tracks like "Painkiller," "DeFord Rides Again" and "Hillbilly Boy." The group also invited Americana mainstay Jim Lauderdale to co-write a couple of tunes, and Mississippi fife master Sharde Thomas to guest on "New Mississippi Flag."

Punk Went Country (And Country Went Punk)

Genre-bending is nothing new in Nashville, and even punk rockers have been acknowledging the raw power of country music since the early '80s — when bands like X, Social Distortion and The Gun Club began incorporating elements into their music, and even covering classics like Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Fast forward to 2022, and the trend has kicked into high gear.

Woody Guthrie, the iconic folk hero of dust-bowl-era America, left behind a large body of unrecorded songs — evidenced by the three volumes of lyrics that have been set to music and recorded as Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Boston pub punks Dropkick Murphys plucked 10 more uncut Guthrie gems for their 2022 set This Machine Still Kills Fascists, a play on the line Guthrie famously scrawled onto the body of his guitar. For their first country album, Dropkick Murphys recruited two of the genre's brightest lights: Nikki Lane, who guests on "Never Git Drunk No More," and Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours, who shares the mic on "The Last One."

Foo Fighter Chris Shiflett — who previously played with speedy punks No Use For A Name — got into the act, too. When he isn't cranking guitars alongside Dave Grohl and Pat Smear, he plays his own Bakersfield-inspired country rock, as heard on 2017's West Coast Town and 2019's Hard Lessons. This year, he issued the singles "Born & Raised" and "Long, Long Year," a pair of breezy, pedal steel-assisted cuts that find him leaning more than ever into his sunny SoCal disposition.

Shiflett previously shredded the guitar solo on "Goin' Nowhere," a collaboration with country hitmaker HARDY on his Hixtape Vol. 2, released in the last weeks of 2021. Now, HARDY's back and flipping the script with his own rock record, the mockingbird & THE CROW, set for release in January. Early singles "JACK," "TRUCK BED" and the title track, all released in 2022, show the influence of Nirvana and post-grunge songcraft alongside his distinctive, rhythmic lyrical delivery.

Legends Got Their Due

In 2022, country music proved that age is irrelevant when the music is this good. Newcomers Chapel Hart captured the national spotlight — and a rare Golden Buzzer — on "America's Got Talent" in July with a nod to icon Dolly Parton. The trio's electrifying performance of their original song "You Can Have Him Jolene," an answer to Parton's 1974 smash "Jolene," elevated them to star status, and they spent the latter half of 2022 playing to sold-out audiences across America. Darius Rucker even recruited them to back him on his song "Ol' Church Hymn."

Parton had her own high point this year, earning her first No. 1 on Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart with her 48th studio album, Run, Rose, Run. She also released a new compilation album, Diamonds & Rhinestones: The Greatest Hits Collection, in November. 

After Shania Twain spent the last couple of years featuring on other artist's songs, the best-selling female country artist of all time returned to her throne in 2022. She announced her sixth studio album, Queen of Me (due Feb. 3, 2023), helmed by the dance-floor bop "Waking Up Dreaming." The announcement followed the Netflix documentary Not Just A Girl (and the companion album that featured more than a dozen unreleased songs) and preceded another huge announcement: a 76-date U.S. tour for 2023.

Twain's fellow genre-bending '90s icon, Sheryl Crow, also issued a documentary in 2022. The Showtime special, "Sheryl," was accompanied by a double-album compilation of the same name, which featured two discs of hits plus collaborations with Chris Stapleton, Stevie Nicks, Jason Isbell and more. Crow also featured on 2022 releases from TobyMac and Lucius. The latter track also featured Brandi Carlile, who has played a big role in Tanya Tucker's recent comeback story — as shown in yet another 2022 doc, "The Return of Tanya Tucker," which featured their song "Ready As I'll Never Be."

The CMA Awards paid tribute to icons Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away in October, and Alan Jackson, who is in the midst of a farewell tour dubbed Last Call: One More For the Road. Firebrand singer Elle King channeled The Killer's wild moves as she performed his signature hit, "Great Balls of Fire," backed by The Black Keys. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood led a star-studded Jackson tribute featuring Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and Lainey Wilson, who performed a melody of his hits including "Chattahoochee" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox."

