meta-scriptMeet First-Time Nominee: Ashley McBryde On Self-Acceptance & Why There's Room For Everyone In Country Music | GRAMMY.com
Ashley McBryde

Ashley McBryde

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen 

news

Meet First-Time Nominee: Ashley McBryde On Self-Acceptance & Why There's Room For Everyone In Country Music

When the music industry told her she needed to change, the Arkansas-born country singer opted to become more herself

GRAMMYs/Jan 21, 2019 - 09:43 pm

When she was five years old, Ashley McBryde told her mother she wanted to be a country musician. Then, when she was 12, she said it again. And she didn't want to be just any country singer, either. The Arkansas native who grew up on a 400-acre cattle farm and loved attending bluegrass festivals dreamt of GRAMMY gold.

To make that dream happen, she dropped out of college and played TV-on-the-wall sports bars. When McBryde finally got the attention of record labels, she was told her hair was "too curly" and to lose weight. And she tried. She lost 35 pounds and wrote songs a certain kind of way. But it wouldn't stick—McBryde couldn't be who the glossy, 30-pounds-skinnier artist industry executives wanted her to be. So she turned a corner—if she was going to "become" anyone, it would have to be herself. The music industry would have to accept her as she was, tattoos, wild hair and all. 

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/aIOm5shUql8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Her unapologetic nature has paid off: At 35 years old, McBryde has a critically acclaimed debut album, Girl Going Nowhere, and her first GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Album.

Ultimately, her experience has inspired the album. Songs like "Girl Goin' Nowhere" tell a story of fierce persistence. "Don't waste your life behind that guitar/ You may get gone, but you won't get far/ You're not the first, you won't be the last… But when the lights come up …. And I can't find an empty chair/ Not bad for a girl goin' nowhere," she sings.

In an exclusive interview, McBryde spoke to the Recording Academy about what it feels like to be where she is now, her first-time nomination, women in country radio, the artists who inspired her, and what she's looking forward to the most during the 61st GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 10.

What were you doing when you found out you were nominated for a GRAMMY?

I was in my bunk on the bus, and I had let my phone die on accident the night before because I'm one of those people that looks at their phone until they fall all the way to sleep. I woke up; phone was dead. I plugged it in and as it started to charge, it started to go off, of course, a million times. Ding, ding, ding, ding. That was annoying. So, I turned the ringer off and went back to sleep, and when I woke up I had 49 texts.

I kind of glanced at the screen and to see some of the names that were popping up, I was like, "Something bad or something really good happened. Because I didn't even know the nominees were being read that morning." When you're in tour mode, you just play the show, sleep, get up, play the show, sleep, and I clicked on a video my friend had sent me, and it was them reading the nomination on TV.

So I freaked out, and then I text that video to my band, and I got under the covers and put my head under the covers and just screamed.

After finding out, you tweeted: "When other girls my age were planning their dream weddings, I dreamt of a Grammy nomination." Talk to me about when you used to dream about this moment. What did you envision at that time?

I was such a weird kid I guess. I'd get in trouble all the time for practicing my autograph in classes I wasn't supposed to [be doing those things in]. I never wanted anything more than I wanted to do this for a living. So I kind of thought, how would I call my mom? Where would I be? How would I react? Should I tell my mom in a really big way and be like, "Oh my gosh, Ma! We got nominated for a GRAMMY!" And that's not at all what I did, I called her and just I said, "Hey Mom. What are you doing?" And she was working, and she said, "Oh, just working. What are you doing?" I said, "Oh, I just woke up on the bus and we're nominated for a GRAMMY." She goes, "Okay, honey. What?!"

So, I would kind of play through these scenarios. How I would tell my sister, how I'd tell my brother, and what it would feel like to be nominated for the biggest award there is for a musician, for a songwriter, for an artist. And all of the envisioning I did still didn't prepare my gut for the size of those butterflies.

My best friend called me. We have been best friends since we were 16, and I was having trouble processing this information. And she called, and she said, "Ashley, you remember sitting in Coach Hanson's class and we got in trouble because I was writing poetry and you were practicing your autograph." Yeah, and she goes, "Dude, you did it. 17-year-old you just did the thing we dreamt of." And that's when the tears started for me and started to creep in.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist? 

My new skills really developed until was 25. I told my mom when I was five that I was gonna be a country artist someday. And then, again when I was 12. It never changed, but I really reiterated again when I was 12. I said, "Mom, I'm gonna be a songwriter someday. I'm gonna move to Nashville, Tennessee and I'm gonna write songs." And she said, "Okay." Her answer was always, "Okay, honey." And not in a dismissive way, but in an "Absolutely" kind of way.

