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Thomas Rhett's Road To 'Where We Started,' From Down-Home Roots To Country-Pop Stardom — And Back Again — Before Finding Middle Ground
The country hitmaker's sixth album brings together his knack for vivid lyricism and boundary-pushing sounds. With that, 'Where We Started' is both a representation of where Rhett started and the limitless musical direction he's headed.
A few weeks before the release of his newest album, Where We Started, Thomas Rhett posted a video on social media of one of his earliest performances. In the clip, he looks like he's probably 4 or 5, wearing a cowboy hat and singing Joe Diffie's "Third Rock From the Sun" with acoustic guitar (and occasional singing) accompaniment from his country-singer dad, Rhett Akins — as Rhett aptly put it, "Where @RhettAkins and I started."
Fans already knew that Rhett's roots in the music business run deep. He grew up as the kid of a '90s hitmaker, who charted 14 hits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and hit No. 1 in 1996 with his song "Don't Get Me Started." Since then, Akins has continued to hold a prominent place in the country songwriting community, and he's a co-writer on much of his son's discography, including Rhett's first two No. 1 hits, "It Goes Like This" and "Get Me Some of That."
Akins is a stalwart of country radio, but Rhett's career soon broadened beyond those borders. On top of his in-format success, Rhett has amassed a crossover audience with R&B influence and pop-driven production on songs like "Crash and Burn" and "Craving You," a duet with Maren Morris.
"I've made a living throwing curveballs," Rhett told Billboard in 2021. He specifically pointed out "Crash and Burn," acknowledging that part of him expected it to "crash and burn" at country radio. Instead, it became his fourth No. 1 hit. "It carved out a lane for me," he continued.
His crossover breakthrough came with 2015's "Die a Happy Man," a love song so catchy and eloquently written that it became a go-to first dance song for fans of all genres. In addition to topping country charts, the heartfelt ballad made it to No. 21 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 and No. 25 on the Adult Top 40. But the song accomplished more than just commercial success — it was also one of Rhett's first forays into personal, autobiographical writing about his relationship with his wife, Lauren Akins.
The singer got married when he was 22, and early on, his marriage had its share of naysayers in the country music industry; many thought it would hurt his career if fans knew he was off the market. But "Die a Happy Man" — so specifically written about Lauren that she even starred in its music video — actually had the opposite effect. Fans began to invest in Rhett's love story, dubbing the couple #relationshipgoals and following Lauren on social media (she now has 2.6 million followers on Instagram alone).
From there, Rhett began to mine his personal life for songwriting material, getting more and more specific with each release. That was particularly showcased in his 2018 single "Life Changes," which documents his journey from college, to marriage, to parenthood. Rhett even detailed the whirlwind experience with his first two daughters — Lauren found out she was pregnant amid adopting a baby girl from Uganda — and mentioned the girls by name: "Now there's Willa and sweet Ada James/ That's two under two, hey, what can I say."
By the time he released his fourth album, 2019's Center Point Road, Rhett had solidified his place as one of country's biggest current stars. With 12 No. 1s (a feat he has now extended to 17) and two sold-out arena tours, he went into his Center Point Road cycle nearing A-list status. Yet, in line with the album's nostalgic themes, Rhett reflected on his career — and began to have a change in perspective.
"I remember being like, I love all my past records, but I do feel like on every record there was something I was chasing," he told Rolling Stone. "There was a vibe I was chasing. There was a different artist I was comparing myself to and trying to write something along the lines [of what] they would write. Some of the things I used to put so much stock in, I didn't put stock in anymore."
Though he didn't regret any of the ventures he'd made into different genres — in the same Rolling Stone interview, Rhett declared, "Every artist, if they're not allowed to explore, if they're not allowed to expand and try things, it halts the creative process" — he began yearning to return home, musically speaking.
"Once I started to slow down and look back at my life a little bit, I was like, 'Dang, I haven't really sat down with a guitar in a very long time, and just tried to tell a really honest story from the heart,'" he added to RS.
That realization was furthered by the unexpected downtime he had during the COVID-19 quarantine. The more time he spent off the road, the more Rhett started digging into the simple stuff. "I had to figure out who I was without a guitar," Rhett told People of that time period. Partially at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to channel the energy that had previously gone towards his career into his home life, and his role as a dad to — at the time — three children. (The family has since added a fourth daughter to their brood.)
Those lifestyle changes brought a different kind of songwriting to the surface. "I've never been more creative," he gushed to People. "All of a sudden, my co-writes were just incredible. It was like everything was flowing out for a reason."
Many of those songs were more straight-ahead country, both in style and in subject matter, like "More Time Fishing," "Ya Heard" and "Country Again" — the latter of which would go on to be the title track for a double album, Country Again Side A and Side B. Side A was released in April 2021, with plans for Side B to follow later this year; in the meantime, another "curveball" arose.
Earlier this year, Rhett told The Tennesseean that he'd written over 200 songs over the past five years, and while many of them fit into the world of Country Again, not all his new material would feel at home under that umbrella. The result was yet another project, Where We Started, as a sort of middle ground between his traditional-focused material and his more experimental side. "This will be a versatile record with a song for everyone," he detailed.
Listening to Where We Started, you can see the different foundations that Rhett has been laying over the past few years. His commitment to making nostalgia-driven, traditional-leaning country music is apparent on songs like "Mama's Front Door" and "Half of Me"; the breezy, Jimmy Buffett-leaning "Paradise" and Latin-flavored bop "Bring the Bar" would feel perfectly at home on the pop charts. Though the title track is a duet with Katy Perry — and has quite the pop-driven anthemic feel as a result — its lyrics call back to his relationship with both music and his wife: "You knew one day I would make a/ Livin' out of singing 'bout you."
