meta-scriptThomas Rhett's Many 'Life Changes' Led To 2018 GRAMMY Nomination | GRAMMY.com
Thomas Rhett

Thomas Rhett

Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images

news

Thomas Rhett's Many 'Life Changes' Led To 2018 GRAMMY Nomination

Get to know the country star behind the hits and hear his reaction to his latest GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Album

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2018 - 04:36 am

The title of Thomas Rhett's GRAMMY-nominated album, Life Changes, is both universally relatable, and yet deeply personal for the artist himself. Since landing his first hit in 2013 with "It Goes Like This," Rhett has become a husband and a father, while still finding time to record and release eight chart-topping singles and push the boundaries of modern country music.

"I named the album Life Changes because my life has never changed this much in a short span of time," said Rhett. "From seeing the success of a song like 'Die a Happy Man' to putting out my third album to going on my first headlining tour to having two children, both under two years old … I thought the title of the album was a good representation of what is happening in my life right now."

<iframe src="https://tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/album/1261185576?country=us&itscg=30200&itsct=afftoolset_1" height="500px" width="100%" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Up for Best Country Album, Life Change became the first country album of 2017 to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 back in Sept. Now, Rhett is celebrating his second career GRAMMY nomination, his first nod coming for the 59th GRAMMY Awards for his smash single "Die A Happy Man," written about his wife, Lauren, who was once his grade-school crush. The couple now has two young children, both under age two. It's safe to say, as a songwriter, an artist and a family man, Rhett's success reached new levels.

Rhett has always been unafraid of breaking genre barriers, and Life Changes is no exception, incorporating country sensibilities, pop melodies, R&B grooves, EDM pulses, doo-wop croons, and more to paint the new picture of modern country music. He also had help with this lofty task, enlisting a host of collaborators including familiar Nashville names such as GRAMMY nominees Dave Barnes and Dan Huff.

But one guest on the album stands out above the rest. Rhett's father, country music legend Rhett Akins, contributes guest vocals to a song he wrote, "Drink A Little Beer," keeping the musical love in the family.

Catching Up On Music News Powered By The Recording Academy Just Got Easier. Have A Google Home Device? "Talk To GRAMMYs"

Tom Petty
Tom Petty performing with the Heartbreakers in 2008

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

feature

How 'Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration' Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation

On 'Petty Country,' Nashville luminaries from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Luke Combs make Tom Petty’s simple, profound, and earthy songs their own — to tremendous results.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 06:49 pm

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed in 2024, how would we define them? For fans of the beloved heartland rockers and their very missed leader, it's a compelling question.

"It's not active rock. It's not mainstream rock. It's not country. It would really fall in that Americana vein," says Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group. "When you think about what his lyrics were and are about, it's really about the American condition."

To Borchetta, these extended to everything in Petty's universe — his principled public statements, his man-of-the-people crusades against the music industry. "He was an American rebel with a cause," Borchetta says. And when you fuse that attitude with big melodies, bigger choruses, and a grounded, earthy perspective — well, there's a lot for country fans to love.

That's what Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management bet on when he posited the idea of Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty, a tribute album released June 21. Featuring leading lights like Dolly Parton ("Southern Accents"), Willie and Lukas Nelson ("Angel Dream (No. 2)," Luke Combs ("Runnin' Down a Dream"), Dierks Bentley ("American Girl,") Wynonna and Lainey Wilson ("Refugee"), and other country luminaries covering Tom Petty classics, Petty Country is a seamless union of musical worlds.

Which makes perfect sense: on a core level, Petty, and his band of brothers, were absolutely steeped in country — after all, they grew up in the South — Gainesville, Florida.

"Tom loved all country music. He went pretty deep into the Carter Family, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the folk, Americana heart of it," says Petty's daughter, Adria, who helps run his estate. "Hank Williams, and even Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline… as a songwriter, I think a lot of that real original music influenced him enormously." (The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds' Gram Parsons-hijacked country phase, were also foundational.)

A key architect of Petty Country was the man's longtime producer, George Drakoulias. "He's worked with Dad for a hundred years since [1994's] Wildflowers, and he has super exquisite taste," Adria says.