<iframe width="620" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZbocKUcuDgU" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Was there any moment in your journey that almost made you want to give up?

Nothing makes you wonder why the hell you're doing it like playing at a sports bar where they don't turn the TVs down for their live music. But that's one of those things you have to learn to adjust to when you're a chick that plays the bars for a living. Sometimes you're the thing that's happening, and sometimes you're the noise behind the thing that's happening. Either you get in your head about it and you're like, "Why the hell are they having me do this when a radio could do this job?" And some of the bars don't even turn the projector off behind you when the ball game was on.

You get in your head about it and you get, "Why the hell am I doing this?" And then you remember, you know what? You could always go back and work in retail. You can always go back. You could go do anything for a living. And you have to ask yourself, would you do anything else? No. Okay, then shut up and sing 'Fishing in the Dark'… You do this because you love it or you just don't do it. There are things that make you wonder if you should keep doing it, but if it's in your bones then the answer is still gonna be yes when you still check.

A lot of women in country, including Carrie Underwood, have spoken out about the lack of women represented in country radio. With so many music platforms available to share and discover music on nowadays, is terrestrial radio a priority for you?

I think terrestrial radio is a priority for anybody who is really wanting to do music on a level that we're doing. It's a weird struggle. It broke my heart to find out how radio worked 'cause I was so ... I've been playing in bars for 11 years. I had no idea what radio tour would be like. And I met such amazing people on radio tour and finding out how hard their job is as a program director and as a music director and finding out how it really works and how a song really gets on the radio has so little to do with music that it was just heartbreaking.

I don't understand why there aren't more chicks on the radio ... We have huge fans. We sell out shows. And you're right, with so many different platforms to get ahold of our music, you would wonder if terrestrial radio is still is a champion for you as you want it to be, but it's absolutely a thousand percent necessary. It doesn't have to be the biggest thing in your life. It doesn't have to be the only way they're gonna find you, obviously, because they ain't playin' it. But it's still a companion you have to have. The people who are singing the records and the people who are spinning the record and the people that are pushing the record, we're all the music industry, and we all have to be companions to each other.

Why do you think traditional country radio has been so slow to diversify its roster?

It's so weird because we diversify our genre. We represent the pop side of things on country radio. We represent the more traditional side. We represent the ritzy side. We represent kind of that shake-hop thing that happened. We're so diverse as a sound, I don't know why it's so hard to diversify as far as who's singing the song. I don't know why that is, but it wasn't always that way. You look at the '90s, they're were as many if not more strong female artists as there were strong male artist, and they all got along. Nobody was bitching about one another. I think that's the wrong way to go. Country music is a big-ass place. There's room for all of us.

<iframe width="620" height="339" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WI7YCYR4EyM" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>

You've spoken about the importance of being your true self in this industry. What got you to realize this, and what motivates you to stay genuine as an artist and a person?

There's always that moment in everybody's career where it's "Lose 30 pounds, change your hair, change your name," all this stuff. And I knew I wasn't willing to do that from the get-go. You have to do a small percentage of it anyway, because if you don't ... how do I say this? If you don't buy tickets to the game, you don't get to go.

For me, learning that I had to be unapologetically myself was, I lost 35 pounds. I looked amazing, except my head was way too big for my shoulders. And there was a, "Your hair's really curly. Can we kind of make that more of a wave kind of a thing?" And I was like, "Okay. I'll trust you. I'll try anything one time. I won't have to tell you it looks stupid. You'll see it looks stupid." So, we did that and I tried to do the thing that people would have me do, and it was a momentum and a façade that I knew there's no way I could keep that up and maybe stick out my stomach, two for ten, that I'm the skinniest girl in the room. I'm never gonna be that and that's fine. I look silly with straight hair.

That for me was a big turning point, and also some of the songs that we were choosing for me at the time. It's not that I didn't like them. I wrote them, but they weren't exactly the thing I would want to do and the message that I wanted to put out. I had stuff that had better messages to it. And learning that I really suck at being anybody else, and as long as I've got permission to just be me, and me and the guys can just make the music that [speaks] to us, that's when it started working for us. That's when the ball really started rolling.

You bring up really great points and it kind of gets me thinking, did you ever see yourself represented when you were younger in the industry, in the singers that you saw?