The legacies continued both on stage and in studio. Brooks & Dunn's Ronnie Dunn, Reba McEntire and Bonnie Raitt all returned with new albums in 2022; meanwhile, Shenandoah, Billy Dean and Wade Hayes appeared on the Country Comeback Tour, and Wynonna led The Judds: The Final Tour in tribute to her mother, Naomi Judd, who passed away in April.

Indie Rockers Infiltrated Country Music

As '90s-style indie rock has a moment thanks to artists like Big Thief, Momma and Alvvays, Katie Crutchfield is leaning deeper into laid-back country vibes. The leader of Waxahatchee, whose blissful 2020 set Saint Cloud landed her on scores of year-end lists, doubled down in 2022.

Waxahatchee collaborated with Wynonna on the single "Other Side," recorded on the Judds singer's farm in Tennessee — an experience both artists ranked among their favorite recording sessions. Crutchfield also collaborated with Jess Williamson on a new project dubbed Plains, releasing the album I Walked With You A Ways in 2022 to critical acclaim. The 10 songs on Plains' debut rival the artists' soothing solo work and combine their strengths with Fleetwood Mac harmonies.

Madison Cunningham, who is best known for weaving mind-bending melodies and harmonies between her voice and guitar, guested on the second edition of Watkins Family Hour — which pairs siblings Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek with a series of notable collaborators like Fiona Apple and Jackson Browne — contributing her signature spidery guitar playing to "Pitseleh."

Other notables on the indie side of country include Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, who returned with Palomino, a strummy set of acoustic guitar-driven country pop and their first album in four years. Michaela Anne's gentle LP Oh To Be That Free chronicled a period of personal troubles with compassion, while Sierra Ferrell released the sparse, playful single "Hey Me, Hey Mama" and collaborated with Shakey Graves on "Ready Or Not." 

LGBTQIA+ Country Artists Were Celebrated

Acceptance for LGBTQIA+ artists in country music has grown steadily in recent years, thanks to efforts by allies like Kacey Musgraves and Dolly Parton, as well as artists who have publicly discussed their sexuality, including T.J. Osborne, Lil Nas X, Chely Wright, Amythyst Kiah and Shane McAnally. With such star power in their corner, gay and non-binary country artists are now getting a fairer shake.

Non-binary singer-songwriter Adeem the Artist released the acclaimed album White Trash Revelry. Over 11 songs, Adeem chronicles their experiences growing up different in small towns surrounded by smaller minds — from the stomp-along "Going to Hell" to the Heartland rocker "Heritage of Arrogance" and fingerpicked album closer "My America." 

Elsewhere, Orville Peck, the masked singer who performs a fever dream of '70s-inspired country music with a deep-throated croon, returned with his second album, Bronco. Peck traded the spare songscapes of his 2019 debut, Pony, for Bronco's more fully realized, cinematic arrangements, broadening his sound and the scope of his persona.

Brandi Carlile, whose pro-LGBTQIA+ activism is tied directly to her music — she founded the Looking Out Foundation early in her music career, and donates a portion of touring proceeds to groups like The Trevor Project — has seen her reputation grow steadily over nearly two decades of releasing music to ever-growing audiences. In 2022, she added to an already storied career by  performing with her personal hero, Joni Mitchell, at Newport Folk Festival. Carlile also headlined Tennessee's Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, marking the first time a woman has headlined the fest. 

However country music continues to expand and impact culture as a result, 2022's trends certainly set up a promising future for the genre.

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Photo of country singer/artist Anne Wilson wearing a brown jacket with pink designs, a white shirt, and light blue jeans.
Anne Wilson

Photo: Robby Klein

feature

Anne Wilson Found Faith In Music After Her Brother’s Death. Now She’s One Of Country’s Young Stars: "His Tragedy Wasn’t Wasted"

The Kentucky-based musician first arrived on the scene as a Christian artist in 2022. On her new album 'Rebel,' the singer/songwriter star melds the sounds of her "true north" with a mainstream country sensibility.

GRAMMYs/Apr 18, 2024 - 02:40 pm

After breaking out in the world of contemporary Christian music, Anne Wilson wants to take the country world by storm. 

Out April 19, Wilson's sophomore album embraces the many aspects of her self. Rebel sees the Kentuckian lean into her country and horse farm roots just as she leans into her faith — a subject already deeply intertwined in country music — more than ever before. 