But the album is more than the sum of its parts; in fact, the dominant theme of Where We Started isn't Rhett's exploration of one musical style over another, but rather the maturity he's picked up along the way. "The Hill" is a retelling of Rhett's love story, this time with the additional weight of a man who has gained a very clear idea of what it might be like to lose his lover — and how crucial it is to him to avoid that possibility.
Rhett has said that he often wonders if he's ever going to run out of different ways to write love ballads. He's certainly released a large cache of them, but with each new album, Rhett dives further and spotlights new perspectives on the topic. Using familiar subject matter to sharpen his songwriting skills allows the singer to expand his pen into new and less comfortable territory.
One example of his growing songwriting prowess is the somber and conflicted Where We Started track "Death Row." A collaboration with Russell Dickerson and Tyler Hubbard, the song details the three artists' trip to a Tennessee men's prison to perform for its death row inmates.
"Never in a million years did I ever think I would have been [playing a show like that]...[I was] honestly a little terrified, you know?" Rhett admitted to Audacy's Katie Neal. Despite his apprehensions, the experience made a powerful impact on him, which is intricately detailed in the song's lyrics — particularly the chorus' final line "I learned a lot 'bout livin' from them boys down on death row."
Rhett keeps throwing curveballs — to the audience and to himself — in the songs on Where We Started. The album isn't defined by his roots, but every song on it is an expression or an outgrowth of that young boy in the home video, singing along to a Joe Diffie song as his dad strums the guitar.
Songs like "Us Someday," "Where We Started" and "Slow Down Summer" combine the influences of Rhett's past pop hits with his growth as a genre-melding artist. "Mama's Front Door" and "The Hill" exemplify the lessons he's learned about the power of nostalgia, and about the dividends it pays to write autobiographically.
Each era of Rhett's artistry informs Where We Started. But even though they're based on different kinds of music, they're not at odds with each other. The common thread is Rhett's vision of who he is as an artist: The more he settles into himself, the more the music falls into place around him.
(L - R): Machine Gun Kelly, Charli XCX, Saweetie, Earl Sweatshirt, Rosalía
(Source Photos L - R): Rich Fury/Getty Images for dcp; Jason Koerner/Getty Images; Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for iHeartRadio; Marc Grimwade/WireImage; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
30 Must-Hear Albums In 2022: Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Rosalía, Machine Gun Kelly, Charli XCX, Saweetie & More
2022 has no shortage of new albums to keep your shuffle hard at work. GRAMMY.com compiled a list of 30 upcoming releases — from Kid Cudi, Earl Sweatshirt, Combo Chimbita, Dolly Parton, and Guns N' Roses — to keep you moving in the new year.
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect release dates and album titles announced after publishing.
While it may feel like there's not much to look forward to during yet another wave of COVID-19, music fans around the world are eagerly waiting to load their playlists with new releases as 2022 gets underway.
And there's certainly plenty to look forward to: Along with The Weeknd, who released his fifth studio album, Dawn FM, on Jan. 7, superstars like Machine Gun Kelly, Camila Cabello, Dolly Parton, Guns N' Roses, and Rosalía have all announced or teased albums coming this year.
The pandemic may have slowed things down, but there's no stopping artists in 2022. Keep an eye out for these 30 albums from ENHYPEN, Mitski, Saweetie, Bastille, and many more.
The Weeknd, Dawn FM
Release date: Jan. 7
Only a year removed from his incendiary Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, the crowned pop prince of Canada returns with the semi-surprise Dawn FM, a hotly anticipated follow-up to his record-breaking 2020 release, After Hours (you know, the one with "Blinding Lights" and "Save Your Tears" on it).
As The Weeknd's album teasers promised, Dawn FM delivered sinister synthesizers, a vocal appearance from Jim Carrey, and old-man makeup that's arguably only slightly less distressing than his wax-faced After Hours persona.Max Martin is back (on lead single "Take My Breath"), and other guests include Tyler, the Creator and Oneohtrix Point Never.
As for what the three-time GRAMMY winner wants his listeners to take away from his latest work? "Picture the album being like the listener is dead," The Weeknd told Billboard. Capisce? — Brennan Carley
ENHYPEN, DIMENSION : ANSWER
Release date: January 10
Seven-piece boy group ENHYPEN may still be relatively new to the K-pop scene (the band formed in 2020 on the Korean survival competition show "I-Land"), but they're already making moves to put themselves in the ranks of BTS and EXO. Their latest release, DIMENSION : ANSWER, marks the group's first studio repackage album, expanding on their 2021 debut set, DIMENSION : DILEMMA.
DIMENSION : ANSWER will feature three new tracks,: "Polaroid Love," "Outro : Day 2," and lead single "Blessed-Cursed." Fans got a first taste of the three B-sides thanks to an album preview the group released on Jan. 4, which teased a wide array of sounds: punchy pop-sprinkled production on "Polaroid Love," sultry R&B vocals with "Outro : Day 2," and guitar-heavy rock on "Blessed-Cursed." With such vast musical prowess, DIMENSION : ANSWER may just be the group's ticket to K-pop superstardom. — Taylor Weatherby
Cordae, From a Bird's Eye View
Release date: Jan. 14
Cordae set the bar high with his GRAMMY-nominated debut album The Lost Boy and emerged as one of the most exciting new talents of 2019, making his return to the game with his hotly anticipated second album.