I did. Really strong women like Trisha Yearwood, Lorrie Morgan, Patty Loveless. They were vocally so agile and so powerful. That was easy to look up to, but I grew up on a cattle farm in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. I was in the cheapest Wrangler jeans you can get. We bought our clothes at a place called Tri-County Farm and Ranch Supply. I wore white Hanes T-shirts that were hand-me-downs from my older siblings and I rolled the sleeves up because I'm a really small statured person. I still roll my sleeves up to this day because even short sleeved t-shirts, the sleeves are too long for me.

And I ran across this song I really liked called "When Boy Meets Girl" by Terrie Clark. I went to Walmart and I bought her record and on the cover of the record, she had on a cowboy hat just like I did, she had on a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up just like I did, and she wore Wrangler.

So, for the first time I saw a strong female presence with good songs that meant something to me that looked like I did. And then later on in college, it would be Gretchen Wilson where I would go, "Hey, I'd dip tobacco. That chick dips tobacco," even though it's sort of unattractive … I can identify with her. So, I really did have some good role models I looked up to on both sides of the spectrum. People that I wanted to sound like and people that sounded like me. People that I can identify with just life wise. The way the women looked and the way we lived.

"Girl Going Nowhere" is such a powerful song. What is the inspiration behind it?

Ahh, that song is a 100% my story and it is 100% Jeremy Bussey's story, the friend that I wrote that with. That morning, Guy Clark had passed away. He's one of my favorite songwriters of all time, and I was really upset when I got to the writing room. To calm down, I'd just met Jeremy that morning and he said, "Yeah. Let's get your brain out of there out of being sad ..." "I'm from Alabama." And I'm like, "Oh, I'm from Arkansas." "When did you move to town?" I said, "Well, I was 22, 23." He's like, "Cool. I was much older than that when I moved to town to start this as a career." We just kind of interviewed each other kind of getting our brains going in the same direction.

We started swapping stories of all of the people that told us we were crazy to move to Nashville. The story that really stuck out that day for me was about that algebra teacher that I had that when she asked what I wanted to do for a living, I told her I was gonna write songs. And she told me that that was stupid, and that wasn't gonna happen. And the longer we talked about that, Jeremy said, "Have you played at the Grand Ole Opry?" And I said, "Not yet, but I will." And that was about a year-and-a-half before the Opry had ever even heard my name. He said, "I like the way you think. Today, all we have to do is write what you want to sing the very first time you step in that wooden circle and we'll write it in such a way that Guy Clark wouldn't hate it if he had to listen to it."

RELATED: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Tia Fuller On  Artistic Vision & Leading By Example

What would you tell your algebra teacher now?

She's getting on up in years, and as many things as I've dreamt of saying to that bitter old woman, I think now, the only thing I could say to her would be "Thank you." I was a stubborn kid. She gave me hell. I gave it right back. I ultimately got kicked out of her class, by the way, because of my mouth. But now, I would say thank you because nothing lights a fire under your ass like somebody telling you they don't think you can do it.

How's the next album going, have you written any songs for it yet?

Oh yeah. We started picking out the songs for the second record the day after we finished the first record. We have a huge pile already of stuff that I had already written. Just stuff that I've written over the last two years. And now, I'm gonna take a month and just write, not really toward anything, not trying to fill any gaps, but just write as many songs as we can in 25 days and see what pops out. 

What are you most looking forward to during the 61st GRAMMY Awards?

Just attending the Grammys is huge to me, and to be nominated is of course a dream come true, especially with these artists with these albums that I'm standing next to. I think what I'm most looking forward to is taking who I want to take to the GRAMMYs. I took my mother to the CMAs, so I have a pretty good idea of who I'd like to take to the GRAMMYs, but I won't say yet because she's gonna freak out.

RELATED: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Between The Buried And Me's Paul Waggoner

If there is something you want the world to take away from your music, what would it be?

The reason me and the guys even play music for a living is because at some point in our lives, music changed us. My goal is to do for one person what music did, but so many songs did for me growing up.

I got to perform at the CMAs, which was another dream of mine. And to think of me, a chick from Arkansas, being on that stage. That blows my mind. To think of the first time I step in the Opry circle, that blows my mind. If I can do that, you can do anything. Especially if someone told you not to do it. Then you should do it more colorfully, if someone told you not to do it or told you that you can't do it. If I can do it, you damn sure can.

Alicia Keys To Host The 2019 GRAMMY Awards

Tanner Adell Press Photo 2024
Tanner Adell

Photo: Chase Foster

interview

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

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

GRAMMYs/Jun 6, 2024 - 02:48 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serving A Bold Fashion Statement On Her First Major Red Carpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being A Part Of COWBOY CARTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performing At Her First Stagecoach Music Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Her Debut On Daytime TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

news

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

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

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2024 - 02:25 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaboozey Press Photo 2024
Shaboozey

Photo: Daniel Prakopcyk

interview

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

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

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2024 - 03:40 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think that Beyoncé was inspired by that album?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Cash in 1994
Johnny Cash in 1994.