"I’ve never viewed it as switching over to country or leaving Christian music," Wilson tells GRAMMY.com. "With this new record I wanted to write something that was faith-based but also broad enough to positively impact people who don’t have a strong faith as well."

Rebel is just the latest chapter in a journey of triumph and glory first set into motion by tragedy. Wilson started playing piano when she was six but didn’t begin taking it more seriously until the sudden death of her older brother, Jacob Wilson, in 2017. Despite the weight of the moment, Wilson, then 15, returned to the piano to channel her grief — a move that culminated in her first live singing performance when she belted out Hillsong Worship’s "What A Beautiful Name" at his funeral.

"My life forever changed in that moment," admits Wilson. "I already knew that life was very short on this side and that we only have a small window of time here so I wanted to make mine count. It was a special, but really hard moment that has gone on to spawn my entire career. Hearing just how much my songs have impacted fans makes me feel like his tragedy wasn’t wasted and that it was used for good."

Soon after she posted a cover of "What A Beautiful Name" to YouTube that netted over 800,000 views and caught the attention of the brass at Capitol Christian Music Group, who promptly signed her to a deal. Her first release with them, My Jesus, earned a GRAMMY nomination in 2023 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album in addition to its title track hitting the top spot on Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart. 

Similar to My Jesus, Rebel sees Wilson doubling down on her religious roots while continuing to preserve the memory of her beloved brother. Although she grew up in a devout Christian household in Lexington, Kentucky, Wilson says that she didn’t fully connect with her faith until Jacob’s passing. 

Nowadays she couldn’t see herself living without it.

"When it came to dealing with the loss and tragedy of my brother I knew I couldn’t have survived that without [faith]," she says. "As I started writing songs and moved to Nashville my faith quickly became everything to me."

The 16-song project hits the bullseye between contemporary Christian and country twang, with an assist from special guests including Chris Tomlin ("The Cross"), Jordan Davis ("Country Gold") and Lainey Wilson ("Praying Woman"). Of the Lainey feature, Wilson says the two wrote "Praying Woman" upon their first day of meeting, with the elder Wilson growing into big sister and mentor of sorts for Anne. The song was inspired by the power of prayer Wilson and Lainey each experienced from their mothers growing up.

"We’d been talking about memories from growing up and remembering our mother’s coming into our rooms, getting on their knees and praying for us," recalls Wilson. "There was a conviction in how they prayed and expected them to be answered that was so powerful and special that we wanted to capture the feeling of it in song."

Rebel's strong motherly influence continues on "Red Flag," a rockin' number that Anne Wilson wrote as guidance to her younger fan base about what to look for in lasting love. While she largely had to ad lib the concept, having no bad breakup or relationship experiences to pull from, many of the "green flags" she notes were the result of years of advice. Things like going to church, being down to Earth, hunting, fishing, and respecting the American flag were traits and hobbies Wilson's mother had been passing down to her for years.

"Growing up she was always teaching me about relationship red and green flags, what to expect and to never settle," explains Wilson. "I have a song on my last record called ‘Hey Girl’ that ['Red Flag' is] almost a continuation of. It started out as a fun joke and turned out to be an actual serious song about red flags that’s one of my favorites on the whole record."

Another tune that began lighthearted before adopting a more serious tone is "Songs About Whiskey." Playing into country music and her home state's obsession with songs about brown liquor, the upbeat banger is intended to instead illustrate how Wilson gets her high from G-O-D rather than A-B-V or C-B-D through lines like, "I guess I’m just kind of fixed on/ The only thing that’s ever fixed me/ That’s why I sing songs about Jesus/ Instead of singing songs about whiskey."

"It’s supposed to be fun, make you laugh and fill you with joy," describes Wilson. "But it’s also meant to show how my faith is my true north, not those other things that are going to try to fill you up, but never do."

Through all of Rebel Wilson not only proves how her faith is her true north, but also shows others yearning to get there a path toward. This feeling culminates on the record’s title track, which frames her open love of Jesus as an act of rebellion in today’s world. A lesson in "what it means to have faith, not backing down from it and clinging to what we know is true," Wilson says the song was also inspired by previously having a song turned away at Christian radio for sounding "too country."