The Maryland-raised rapper held fans over with his Just Until… EP last April before launching into his album rollout with the braggadocious hit, "Super" and a collaboration with Lil Wayne, "Sinister." The 24-year-old wordsmith — known for his reflective, carefully-crafted raps — said From a Bird's Eye View was inspired by "a life-changing trip to Africa, enduring the loss of a friend gone too soon and evolving as an artist and a man."
The album will also mark Cordae's first full-length effort since the official disbanding of his YBN collective in 2020. — Victoria Moorwood
Animal Collective, Time Skiffs
Release date: Feb. 4
Followers of experimental pop adventurers Animal Collective have waited six years for a new album following 2016's Painting With. At last, the four-piece will release Time Skiffs, an album full of otherworldly harmonies and mind-opening melodies.
Animal Collective has released two singles from the LP so far: the gently psychedelic "Prester John" and the equally trippy "Walker." The latter is a tribute to Scott Walker, the prolific singer-songwriter who died in 2019. Its beautifully intricate music video, directed by band member Dave Portner and his sister Abby, brings the Time Skiffs album cover to life in vivid detail. — Jack Tregoning
Avril Lavigne, Love Sux
Release date: Feb 25
Like everything Y2K, pop-punk is making a comeback. And nearly 20 years since the release of her seminal pop-punk debut Let Go, Avril Lavigne brings back her pop-punk princess persona in all its glory — combat boots and all. In early November, the "Sk8r Boi" singer shared her the angsty anthem "Bite Me," first new single in over two years, featuring Travis Barker.
With the new music, Lavigne also shared she had signed to the drummer extraordinaire's label DTA Records. Her seventh studio album is set to be the artist's first LP since her more traditional pop LP Head Above Water in 2019. — I.K.
Release date: Jan. 14
Like everyone else around the world, electronic shapeshifter Simon Green had a very unusual past two years. The British musician and DJ, better known as Bonobo, found himself grounded in his adopted home of Los Angeles, itching for new inspiration to get through the pandemic. His wanderings took him from a tent in the Californian desert to a new appreciation for modular synths back home in lockdown, all with a nervous eye on the precarious state of the world.
This activity fed into a flood of music which we'll soon hear on Bonobo's seventh studio album, Fragments, out on Ninja Tune. Fragments features guests including Jamila Woods, Joji and Kadhja Bonet, while channeling influences from UK bass, Detroit techno and global music through Bonobo's widescreen lens. The producer is already up for two Best Dance/Electronic Recording awards at this year's GRAMMYs, for "Heartbreak," his collaboration with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and "Loom," with Ólafur Arnalds. Bonobo begins a tour of the US in February, giving fans a few precious weeks to soak up the album before its live debut. — J.T.
Earl Sweatshirt, SICK
Release date: Jan. 14
With a decade-plus of acclaimed projects such as 2018's Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt is both an underground hero and a critic's darling. He hasn't achieved the same level of mainstream success as former Odd Future colleagues Tyler, the Creator and Syd – which is fine with him.
Judging from SICK's lead track "2010," where he pays homage to his mother in cryptic terms, the 10-track album promises to be another collection of stylized verses, dusty beats and autobiographical confessions (albeit rendered in a clearer voice than his previous album, 2019's lo-fi affair Feet of Clay). As its title suggests, SICK was inspired by the pandemic. "My whole thing is grading things on the truth, you know what I mean? However expansive or detailed the truth is," he told Rolling Stone. — Mosi Reeves
iann dior, On To Better Things
Release date: January 21
After blasting onto the scene with his 24kgoldn team-up (and runaway smash) "Mood" in 2020, iann dior hasn't slowed down, releasing an EP and countless other collabs. On To Better Things marks dior's first full-length album since 2019, serving up 15 tracks that will help the rapper truly come into his own.
Like the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted "V12" and the racing single "Let You," On To Better Things will see dior further explore his capabilities as a rapper while also tapping into his alt-pop/rock sensibilities. Judging by his previous releases, dior won't be afraid to get raw and real on his latest project as he opens up about love, relationships and loyalty. There may be glimmers of hope on the album, though, as dior captioned a post teasing the album, "life is better now." — T.W.
Combo Chimbita, IRÉ
Release date: Jan. 28
The melding of cumbia beats and psychedelic vibes was embraced during the '70s by many pioneering outfits in Peru and Colombia. Since the release of their 2017 debut, New York quartet Combo Chimbita has built on that foundation, amping up the mystical tinge of its material through the soulful chanting of extraordinary vocalist Carolina Oliveros.
Always ready to speak up on social and political issues, Chimbita uses cumbia as a starting point, adding swashes of funk and soul, Afro guitar lines and atmospheric samples. The band's new album expands its palette, enhancing lead single "Oya" with a video shot at the ruins of Puerto Rico's abandoned Intercontinental Hotel. A tour with the awesomeLido Pimienta will follow soon. — Ernesto Lechner
Release date: January 2022
Anticipation surrounding Aaliyah's fourth album has been building since 2012, when Blackground Records released "Don't Think They Know," which paired the late singer's vocals with Chris Brown, and a Drake collaboration, "Enough Said." The long-awaited arrival of her back catalog to streaming last fall added fresh fuel for a project that has been controversial, with some diehard fans questioning whether it honors Aaliyah's legacy.
Unstoppable includes guests like Snoop Dogg, Future and Ne-Yo. The first single, a woozy ballad titled "Poison," features The Weeknd as well as lyrics originally written by the late Static Major. "Some of the people Aaliyah liked are on the album. She loved Snoop Dogg," Blackground CEO and Aaliyah's uncle Jomo Hankerson told Billboard. "Everything I do at Blackground is always with her in my heart and my mind." — M.R.