Photo: Beth Gwinn/Redferns

list

10 Ways Johnny Cash Revived His Career With 'American Recordings'

On the 30th anniversary of Johnny Cash's 'American Recordings' — the first of a six-part series that continued through 2010 — take a look at how the albums rejuvenated the country icon's career and helped his legacy live on after his passing.

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2024 - 05:05 pm

It's fair to say that the 1980s hadn't been particularly kind to country legend Johnny Cash. Once considered the Don of the Nashville scene, the singer/songwriter suddenly found himself dropped by Columbia Records, recording terrible parody songs (remember "The Chicken in Black"?), and addicted to painkillers after a bizarre accident in which he was kicked by an ostrich.

But as the new decade approached, Cash's reputation gradually started to recover. A 1988 tribute album, 'Til Things Are Brighter, alerted a much younger indie generation of his catalog of classics. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. And then arguably the biggest band in the world at the time, U2, invited him to take lead vocals on Zooropa's post-apocalyptic closer "The Wanderer." The scene was set for a triumphant comeback, and on 1994's American Recordings, the Man in Black duly obliged.

The Rick Rubin-produced album was far from a one-off. Cash delivered three American follow-ups in his lifetime (1996's Unchained, 2000's Solitary Man, and 2002's The Man Comes Around). And two posthumous volumes (2006's A Hundred Highways, 2010's Ain't No Grave)  further bridged the gap between his statuses as country outlaw and elder statesman — and helped further his legacy as one of country's all-time greats.

As the first American Recordings installment celebrates its 30th anniversary, here's a look at how the series deservedly rejuvenated the career of an American recording legend.

It United Him With A New Muse 

Best known for his pioneering work with Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, Rick Rubin seemed an unusual fit for a sixty-something country singer whose glory days were considered decades behind him. But left spellbound by Cash's performance at a Bob Dylan anniversary gig in 1992, the superproducer offered to make the Nashville legend a superstar once more.

Cash took some persuading, but eventually agreed to join forces on the assurance he'd be in the creative driving seat, and a new unlikely dream team was born. Rubin lent his talents to all six volumes of American Recordings — co-producing the middle two with Cash's son John Carter Cash – and won the first GRAMMY of his career for his efforts. The Def Jam co-founder would also later work his magic with several other '60s heroes including Neil Diamond, Yusuf and Neil Young.

It Saw Cash Lean Into Contemporary Music More Than Ever

Cash had never been averse to tackling contemporary material. He covered Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" in 1983, just a year after it appeared on The Boss' Nebraska. But the American Recordings series saw the Man in Black embrace the sounds du jour like never before, whether the grunge of Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage," electro-blues of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," or most famously, industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt."

On paper, this could have been nothing short of a disaster, the sign of an aging artist desperately latching onto a much younger musical generation in a transparent bid for relevancy. But instead, Cash elevates the Gen X classics into modern hymns, his sonorous voice injecting a sense of gravitas and Rubin's production stripping things back to their bare but compelling essentials. Far from an embarrassing grandad act, this was the sound of a man respectfully making the source material his own.

It Returned Cash To The Charts 

Cash had reached the lower end of the Billboard 200 in the '80s as part of supergroups The Highwaymen and Class of '55. But you had to go all the way back to 1976's One Piece at a Time to find his last entry as a solo artist. The American Recordings series, however, slowly but surely restored the Man in Black to his former chart glories.

Indeed, while its first two volumes charted at numbers 110 and 170 respectively, the third peaked at a slightly more impressive 88 and the fourth at 22, his highest position since 1970's Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. The posthumous fifth entry, meanwhile, went all the way to No. 1, remarkably the first time ever the country legend had achieved such a feat with a studio effort (live album At San Quentin had previously topped the charts in 1971).

"Hurt" also became Cash's first solo US country hit in 14 years in 2003. And while it only landed at No. 56 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, it remains Cash's most-streamed song to date with over 600 million streams on Spotify alone.

It Included Masterful Collaborators 

As well as handing over the producer reins to Rubin, Cash also surrounded himself with some of the rock world's finest musicians. Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood all lent their considerable talents to Unchained. Sheryl Crow and Will Oldham did the same on Solitary Man, while Nick Cave, Fiona Apple and Don Henley joined him in the studio on The Man Comes Around.