"I’m not going to try to please Christian music and I’m not going to try to please country music, I’m just going to be who I’ve always been and let the songs fall where they want to," asserts Wilson. "That was fuel not just for the song, but going against the grain on this entire album to be my most authentic self yet."

At the end of the day, genre labels, accolades and being included in the Grand Ole Opry’s NextStage Class of 2024 are secondary to Wilson’s adoration for the man above and her brother who, albeit tragically, set her on the journey she’s on now.

"I want to make sure I’m honoring him in everything that I do," reflects Wilson, "because he’s the reason I started doing music in the first place." 

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Sheryl Crow press photo 2024
Sheryl Crow

Photo: Dove Shore

interview

Sheryl Crow's 'Evolution': The Rock Icon On Her "Liberating" New Album, The Song That's Her "Favorite Child" & More

As Sheryl Crow adds another album to her catalog, the freshly minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer reflects on the major moments, musings and mushroom trips that led her to the unexpected new project.

GRAMMYs/Apr 4, 2024 - 04:24 pm

When Sheryl Crow released her tenth studio album, 2019's Threads, she declared it'd be her last — even calling it "a beautiful final statement."

"People don't listen to whole bodies of work anymore. In fact, I'm not sure they even listen to a whole song anymore," Crow explains. "So it seemed kind of, not only futile, but also, at this stage, it seems like a long process that's expensive when really, it's best to put out something you really believe in."

As it turns out, she really believed in her eleventh album, Evolution

Crow's music has always been as insightful as it is catchy, and Evolution is perhaps the most existential example of that. Throughout, the nine-time GRAMMY winner  poignantly muses over the state of the world and humankind, while also reflecting on the moments and the ideals that still give her hope. Along the way, she throws in very Sheryl Crow quips ("Anger sucks, but at least your brand's trending," she sings on "Broken Record") and makes some important statements ("We are brilliant, we are kind/ But sometimes we miss the glaring signs," she urges on the title track).

If Evolution ends up being Crow's actual last album, she'd certainly be going out in signature style. It's a culmination of what's made her music so timeless: unabashed honesty, soulful musicality, and unbridled joy. 

GRAMMY.com sat down with Crow to discuss her unexpected album, her "liberating" new creative process, and major moments that have made her career feel like a fairy tale.

After declaring that you wouldn't make any more albums, how did creating Evolution change your perspective on the rest of your career? Do you think you'll go back to making albums?

Well, this was not like any experience I have ever had. I've never made a record where I wasn't there for it. I mean, I was there, but when I typically make a record, everything starts and ends with me. 

This was me sending a guitar vocal to this incredible producer, Mike Elizondo, who basically was like Martin Scorsese. He would take my little screenplay and just build this cinematic landscape around it. I've never had that experience where I walk in and hear myself in the context of something I've never heard before. And it was really a beautiful experience. 

Once I got over the fact that I'm not playing everything — once you check your ego and go, Wait a minute, this is exactly what you wanted. You wanted your stories, your thoughts to be built on — it made it so different than any process I've ever experienced. 

Will I go back and make records the way I used to? I don't know. I'm going to quit saying I'm never gonna do an album again, because I don't know. [Laughs.]

You've said that this is kind of a diary turned into an album. You can actually feel that in some of the songs. I can envision you sitting down and just spilling your heart out, and then it turning into a song.

I've never made a record where I just wrote the song and then let it go, and then it came back to me. It was a really colossal gift that I gave myself, to let go of it and be okay with what came back to me. 

Luckily, there was no disappointment in what came back, because I know Mike Elizondo so well — like, for 20 years. And the interesting thing about this process is the whole thing came together over one song that we put on the record [last]. 

It's called "Digging In The Dirt," it's a Peter Gabriel cover. It's on the deluxe [version of Evolution]. I called Mike, I said, "I have been really soul searching. I've done a guided mushroom tour. I am really trying to navigate how I'm feeling about this moment in our humanity, and I want to do this song 'Digging In The Dirt,' would you produce it?" He said yes. 

We sent it to Peter, and quite a long time went by, and [when we] got it back, he'd put himself on it. Then, it was like, Okay, we have an album.

I imagine that you probably weren't thinking he would put himself on the cover.