Bastille, Give Me the Future
Release date: Feb. 4
If the pandemic had even a glimmer of a bright side, it comes courtesy of musicians like Bastille pivoting and positioning their art to address the present, as Give Me the Future promises to do.
Bandleader Dan Smith had already begun work on the English pop-rock group's fourth album before COVID-19 threw a wrench in his plans, but the pandemic made the album's probing themes seem that much more prescient. Glistening songs like "Thelma + Louise" and the vocoded "Distorted Light Beam" dig more deeply into Bastille's exploration of escapism when the troubles of the world are thundering outside our windows, all with the help of new collaborators Rami Yacoub and One Republic's Ryan Tedder. We promise it's way more fun than it sounds. — B.C.
Mitski, Laurel Hell
Release date: Feb. 4
Mitski almost pressed pause on her music career which, according to a Rolling Stone interview, was "shaving away my soul little by little." After a final performance, "I would quit and find another life." Fortunately, though, Mitski has stuck with it.
Three years since the release of her fifth studio album Be the Cowboy, the indie singer-songwriter is set to share her forthcoming project Laurel Hell. While the majority of the LP was penned in 2018, it wasn't mixed until 2021, making it the longest the singer has spent on one of her records. What listeners can expect is a transformative set of songs that pair Mitski's signature vulnerability with uptempo dance beats and, ultimately, catharsis. — Ilana Kaplan
Guns N' Roses, Hard Skool EP
Release date: Feb. 25
In 2021, 36 years after the band first formed in the hard rock hotbed of Los Angeles, Guns N' Roses returned with two new singles. This productive streak was remarkable enough in itself given the group's notoriously haphazard release schedule. The singles "ABSUЯD" and "Hard Skool" are doubly remarkable, though, because they usher in a new EP that brings beloved members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan together again after 28 years.
Reinterpreted from the band's Chinese Democracy sessions, "ABSUЯD" features a raw, punk-tinged sound that surprised some fans before rewarding repeat listens. "Hard Skool," meanwhile, harkens back to the classic sound that Guns N' Roses perfected in the late 1980s. The Hard Skool EP will feature the two 2021 singles alongside live renditions of GNR favorites "Don't Cry" and "You're Crazy." To mark this new era, the band is touring arenas throughout 2022, reuniting Axl, Slash and Duff as a powerhouse onstage trio. — J.T.
Take a Look Back: Guns N' Roses' 'Appetite For Destruction' | For The Record
Charli XCX, CRASH
Release date: March 18
Pop polymorph Charli XCX has been promising fans her sellout era for months now ("tip for new artists: sell your soul for money and fame," she tweeted last July), ushered in with last summer's "Good Ones" and buoyed into the holidays with "New Shapes," a powerhouse team-up with Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens.
CRASH is the fifth and final album she owes Atlantic Records — a benchmark not lost on fans or Charli herself. For it, Charli promises edge-of-your-seat appearances from Rina Sawayama, frequent collaborator A. G. Cook, and frequent Weeknd cohort Oneohtrix Point Never. Come for the bloody album artwork, stay for the cheeky, self-aware pop concoctions contained within. — B.C.
Dolly Parton, Run, Rose, Run
Release date: March 2022
The beloved, multi-GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter Dolly Parton has built a career as a trailblazer, so it stands to reason that her next musical effort would carry on that grand tradition. Run, Rose, Run is an album of original tunes taking its energetic moniker from a companion novel that Parton co-authored with the acclaimed writer James Patterson.
According to Parton, the accompanying album consists of "all new songs written based on the characters and situations in the book" and centers on a tale about a girl who treks to Nashville to pursue her dreams. Adds Patterson, "the mind-blowing thing about this project is that reading the novel is enhanced by listening to the album and vice versa." Both projects are dropping in tandem. It's a unique undertaking that celebrates a smoldering passion for music; but if you've been following the legend's career, would you expect anything less? — Rob LeDonne
Maren Morris, Humble Quest
Release date: March 25
GRAMMY-winning singer Maren Morris has conquered modern country music with her soulful solo material and even forayed into pop (just mentioning "The Middle" will glue its sticky chorus to your every waking moment for the next week). So whatever magic Morris might make with her highly anticipated third album, Humble Quest, is cause enough for celebration.
Morris kicked off her next LP with "Circles Around This Town," an expansive, freewheeling single that blends the echoing production of her 2016 debut HERO and super-personal lyrics of 2019's GIRL. The album will be Morris' first since the untimely 2019 passing of her longtime creative partner busbee, but her partnership with pop hitmaker Greg Kurstin (who produced "Circles Around This Town" as well as four GIRL tracks) hints that this next project is going to be a timeless trip and an emotional walloping. — B.C.
Thomas Rhett, Where We Started / Country Again: Side B
Release date: April 1 / Fall 2022
Though country music has always been the core of what Thomas Rhett has done since his debut album (2013's It Goes Like This), the star's 2021 set, Country Again: Side A, was more traditional than his past projects. Clearly his roots (along with the unexpected pandemic-induced downtime) sparked a bout of inspiration, as Rhett announced in November that he'll be releasing Side B as well as another LP, titled Where We Started, in 2022.
Surprisingly, Side B won't be coming first. But it will create one cohesive Country Again narrative once it arrives, as Rhett promised in an interview with Rolling Stone last year — though he did hint that Side B will feature production that's "a smidge more experimental" than Side A. His latest single, the wistful "Slow Down Summer" hints that Where We Started will also bring back more of the pop-leaning production he's incorporated in his previous albums.