But Cash also kept things more traditional by recruiting fellow country legend Merle Haggard, 'fifth Beatle'Billy Preston, and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" songwriter Jack Clement, while the presence of wifeJune Carter Cash and son John made the third American Recordings something of a family affair.

It Went Back To Basics 

While American Recordings was, in many respects, Cash's most forward-thinking album, it wasn't afraid to keep one foot in the past, either. For one, the star recorded most of its first volume in his Tennessee cabin armed with only a guitar, a throwback to his 1950s beginnings with first producer Sam Phillips.

Cash also trawled through his own back catalog for inspiration, re-recording several tracks he believed had unfairly gone under the radar including 1955 single "Mean Eyed Cat," murder ballad "Delia's Gone" from 1962's The Sound of Johnny Cash, and "I'm Leaving Now" from 1985's Rainbow.

It Proved He Was Still A Masterful Songwriter…

Although Cash's unlikely covers grabbed most of the attention, the American Recordings series showed that his stellar songwriting skills remained intact throughout his later years, too. "Meet Me in Heaven," for example, is a beautifully poignant tribute to the older brother who died at just 15, while the folksy "Let the Train Blow the Whistle" added to Cash's arsenal of railroad anthems.

"Drive On," meanwhile, is worthy of gracing any Best Of compilation, a powerful lament to those who came back from the Vietnam War with both emotional and physical scars ("And even now, every time I dream/ I hear the men and the monkeys in the jungle scream").

…And Still A Master Interpreter 

As well as putting new spins on his own songs and various contemporary rock favorites, Cash further displayed both his interpretive and curatorial skills by covering a variety of spirituals, standards and pop hits first released during his commercial heyday.

The likes of early 19th century gospel "Wayfaring Stranger," wartime favorite "We'll Meet Again," and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" may have been firmly in Cash's wheelhouse. But more leftfield choices such as Loudon Wainwright III's offbeat morality tale "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" proved that even when outside his comfort zone, he could stamp his own identity with aplomb.

It Made Him An Unlikely MTV Star 

Cash was 62 years old when American Recordings hit the shelves — not exactly a prime age for MTV play. Yet thanks to some inspired creative decisions, the career-reviving series spawned two videos that received regular rotation on the network. Firstly, "Delia's Gone" caught attention for two major reasons: it was directed by Anton Corbijn, the man renowned for his long-running creative partnership with Depeche Mode, and it starred Kate Moss, the world's biggest supermodel at the time, as the titular victim.  

Then nine years later, Cash picked up six nominations — winning Best Cinematography — at the MTV Video Music Awards thanks to Mark Romanek's emotionally devastating treatment for "Hurt." Interspersing clips of the clearly fragile country singer at the rundown Museum of Cash with footage from his earlier days and artistic shots of decaying fruits and flowers, the promo perfectly embodied the transient nature of life. And it had the capacity to reduce even the hardest of hearts to tears.

It Added To His GRAMMY Haul 

Cash won almost as many GRAMMYs with his American Recordings series as he had during the previous 40 years of his career. The Man in Black first added to his trophy collection in 1995 when the first volume won Best Contemporary Folk Album. This was the first time he'd been recognized at the ceremony for his musical talents since the June Carter Cash duet "If I Were A Carpenter" won Best Country Performance for a Duo or Group with Vocal back in 1971  

Three years later, Unchained was crowned Best Country Album. And after picking up a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, Cash won 2001's Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "Solitary Man," then again in the same Category for "Give My Love to Rose"in 2003. He posthumously won two more GRAMMYs for Best Short Form Video, in 2004 for "Hurt" and in 2008 for "God's Gonna Cut You Down." In total, the American Recordings series won Cash six more GRAMMYs, bringing his overall count to 13. 

It Was A Powerful Epitaph

In 1997, Cash was told he'd just 18 months to live after being misdiagnosed with neurodegenerative condition Shy-Drager syndrome (later changed to autonomic neuropathy). He ended up outliving this prognosis by a good four years, but during this period, he lost the love of his life and was forced to record his swansong in-between lengthy stints in the hospital.  

Little wonder, therefore, that the American Recordings series is defined by the theme of mortality: see "The Man Comes Around," a biblical ode to the Grim Reaper ("And I looked, and behold a pale horse/ And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him"), Death Row anthem "The Mercy Seat," and funeral favorite "Danny Boy." As with David Bowie's Blackstar, Cash was able to reflect on his impermanence in his own terms in a sobering, yet compelling manner that continues to resonate decades on. 

8 Artists Bringing Traditional Country Music Back: Zach Top, Randall King, Emily Nenni & More On Why "What's Old Becomes Beloved Again"