In reaching out to prospective contributors, he and fellow music supervisor Randall Poster started at the top: none other than Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. "Having Willie and Dolly made people stand up and pay attention," Dreakoulias told Rolling Stone, and the Nashville floodgates were opened: Thomas Rhett ("Wildflowers"), Brothers Osborne ("I Won't Back Down"), Lady A ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"), and so many others.

Each artist gave Petty's work a distinctive, personal spin. Luke Combs jets down the highway of "Runnin' Down the Dream" like he was born to ride. Along with Yo-Yo Ma and founding Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Rhiannon Giddens scoops out the electronics and plumbs the droning, haunting essence of "Don't Come Around Here No More."


And where a lesser tribute album would have lacquered over the songs with homogenous Nashville production,
Petty Country is the opposite.

"I'm not a fan of having a singular producer on records like this. I want each one of them to be their own little crown jewel," Borchetta says. "That's going to give us a better opportunity for them to make the record in their own image."

This could mean a take that hews to the original, or casts an entirely new light on it. "Dierks called up and said, 'Hey, do you think we would be all right doing a little bit more of a bluegrass feel to it?' I was like, 'Absolutely. If you hear it, go get it.'"

"It had the diversity that the Petty women like on the records," Adria says, elaborating that they wanted women and people of color on the roster. "We like to see those tributes to Tom reflect his values; he was always very pro-woman, which is why he has such outspoken women [laughs] in his wake."

Two of Petty Country's unquestionable highlights are by women. Margo Price chose "Ways to Be Wicked," a cut so deep that even the hardcore Petty faithful might not know it; the Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) outtake was buried on disc six of the 1995 boxed set Playback.

"Man, it's just one of those songs that gets in your veins," Price says. "He really knew how to twist the knife — that chorus, 'There's so many ways to be wicked, but you don't know one little thing about love.'" Founding Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell features on the dark, driving banger.

And all interviewed for this article are agog over Dolly Parton's commanding take on "Southern Accents" — the title track of the band's lumpy, complicated, vulnerable 1985 album of the same name. "It's just revelatory… it brings me to my knees," Adria says. "It's just a phenomenal version I know my dad would've absolutely loved."

"It's one of Dolly's best vocals ever, and it's hair-raising," Borchetta says. "You could tell she really felt that track, and what the song was about."

At press time, the Petty camp is forging ahead with plans for a boxed set expansion of 1982's undersung Long After Dark. 

Adria is filled with profuse gratitude for the artists preserving and carrying her dad's legacy. 

"I'm really touched that these musicians showed up for my dad," she says. "A lot of people don't want to show up for anything that's not making money for them, or in service to their career, and we really appreciate it… I owe great debt to all of these artists and their managers for making the time to think about our old man like that."

Indeed, in Nashville and beyond, we've all been thinking about her old man, especially since his untimely passing in 2017. We'll never forget him — and will strum and sing these simple, heartfelt, and profound songs for years to come.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide: Adria Petty, Mike Campbell & More On The Enduring Significance Of Tom Petty's Wildflowers

Chapel Hart, Reyna Roberts, Camille Parker, Breland, Julie Williams, Kentucky Gentlemen
Top row: Chapel Hart; Middle row: Reyna Roberts, Camille Parker, Breland; Bottom row: Julie Williams, Kentucky Gentlemen

Photos: Top row: Catherine Powell/Getty Images for CMT; Middle row: Terry Wyatt/WireImage, Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BRELAND & Friends; Bottom row: Catherine Powell/Getty Images for Black Opry, SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

interview

What's The Future For Black Artists In Country Music? Breland, Reyna Roberts & More Sound Off

With a wave of talented Black acts shaking up the country music scene, the genre is reaching new heights. Six rising stars unpack country music's complicated past, celebrate recent victories, and predict what's next.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:29 pm

Shaboozey's "A Bar Song (Tipsy)" is flipping country music on its head. His genre-bending hit, which interpolates J-Kwon's 2004 hip-hop smash "Tipsy," replaced Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in April — marking the first time that two Black artists held the No. 1 spot back-to-back on the chart.