Still, that doesn't mean he'll lose sight of the country boy that has been unleashed: In writing all of this music, Rhett told his producers (per Rolling Stone), "This is the direction I'm headed in, and I think I'm gonna be here for a long time." — T.W.
Jack White, Fear of the Dawn / Entering Heaven Alive
Release date: April 8 / July 22
Epic ambition fuels the very essence of rock 'n' roll and Jack White has embodied the genre's weakness for glamour, dissonance and excess since his days with The White Stripes. The reckless propulsion of "Over and Over and Over" — off 2018's Boarding House Reach — proved that he has kept the bravado in his songwriting very much alive.
2022 will find the multi-GRAMMY Award winning singer/guitarist releasing two full-length albums: Fear of the Dawn, led by the wonderfully bombastic single "Taking Me Back," will also include a collaboration with rapper Q-Tip. No details are available on July's Entering Heaven Alive, but the appearance of two albums in the same year is the kind of grandiloquent gesture that rock is in need of more than ever before. — E.L.
Swedish House Mafia, Paradise Again
Release date: TBA, ships April 15
When GRAMMY-nominated Swedish House Mafia announced they were getting back together (and this time for good), fans were cautiously optimistic. The trio of DJ-producers — Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell — promised a host of new music to mark their return, and so far they've kept to their word. The comeback began with the dark, guest-free "It Gets Better," which deviated from the big-room EDM sound championed by the Swedes up to their split in 2013.
From there, the trio delivered "Lifetime," featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 070 Shake, and "Moth to a Flame," featuring The Weeknd, which became their first major hit of the new era. This flurry of activity sets the stage for Swedish House Mafia's first full album, Paradise Again. As Ingrosso told NME, the album will combine their trademark "Scandinavian melodies with dark production and hard sounds." Starting July 2022, the DJs embark on their first tour in a decade, playing 44 dates throughout the US, UK and Europe. — J.T.
Jason Aldean, Georgia
Release date: April 22
Jumping on country music's 2021 double album trend, Jason Aldean issued Macon, the first half of his own two-disc set, Macon, Georgia, in November. The title is an homage to his hometown, which he refers to as a "melting pot" that shaped his music, according to Country Now. Yet, the 30-song project expands on Aldean's signature country-rock sound without steering too far away from what fans have grown to love, as evidenced with both Macon and Georgia's crooning lead single, "Whiskey Me Away."
Like its predecessor, Georgia will include 10 new songs and five live recordings of his biggest hits, essentially creating Aldean's first-ever live album.With the aptly titled track "Rock and Roll Cowboy" to boot, Georgia helps make Macon, Georgia a career highlight for Aldean. — T.W.
Machine Gun Kelly, Born with Horns
Release date: TBD
The upcoming sixth studio album from enigmatic rocker Machine Gun Kelly, ominously titled Born with Horns, was rumored to drop on New Year's Eve 2021, but it seems Kelly had a change of heart tweeting "See you in 2022." While the release date continues to be murky, there is some solid information about the highly anticipated fresh slate of music from the multi-hyphenate rockstar.
For one, the album is produced by fellow rock luminary Travis Barker and includes the decidedly dark single "Papercuts." "It feels more guitar-heavy for sure, lyrically it definitely goes deeper, but I never like to do anything the same," Kelly said of Born with Horns in an interview with Sunday TODAY, noting it'll also mark a personal evolution. "I'm not scared anymore, there's nothing holding me back from being my true self — and my true self can't be silenced, can't be restrained." — R.L.
Camila Cabello, Familia
Release date: TBD
There's perhaps never been a better advertisement for an album than Camila Cabello's edition of NPR's Tiny Desk. Released last fall, the session begins with three old songs and ends with two Familia cuts strong enough to bowl you over. In just 20 minutes, the former Fifth Harmony singer genuflects at the altar of pop's past while steering its ship into the future.
"Don't Go Yet" brims with the promise of comfort as it opens with a warm flamenco guitar. "La Buena Vida" is a Mariachi-based explosion of emotion and evocation, anchored by Cabello's arresting vocals. Whereas her prior albums sought to cement the 24-year-old amidst her contemporaries, the uber-personal Familia seems likely to propel her into a whole new pedigree of artistry. — B.C.
Release date: TBD
In 2018, Rosalía's cinematic El Mal Querer signified a before-and-after for the music of Spain and Latin America. A visionary blend of flamenco, hip-hop and confessional torch song, the album introduced her to the world as an intellectual, musicologist and pop diva wrapped up into one slick sonic package. Subsequent singles (2019's "Haute Couture" was a gorgeous slice of electro-pop) demonstrated that Rosalía's path to global domination relies on a voracious curiosity for disparate styles and high-profile collaborators such as Billie Eilish and Bad Bunny.
Titled MOTOMAMI, Rosalía's much anticipated release includes "LA FAMA," a deliciously distorted bachata duet with The Weeknd. We can only imagine what other wonders Rosalía's remarkable imagination has dreamed up for this, her first full-length album since becoming a cultural icon. — E.L.
Saweetie, Pretty Bitch Music
Release date: TBD
Saweetie is set to finally release her debut album, Pretty Bitch Music, this year. After first announcing the project in 2020, the Bay Area native's star power has exploded, reaching new heights last year with major endorsements, her first GRAMMY nominations and a "Saturday Night Live" debut. Pretty Bitch Music was initially slated to arrive in 2021, but Saweetie postponed the effort for some additional fine-tuning.
"I'm just living with it to ensure it's perfect," she told Hollywood Life in August. "I'm really challenging myself and I just want to ensure that I put out a body of work that [will] symbolize art."