I wasn't. We sent it to him and he really liked it. And I said, "If, you know… no pressure!" 

Of course, it's a compliment. But I think his work is pretty emblematic of what this record is about: Digging deep and taking no prisoners, calling out what you see, trying to figure out a way to get back to [your] authentic self — which is what every human being at some moment in their life will struggle with.

I feel like you've always been pretty outspoken in your music — not in an abrasive way, but just in a way that you're very assured of the message you're spreading.

I hope so. It's a weird thing to be now — because when you think about music before MTV and VH1, like before videos, you'd write a song and there was no image that was attached to it. Then MTV and VH1 [come along, and] suddenly you're writing little stories [for visuals], and that gets in somebody's head. Like, I can listen to Madonna song, and instead of what I experienced, I remember the video.

Now, you put out songs, and there's so much branding and social media that you're attached to before you ever hear the song, that it taints what your songs are about, you know? And it can also make you [think], I would never listen to her because she's a liberal

It's like we're programmed to decide if we could like somebody's song based on how we feel about that person. It's different than it used to be. All that to say, there's nothing that can stop me from writing, because it's the thing that I know how to do. It's a salve for me.

I saw an interview with the Guardian where you answered fan questions, and someone asked about how your creative process evolved. And you were basically like, "I don't know who's listening anymore, and I don't really care who's listening. So I'm just gonna say what I feel." Do you feel more creatively liberated than you ever have?

I do. I mean, there were many periods during the process of making the albums in the early days where I would sit and listen to the body of work and go, I gotta write something that could maybe get played at radio. There's none of that anymore. Because radio is based on streams, and streams is based on social media and TikTok, and all that stuff. And also, being my age, I can't even hope to be played anyway. So it is liberating.

That's not to say that it's not frustrating. It is frustrating to feel like you're writing some of your best work and [have to ask] Will anybody hear it? But I had to stay out of the outcome, just like I've always done, and be into the process. And that's where I continue to find my joy.

You've been able to celebrate a lot of success before the streaming era took over. This year actually marks 30 years since "All I Wanna Do," hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, which started a very epic run for you, including your first GRAMMY wins. What do you remember from that time?

When I reflect on that night, I think I was not equipped to hold all that. In fact, it's funny, I look at what I wore, and it was very not designer. I just was a country bumpkin. [Laughs.]

We had already toured for, like, a year, and nothing had really — I mean, it was just starting to pick up, and then "All I Wanna Do" came out, and it exploded. And then I was nominated for GRAMMYs, and won the GRAMMYs, and then the next day, we played in San Francisco like it never even happened. 

It took a little time — in fact, the better part of that year — to realize that, at that time, the GRAMMYs, which was the one night of the year that everyone tuned into, that winning a GRAMMY could change the trajectory of your career. Just from the GRAMMYs, and that visibility, my record sales expanded exponentially. It was just over the top. 

It was a whirlwind. And what looked like, to most people, as being an overnight success, to me, being a 30-year-old, I felt like I'd worked my whole life — I studied piano, I taught school. I had a whole life before I ever made it. 

It was a bizarre time. And obviously, there's no guidebook for how to become famous and how to navigate that. So I just tried to really stay in my lane, and I didn't really enjoy it as much as I could have enjoyed it. I wish now I could go back and say, "You need to enjoy it more! Be a rock star!" [Laughs.]

You were just inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and you've hung out with — and recorded with — Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I would say that puts you in the ranks of a rock star!

I've been so dang lucky. And that was an amazing thing. I grew up in the middle of farmland, in a town with three stoplights. And my parents were like, "You work hard and you're a good person, good things will happen." 

You just don't really know what life can be like. As you get older, you realize that the stories we tell ourselves [when we're younger] about what [life] can be can be very limiting,

In my particular instance, I could not have envisioned knowing these massive heroes that I got to brush up against, and I got to learn from. I think there's not an award on the planet that could measure knowing some of these people. 

I mean, even singing with Willie Nelson, for as long as we've sung together is — the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame [performance with him] was just icing on the cake. To be in a "club" — as my dad calls it — with the people that wrote the book on it is just very humbling.

I read that you didn't even want to record "All I Wanna Do" at first. Is there a song you've never gotten sick of playing?