The history-making feat — and the massive success of "A Bar Song" — is a major win, especially given how Black artists have historically been shut out from country music, even in the last 10 years alone. In 2016, for instance, Beyoncé and The Chicks' CMA Awards performance of "Daddy Lessons," a country-leaning tune off the Houston native's sixth album, Lemonade, caused an uproar within the country music community, with many fans boycotting the show. Beyoncé later hinted that the backlash birthed her country-tinged 2024 LP, COWBOY CARTER, as she "did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive."

Then, in 2018, Billboard controversially removed Lil Nas X's GRAMMY-winning, Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring smash "Old Town Road" from the Hot Country Songs chart as it was poised to claim the top spot, because it didn't "embrace enough elements of today's country music." Lil Nas X's comment on the dispute perfectly depicted the ongoing debate around what qualifies as country music: "The song is country trap. It's not one, it's not the other. It's both. It should be on both [charts]."

Mainstream country music has long been a white, straight, cisgender male-dominated genre. But in recent years, an influx of Black country artists have been challenging the traditional norms of what country music looks and sounds like. In turn, they're helping the genre become more accessible and appealing to a broader audience — and it's forcing even some naysayers to pay attention. 

Along with Shaboozey, many rising artists are incorporating hip-hop and R&B elements into their country music. Tanner Adell's viral hit "Buckle Bunny" features rap-inspired verses and thumping bass; a guitar-fueled rap cadence carries BRELAND's "My Truck"; and Blanco Brown's "trailer trap" helped his line dance smash "The Git Up" top the Hot Country Songs chart for 12 nonconsecutive weeks in 2019. Several artists are leaning more into the traditional sound, too, as evidenced by the latest singles from Tiera Kennedy ("I Ain't a Cowgirl") and Chapel Hart ("2033").

Trailblazers like Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and Mickey Guyton have been pivotal to disrupting the scene and opening doors for marginalized acts. Rucker's "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," from his 2008 country debut, Learn to Live, earned him a No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart — the first Black artist to celebrate such an achievement since Charley Pride's "Night Games" in 1983. With 2017's "Heaven," Kane Brown made history twice: he was the first artist to top all five Billboard country charts simultaneously, and the first Black country artist to earn RIAA Diamond certification with an original song. Guyton's history-making feat came at the 2021 GRAMMYs, where she was the first Black woman ever nominated for Best Country Solo Performance, for her autobiographical "Black Like Me."

As country music continues to evolve, how will it make more room for boundary-pushing Black artists? GRAMMY.com tapped six rising stars — BRELAND, Chapel Hart, Kentucky Gentlemen, Camille Parker, Reyna Roberts, and Julie Williams — to discuss the future of a genre that has historically lacked diversity, the undeniable impact of Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER, and the artists that inspire them to push forward.

Quotes from these interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Shaboozey's "A Bar Song" and Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" are among 2024's biggest songs regardless of genre. What do you think are the key ingredients for making a great country song? How has it changed?

Brandon Campbell of Kentucky Gentlemen: All the best country songs have authenticity and truth. From the feel-good jams to the heartbreak, it's all about relatability and people being able to see themselves and what they've experienced in those songs. 

BRELAND: A great country song tells a linear story in which all of the lyrics relate back to a central concept. My favorite country songs also include elements of wordplay where a word or phrase is flipped, usually at the conclusion of the chorus.

I think the structure of country songs is about the same as it was 20 years ago, but there has just been some changes sonically. I've noticed fewer country songs have bridges, and the songs tend to be shorter now in general, which is consistent with trends across the music industry as a whole.

Reyna Roberts: It's about the instrumentation, lyrics and heart that's put into the music and how authentic it is. I personally love slide guitar, banjos, fiddles, harmonicas, and acoustic guitar, so those are key instruments in my music. I always make sure the foundation of classic country music is there and build upon that. Storytelling is equally as important; I pour my everything into the melodies and lyrics in every song I write.