Pretty Bitch Music is expected to include Saweetie's 2x Platinum-certified collaboration with Doja Cat, "Best Friend" and her single "Tap In" with production by Timbaland, Lil Jon and Murda Beatz, among other heavy-hitters. — V.M.
Kid Cudi, Entergalactic
Release date: TBD
Three years after it was announced, Kid Cudi's animated music adventure for Netflix is set to arrive this summer, as the rapper declared during his set at Rolling Loud California in December. "I got some tasty surprises," he told fans before offering a snippet of unreleased music that may be on the soundtrack.
Not much else is known about the project, which takes its title from a song on Cudi's 2009 debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day, and which co-creator Kenya Barris referred to as "the most ambitious thing" in a 2019 interview with Complex.
Entergalactic might not be where Kid Cudi stops in 2022, either: Amid his Rolling Loud teases, he said, "I want to drop another album before [Entergalactic]... I really am excited about all this new s***, this new music to give to you guys. So that's why I'm teasing this s*** now, 'cause it's comin' out soon." — M.R.
Beach House, Once Twice Melody
Release date: throughout 2022
Nearly four years since the release of their seventh studio album aptly titled 7, Beach House is slowly unveiling their latest record Once Twice Melody. But instead of dropping all 18 tracks at once, the dreamy indie duo has been giving fans a taste of their new sound in four chapters.
Once Twice Melody is a significant shift as it's the first album produced in full by the band. Beach House also thought about its structure completely differently than they had in the past. "It didn't just feel like a regular, like another album of ours, it felt like a larger, newer kind of way of looking at our music," singer Victoria Legrand told Apple Music. Instead, they view it as "cinematic" and "literary." What fans can expect, they say, is "a lot of love" and "a sacredness of nature." — I.K.
Kendrick Lamar, TBA
Release date: TBD
One of our most celebrated artists of his generation may make his triumphant return this year. Although it's been nearly five years since Kendrick Lamar released his GRAMMY- and Pulitzer Prize-winning album DAMN, Lamar has remained busy. In 2018, Lamar curated the Black Panther soundtrack and he's also made guest appearances on tracks by artists as varied as Nipsey Hussle, Anderson .Paak, U2 and his cousin, Baby Keem.
But Lamar has been mostly mum about his own music, save for an August blog post titled "nu thoughts." "Love, loss, and grief have disturbed my comfort zone, but the glimmers of God speak through my music and family," he wrote, adding that his next album will be his last with Top Dawg Entertainment. It's the sort of thoughtful, precise announcement (and perhaps a hint to his album's content) that fans have come to expect from the notoriously private rapper. Lamar will thankfully make an appearance at this year's Super Bowl in February. — Britt Julious
Cardi B, TBA
Release date: TBD
Despite the slow-burning success of her single "Bodak Yellow," few could have predicted the popularity of Cardi B'sdebut album, Invasion of Privacy. A critical and commercial success, "Invasion of Privacy" won Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammy Awards, making Cardi the first woman to win in the category. That's why anticipation for her sophomore record is so high.
Cardi's brand of hip-hop is provocative and fun, and her two singles (possibly from the record) seem to confirm that same mood is still present in her music. In 2020, she dropped "WAP," a cultural reset of a collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion, and in 2021, she released "Up," which later inspired a viral TikTok dance challenge. As with many artists, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the release of Cardi's new album. But late last year on Instagram Live, Cardi said she has "lots of jobs now" and one of them is to "put out this album next year." Hopefully fans won't have to wait too long. — B.J.
Release date: TBD
If Koffee's latest single is any indication, the youngest GRAMMY Award winner for Best Reggae Album is planning a glorious homecoming in 2022. Sung with a wide smile you can nearly hear, "West Indies" is a dancehall love letter to the islands and an upbeat promise for what the singer has in store on her first full-length.
"I want to speak of a solution and of a way that we can come together and get along, even when things are going wrong," Koffee told Rolling Stone.
Although the pandemic halted her album recording and nixed her first Coachella performance, Koffee defies the dour attitude of much of the past two years. On "West Indies," Koffee assures that she's partying and having the time of her life — her as-yet-untitled album will likely soundtrack yours while you do the same. — Jessica Lipsky
Read More: The Women Essential To Reggae And Dancehall
Girl Ultra, TBA
Release date: TBD
Few musical experiences are as uplifting as listening to a singer/songwriter's follow-up to a brilliant debut, where they enhance the scope of their craft with new influences and sounds. Nuevos Aires, Girl Ultra's first full-length album, was just that – a breath of fresh air for Latin R&B, anchored on the purity of her voice and collaborations with Ximena Sariñana and Cuco (for the languid hit "DameLove.")
Following that 2019 release, the artist also known as Mariana de Miguel returns with a new EP. Lead single "Amores de Droga" evokes the sophistication of Everything But The Girl, combining smoldering vocalizing with cool electro grooves. A study in contrasts, it finds the Mexico City chanteuse reaching a pinnacle of inspiration. — E.L.
Photo: John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS
2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Country Music
Powerful narratives fueled country music in 2021, between vulnerable heartbreak-driven albums, Nashville veterans getting their spotlight, and Black voices finally being heard
The genre known for three chords and the truth reached new heights of authenticity and storytelling in 2021. After a year of doubt, confusion and isolation in 2020, many country artists returned to the road and their careers with rejuvenated passion, releasing some of their most ambitious projects to date.
Grassroots ways of finding success emerged, with several artists — both established and up-and-coming — unlocking whole new fan bases thanks to social media. The result? Some unlikely hits made it up to the very top of the country radio charts, artists were able to release more music than ever before, and unprecedented cross-genre collaborations came out of quarantine connections.