After two years of touring that record, I was so sick of ["All I Wanna Do"]. Now, of course, I play it with absolute and total gratitude, because it's taken me to St. Petersburg, to Tokyo, to Bogota, to Tel Aviv. That song has literally taken me all over the world, and I've watched people who don't speak English sing the many thousands of words in that song. 

There is one song that I love every time I play it, and when it comes on the radio, I don't turn it off. It's "My Favorite Mistake." The original intent of it, the experience of writing it, the feel of the song. It feels like the best song in my catalog.

That's a big statement! You don't see artists making that statement a lot, because they're like, "Oh, I can't pick one, they're all like my children!" 

"My Favorite Mistake" is my favorite child. There, I'll say it.

It's amazing to have a piece of work like that, right? I can imagine that you have so many songs you're proud of, but it's very cool to have a song, no matter what it meant to other people, for it to feel so special to you.

It is. You hear that woo-woo statement of "I was just a vessel." I've had a few of those songs where I go, "Okay, that's weird. I don't know how I wrote that song top to bottom." There are those songs, and I do look at that and go, "Okay, there is some divinity in that." 

Because we learn really early on how to craft a good song — what the form of a good song is, how to build interest in it, how to make it exciting, how to hold the listener. All kinds of crafting tricks. But on the odd occasion you get, like, a "Redemption Day," which you go, "I don't know how I wrote that song, because that's not even how I write," and 15 years later, Johnny Cash records it. 

There are those songs where you think you just got to be in the room for it. "My Favorite Mistake" was a little bit like that. It was so effortless. Most of the lyrics I sang onto the mic as I was playing it on bass, writing it with Jeff [Trott, Crow's frequent collaborator]. 

It just fell together, and it felt so authentic to how gutted I was over my relationship falling apart. And I think sometimes that is what makes a song universal — it's the emotion we all experience no matter what the experience looks like. 

That can very much apply to Evolution as well — in a very different way than "My Favorite Mistake," but there's a lot of relatable sentiments on this album. 

I think as a mom, as a person who's raising two young people, a lot of what I'm asking myself — and what I'm witnessing, which causes me to scratch my head — I don't know what to do with it. And you can't really engage anymore in narrative conversation where people share ideas, and try to come up with solutions, and make compromises. Because we are now being, I guess, in some ways, programmed to not do that, you know? To not give in to the other side because it might be a show of weakness.

My safe haven is to write songs, and this process was really that. And I can safely say, without ego, I love the way that it turned out, and that is because I did not produce it. It's just my songs and a great movie around them.

So your biggest takeaway from this album is that you should stop producing your own work…

My biggest takeaway is I should just sit and write little songs and then fire them off to a producer.

You know, that's what they're there for, right?

Exactly! That's why we pay you, anyway! [Laughs.]

You're such a statement-based artist and you've always stuck to your guns. What are some things that you look back on and you're like, Man, that is exactly what I set out to do?

Oh my gosh, I have so many that now I allow myself to feel proud of. I think it's our knee-jerk to not ever give ourselves a minute of homage. 

I got to sing with Pavarotti. I got to sing a piece by Mozart in front of my mom and dad in Modena Italy for War Child. The look on my parents' faces will never leave me, ever. My parents are musicians. I don't think they could have envisioned their little girl, like, singing legitimate music, after the years of piano lessons and getting my degree in voice and piano. 

To see me up there singing Mozart with Pavarotti, and then getting to play my own music with Eric Clapton backing me [at the same event], that one moment was a personal highlight for sure.

I've had some incredible experiences — getting to sing with, like you said, Dylan, and getting to walk out on stage with the Rolling Stones and strut around and be a rock star. But doesn't it all come back to your parents, ultimately? I will never forget the emotional looks on their faces. And I will carry that with me forever. 

Well, especially, like you've been talking about, coming out of such a small town. What you've accomplished is so rare, especially coming from a place with three stoplights.

To bring your parents all the way to Italy! They'd never been out of the country and [I had to say] "Okay, you guys are gonna have to get a passport. You're gonna drive an hour and a half to the airport in Memphis, Tennessee. You're gonna fly all the way across the world." 

You know, those are the things that fairy tales are made of. And I would say that my life has been a fairy tale.

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Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

feature

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

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

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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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