Trea Swindle of Chapel Hart: The instrumentation has changed so much. Now there's the electric guitars and 808s. I think whenever Jason Aldean did "Dirt Road Anthem," it introduced 808s to country music and set off the whole bro-country moment. 

And, the thing about country music is it's all about the story, and it's all about the experience of creating music that has heart and soul and an impact. It's not like an AI-generated song with country buzzwords like truck, snake, boots, hat. That's not what it makes it country, and sometimes, it's not in the instrumentation that makes it country. You can hear a Vince Gill song, and it doesn't have a single guitar in it. It's all piano, but it's country at its core.

Camille Parker: I'm constantly referencing music that has lasted decades and speaks to people in a real way. The best country songs make people feel seen regardless of where they're from. I grew up on traditional country songs like "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" by Charley Pride and "You Don't Know Me" by Ray Charles. Those songs have evergreen lyrics, amazing production, and make you feel something real every time you hear it.

Julie Williams: All my favorite country songs pull me in with the storytelling and transport me to another place — either a memory of some place I've been or to an imaginary world. These stories can be raw and vulnerable or fun and lighthearted. Another core piece is a great melody, one that makes you want to jump in and sing along and gets stuck in your head. But we're in an exciting time in country music where we're hearing more types of stories like Mickey Guyton's "Black Like Me" and Brittney Spencer's "Thoughts and Prayers." 

Like most genres and sounds, the origins of country music are largely Black — why do you think it's been difficult for its roots to be widely acknowledged? Do you feel that's changing?  

BRELAND: Country music is undeniably influenced by Black musicians and Black culture, as with all American musical genres. But from the beginning of country music's popularization, there has been a concerted effort to separate it from its Black roots. In the '50s and '60s, country songs by white artists were considered country songs and hillbilly music, and country songs by Black artists were labeled and marketed as race records and eventually the blues. Since then, both genres have evolved in different directions, and their shared history is only now being discussed.

Williams: Mainstream country music has evolved into a genre rooted in patriotism, conservatism and general pro-America sentiments. For there to be an acknowledgment of the erasure of Black country music pioneers, there would have to be a wider acknowledgement — or, more specifically, a reckoning — that America hasn't always been so great. And, for some, that feels threatening.

Derek Campbell of Kentucky Gentlemen: There's a long history of people being unaware or not fully acknowledging Black efforts and contributions across many different genres. That's changing largely due to the fact that so many new people are discovering their love for country music. Those same people have joined in on important discussions while deep diving into its roots. They've had an incredible curiosity for acts like us who have been working in the genre all these years. 

Parker: More people are discovering missing pages in country music's history. For some, it may be difficult to challenge what they thought was a complete story, but it's important to acknowledge the past so we can all move toward a more informed and honest future.

Swindle: Since country is cool now, audiences far and wide are finding people they like and all these subgenres of country, or even some of the old-school, tried-and-true stuff. Every other genre has branched out, and I'm so glad that country is finally joining the party.

We all tell the same stories. Like Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" for instance. How is that different from [rapper] Mike Jones' "Back Then"?

Danica Hart of Chapel Hart: When we were on "America's Got Talent," I said "Country music doesn't always look like us." And I think, for so long, country music has done what has made country music billions of dollars. Country music has never had a Black superstar, but that also takes a lot of money for a label. The industry has just been working the formula that has worked for them for hundreds of years.

With social media, everything's just right at the tips of your hands. Back in the day, you had to go on a radio tour, you had to go do the arena tour — you had to get in front of somebody before you would reach a million people. Now you can get on TikTok and be like, "Go stream my music" and get a million followers. There's an evolution going on that's really in favor of all artists.

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

How has "the Beyoncé effect" helped thrust country music even further into the mainstream and make it more inclusive? 

B. Campbell: It's been great to see so many of us Black country artists gain visibility, and it's been even better seeing more broad audiences feeling more comfortable being country music fans. In all of our years doing this for a living, we've never seen more Black people and people of color in the audience dancing and singing back at us. It's been truly incredible and game-changing.