Read on to learn more about some of the trends, both musical and cultural, that dominated country music in 2021.
Double and Triple Albums
During their pandemic-induced time off the road, many artists found that the one thing they could still do was write songs. By 2021, the plethora of music created in those sessions was recorded and ready for release, resulting in longer track lists and beefier projects.
One such trendsetter was Eric Church, who released a massive, 24-track Heart & Soul album spread out over three discs. Morgan Wallen dropped his 30-track — or 33-track, if you're counting the Target-exclusive and bonus editions — Dangerous: The Double Album in January. The latter made history, becoming the first country album to spend its first 10 weeks at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200; it also spent 43 weeks in the chart's top 10, more than any other album in 2021. (Amid the album’s success, Wallen sparked major controversy when a video surfaced of the singer using a racial slur. He issued an apology and claimed to make donations to Black-led groups, but was promptly shut out from country radio and streaming services, as well as several events and awards shows.)
Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean also created multiple albums worth of music in 2021. Rhett released Country Again: Side A in April, announcing in November that Side B will arrive in fall 2022 following another album, titled Where We Started, which the star revealed will be out in "early 2022." Aldean had a similar release strategy, dropping Macon, the first half of his double album Macon, Georgia, in November and setting Georgia for April 22, 2022.
Success Stories Years in the Making
Longtime B-Listers finally got their country radio propers in 2021, due to ever-increasing opportunities for artists to create grassroots hits on social media. Walker Hayes' ubiquitous "Fancy Like" went viral on TikTok (particularly thanks to a family-friendly dance craze) and became a No. 1 hit on both Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts. The song gave the singer — who moved to Nashville in 2005 — his first crossover hit, getting airplay on pop radio and climbing all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Parmalee also took country radio by surprise this year. The band hadn't had a No. 1 since 2013, and their two most recent singles fizzled without ever cracking the charts. But "Just the Way," an unlikely team-up with "The Git Up" star Blanco Brown, saw them cruising back into the top spot.
One more success story came from Lainey Wilson, another Nashville veteran who got her big break with the insightful hit "Things a Man Oughta Know." The song became her first No. 1 on country radio after nearly 10 years of releasing music. Her latest single, a collaboration with resident chart-topper Cole Swindell titled "Never Say Never," is currently climbing the charts.
Classic Hits Found New Life on TikTok
While TikTok was instrumental in creating new hits such as "Fancy Like" in 2021, it was also responsible for revitalizing a few old ones. Reba McEntire's 2001 hit, "I'm a Survivor" went viral thanks to a TikTok spoof trend, with users setting the song to video footage of themselves melodramatically doing everyday chores. McEntire herself got in on the fun, posting a clip of her attempt to feed a pair of ungrateful donkeys.
Shania Twain also reached brand-new audiences with her TikTok presence. She posts snippets of iconic selections from her discography, as well as her hilarious commentary on French fries, sneak peeks at her Las Vegas residency, and the occasional trend trade-off with Taylor Swift.
Career-Defining Divorce Albums
Breakups aren't exactly a new topic for country, but some country artists have gone through very public heartbreaks over the past couple of years. Carly Pearce split from fellow artist Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage, and Kacey Musgraves called it quits with her husband of two years, singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly.
But rather than go through these difficult times privately, both Pearce and Musgraves spun their heartache into gold, with each singer putting out her most revealing, personal and intricately-crafted record to date. Pearce leaned heavily into her country roots to make 29: Written in Stone, while Musgraves expertly defied genre boundaries to release star-crossed, a project so vulnerable that she performed one of its songs on Saturday Night Live wearing nothing but a strategically placed acoustic guitar.
Black Country Stars Broke Through
After the country world said goodbye to the legendary Charley Pride in December 2020, his trailblazing legacy lived on in 2021. Black country stars made waves in several ways this year, from winning awards, to launching business ventures, to making statements on stage and in song.
Hitmakers Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen — the latter of whom is the only country artist up for Best New Artist at the 2022 GRAMMYS — made history with their wins at the ACM Awards (Brown was the first Black artist to win Video of the Year; Allen was the first Black solo artist to win the New Male Artist of the Year). Both of them started their own businesses in 2021 as well: Brown started his own label, 1021 Entertainment (in partnership with his home label, Sony Music Nashville), and Allen launched both a publishing company, Bettie James Music Publishing, and a full-service management and production company, JAB Entertainment.
Mickey Guyton, who first caught attention outside of the genre for her GRAMMY-nominated single "Black Like Me" last year, continued making an impact with her powerful album, Remember Her Name. The album features several vignettes of her experience as a Black woman, including a bouncy anthem "Different" and a poignant ballad "Love My Hair." She delivered a moving performance of the latter track at the 2021 CMA Awards alongside rising stars Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, two of the many promising Black voices in the genre, which also includes Yola, Breland, Willie Jones, and Shy Carter, among others.
Artists Lived Their Truth
Amid the challenges country music faced this year, there were also moments of personal authenticity and joy. Brothers Osborne's TJ Osborne came out as gay in a Time feature, and the sibling duo subsequently released "Younger Me," a compassionate, timely ode to the obstacles they overcame to become who they are today.
Osborne was one of two country acts signed to a major label to come out as gay: The other was Brooke Eden, who came out in January, and later in the year got engaged to her partner Hilary Hoover. She put out the first new songs she’d released in years, and in a Grand Ole Opry performance, she and Trisha Yearwood duetted on Yearwood's classic "She's in Love With the Boy," changing the lyrics to "She’s in love with the girl."
Dolly Parton Retained Her Reign as Country Queen
Dolly Parton was a major bright spot in the dark year that was 2020. Not only did she lift spirits by releasing her third Christmas album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, but she also made a $1 million donation to fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s hard to top that, but this year, Parton continued to trend for her uplifting acts of kindness and legendary musical feats. She sent social media into a frenzy when she celebrated "hot girl summer" — and the birthday of her husband of 57 years, Carl Dean — by recreating the iconic outfit she wore for her Playboy cover shoot back in 1978. She also duetted with Reba McEntire for the first time, landed on the list of Forbes' richest self-made women, and capped off 2021 by setting two brand-new Guinness World Records (and breaking a third record that she already held) for her long-standing chart accomplishments.
Full-Length Collaborations Albums
What’s better than one duet? An album full of them, apparently. Collaborations were hot in country music in 2021, but lots of artists took that one step further, putting out full-length projects featuring a cast of duet partners.
The Hardy-curated Hixtape Vol. 2 dug deep into country lifestyle and party songs, courtesy of some of the biggest names from every corner of the genre. Brantley Gilbert, Brothers Osborne, Jon Pardi, Dierks Bentley and Jake Owen are just a few of the acts who lent their voices to the track list, which features a total of 33 guest artists across 14 songs.
While the Hixtape went ultra-country, other duets albums were genre-spanning. Rapper Nelly put out his Heartland project, featuring Darius Rucker, Breland and Florida Georgia Line. Jimmie Allen went even broader for his Bettie James Gold Edition, which featured everyone from rapper Pitbull to R&B/soul singer Monica and pop star Noah Cyrus.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images
ACM Awards 2018: Carrie Underwood Returns, Miranda Lambert Wins Big
In her return to the stage, Underwood wows the ACMs while Lambert, Jason Aldean, and Chris Stapleton take home honors on a heavy-hearted night in Las Vegas
The country music community gathered in Las Vegas on April 15 for the 53rd American Country Music Awards, returning to the city for the first time since the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting last October. The show opened with a spoken tribute to the victims of the tragedy, and followed with big moments for some of the genre's biggest stars including Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Chris Stapleton.
"For those of us that have experienced tragedy and unexpected loss, music helps us remember what really matters in life," singer Luke Bryan said during the heartfelt introduction. Aldean, Lambert, Maren Morris, and Thomas Rhett joined Bryan on the darkened stage to deliver a somber message of unity through music in the wake of loss and grief.
The night's most anticipated musical moment was the return of Carrie Underwood. The GRAMMY-winning singer fell at her home last November, breaking her wrist and causing an injury to her face that required nearly 50 stitches. In her triumphant return, Underwood belted out her latest single, "Cry Pretty," proving she's back in a big way.
"It makes me proud to be a woman in this industry when I see her sing up there and do that," Lambert said of Underwood. "She's one of the greatest singers of all time in any genre of music and can sing me under the table. I say that every time and I will continue to say that, but I'm just proud of her and I know how strong she is and how hard she's worked."
Lambert enjoyed a successful night of her own at the ACMs, taking home Female Vocalist Of The Year honors for the staggering ninth consecutive year. The singer/songwriter also earned the award for Song Of The Year alongside fellow songwriters Jack Ingram and Jon Randall for "Tin Man" from her latest double album, The Weight Of These Wings. With these wins, Lambert became the winningest artist in ACM history with a whopping 32 total awards to her name.
In other categories of interest, Jason Aldean was named Entertainer Of The Year for the third year running, while Chris Stapleton won Male Vocalist Of The Year and Album Of The Year for his From A Room – Volume I.
The show was hosted by GRAMMY winner Reba McEntire, who led the evening's 25-year flashback theme by wearing the same red dress she wore at the 1993 CMA Awards. To commemorate the hits of the day, chart-toppers from 1993 were performed as duets by Alan Jackson and Jon Pardi, Blake Shelton and Toby Keith, and McEntire with Kelly Clarkson.
Underwood is set to appear again at country music's next big gathering when CMA Fest arrives in Nashville June 8.
Photo: The Recording Academy
Artists & Their Fans React To 2018 GRAMMY Nominations
This morning's 2018 GRAMMY Awards nominations announcement prompted artists to hop onto social media to celebrate
Around the country and around the world, artists woke up this morning to find out they're one step closer to winning GRAMMY gold on Jan. 28, 2018, at New York City's historic Madison Square Garden. Many have already taken to Twitter and Instagram to share their excitement at this morning's happy news.
Let's take a look at a small collection of artists and their fans who were among the first hop online and celebrate today's announcement.
Tyler, The Creator – Best Rap Album Nominee
Alessia Cara – Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Nominee
Zedd – Best Pop Duo/Group Performance Nominee
Shakira – Best Latin Pop Album Nominee
Jazzmeia Horn – Best Jazz Vocal Album Nominee
Ledisi – Best R&B Performance, Best Traditional R&B Performance, Best R&B Album Nominee
August Burns Red – Best Metal Performance Nominee
Calvin Harris – Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical Nominee
Sylvan Esso – Best Dance/Electronic Album Nominee
Thomas Rhett – Best Country Album Nominee
Body Count – Best Metal Performance Nominee
The National – Best Alternative Music Album, Best Recording Package Nominee
Sara Caswell – Best Improvised Jazz Solo Nominee
Maren Morris – Best Country Solo Performance Nominee
Be sure to tune in to the 60th GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 28, 2018, broadcast live on CBS from Madison Square Garden in New York. The 60th GRAMMY Awards telecast will air from 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.