BRELAND: Beyoncé is helping to evolve country music because she brings with her a diverse group of millions of non-traditional country music listeners into the format. For decades now, country music has felt, to a lot of Black people, as a white space, so few Black artists and fans have felt safe and accepted in it. But now, the demographics are changing, and they have been in the years leading up to COWBOY CARTER.

If Beyoncé's fans and all of the other people inspired to broaden their musical horizons as a result of her album are willing to continue supporting Black artists in country, and the genre in general, this can be a really powerful and sustainable development in country music.

Swindle: It piqued the interest of people who may have naturally gravitated toward hip-hop or R&B. Now that Beyoncé decided to do a country album, it forced a lot of other platforms to say, "Okay, Beyoncé's doing it, but look at all these other artists," so it just shined a brighter light — and that, I appreciate.

Roberts: My numbers have grown exponentially over social media and DSPs. A lot of fans that don't typically listen to country music are now listening to my album and experiencing my art. (Editor's Note: Roberts was featured on COWBOY CARTER track "BLACKBIIRD" with Brittney Spencer, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy; she also offered background vocals for "TYRANT.") 

My goal has always been to reach people within and outside of the genre, and that's what's happening now. Many people didn't entirely see my vision before, but now I feel like people can see it clearly.

Parker: I feel so confident creating across genres and blending sounds because of artists like Beyoncé. She's shown us that you become the mainstream by creating art that resonates. COWBOY CARTER lets people imagine new possibilities in collaboration and expression. I love that she made this record so intentionally, and it's been a gift to witness people all over the world fall in love with a genre so many of us were raised on.

Williams: There are many folks that might not have felt like country music was a genre that they enjoyed, or even felt safe engaging with, so they might not turn on a country music radio station or go to a country music festival. And the country music industry gatekeepers that control those means of music discovery haven't historically played artists of color.

What's incredible about the Beyoncé effect is that people are going around those middlemen. Fans are discovering new Black country artists directly on social media.

In putting out COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé has put a spotlight on Black country. I have personally seen an increase in my numbers on streaming, social, and press hits. Black country artists have been out here for a while hustling and trying to be heard, but as a driver of culture, Beyoncé helped elevate the movement to an international stage. 

Where do you think diversity within country music stands these days?

Roberts: I feel like it's changing by artists like myself, and others who are acknowledging the history of country music and the true legends behind the genre that most people don't know about. Of course, I'm speaking about Linda Martell, Leslie Riddle, Tee Tot Payne and so many others who created what we consider to be classic country, and who taught Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash and so many other phenomenal artists that we uphold today.

Parker: I've experienced firsthand some of the progress that's been made, and it's truly special.  I think fans are connecting to our authenticity, and it's exciting to see more people from different walks of life at the shows and supporting us online.

Country music has such a powerful opportunity to make our space even more supportive of art and the people that create it. We're seeing all kinds of artists fall in love with country music, and I'm excited to see more collaborations. 

BRELAND: Diversity within country music is at a very pivotal inflection point. We're seeing more Black artists on the Billboard charts, and women like Lainey Wilson finding unparalleled success. There are finally more conversations about diversity that are happening within the genre.

However, many of these Black artists are not getting played at country radio, are not able to secure significant opening tour slots, and are not being given the same opportunities to sign record deals and release music at a higher level. All of those things need to continue to change for us to see sustainable careers of these diverse acts.

Swindle: I feel like the diversity has definitely changed. It's taken leaps and bounds, but in my heart, I just can't wait until we get to the point where people won't have to say, "She's a great Black country artist." No, she's just a great country artist. That's the goal. Because at the end of the day, it's about the music regardless of who's singing it.

Wiliams: It's getting better, but we have a long way to go before country music is [fully] welcoming and safe for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. A big part of that is not only diversifying the artists that are on stage, but also the people behind the scenes: industry folks, producers, engineers, musicians, photographers.

Read More: How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre 

In what ways can the industry do a better job at championing Black country artists? 

Williams: Right now, the industry does a great job of championing Black country artists around Black History Month and Black Music Appreciation Month. But I would love to see more love from the industry throughout the year.

Folks can make sure when they are organizing festivals or radio hours that they include Black artists, and also make sure when including those artists, they don't just give them the worst spot and call it a day. When putting together tours and support slots, booking agents can consider Black artists to add to the lineup and help introduce them to fans that might not discover them otherwise.

Roberts: The industry can have us perform at award shows that's within country music — and outside of country music, like the GRAMMYs — while putting the same amount of resources, attention, promotion, and money into us as other artists in the genre, as well as playing our music on country radio and radio stations outside of country. Black artists who have impacted the country legends also deserve formal recognition by organizations like the Country Music Hall of Fame.

BRELAND: The industry has to understand that positioning Black artists in this genre isn't going to work the same ways it would for a white artist. Our stories and our struggles are unique, and trying to erase our race from that narrative doesn't benefit anyone.

On the flip side, none of the Black artists I know in this space want their Blackness to be the only aspect of their story that gets told, either. And unfortunately, since 2020, it seems like most of the opportunities that come up for Black artists in country are addressing exactly that. So, the industry has to better understand the nuances of our existence in this space and work with us to find the best ways to support. 

The music industry is going to have to be more willing to play Black artists on country radio, book more Black artists on festivals and opening tour slots, and support Black artists editorially and on playlists. We need all of the same opportunities as our white peers, and additional support to push back against the systemic obstacles that have been put in our way.

B. Campbell: Placing more resources behind Black country artists is needed. Also, expanding the idea of what country music looks like can help continue to open doors. When you expand that narrow idea of what country music is to what reflects reality, then more of the world will be ready for us and our music.

Hart: There are artists that labels lose money on every day of the week. I think the way to change is to take a chance on a Black artist. The money's got to be lost anyway.  

Now that we see there's Black people that exist in this space, let's throw some money behind it and see what happens. That takes a conscious, bold, and brave effort, but it also requires a little digging and getting educated about who's out there. When they're playing their shows, are people showing up? Are they selling out theaters?

I think consumers forget that the people have the power. We saw that when someone called a country radio station and requested Beyoncé's "TEXAS HOLD 'EM." Everybody flooded that particular station until they finally were like, "Fine, we will play the song." There's a charge to the fans and the consumer to be more proactive in helping to promote Black artists.

What do you make of how Black artists have been standing out within the country community as of late?

Parker: It was exciting to see so many Black women enter the country space a few years ago — it was a big part of why I moved to Nashville to start my career. I've noticed the more brave you are, the more likely you are to create real, lasting change. Our industry is changing, and there are so many of us who want to serve music fans in new, creative ways.

D. Campbell: It's been such a blessing to have so many new fans searching for our music, coming out to shows while we're on the road, and asking to hear more of us. We can't wait to see how this carries us moving forward.

BRELAND: The Black artists in country music right now are incredibly talented and all have great stories and approaches to their craft. And I've done everything in my power to elevate them, whether it's bringing them on tour or out with me at my annual BRELAND & Friends benefit, collaborating on songs with them, or just keeping an open dialogue going with them. We have a great community of Black artists that all have the potential to be very successful, and I love to see it.

Williams: It's incredible that Black country artists have been standing out in the country music community — and long overdue! To see Shaboozey killing it with a No. 1 song and a packed CMA Fest stage, it gives me hope. Any win for a Black country artist is a win for the whole culture.

What contemporary artists have you seen break barriers? And who are some newcomers that are doing the same?

D. Campbell: We humbly name ourselves; showing up as our entire selves is daring in a genre that for decades proved it didn't believe we belonged, but we do it anyway. When you see the barriers being broken, it makes it easier to get up and do what you were born to do each and every day because you know it's possible. Also, Brittney Spencer's vulnerability and versatility have been breaking barriers for a while now. 

Williams: Mickey Guyton has been in Nashville for years, putting out incredible music, playing the game, and fighting for her voice to be heard. But in 2020, she put out "Black Like Me," a song that was unapologetically her and has inspired a new wave of artists to be our authentic selves despite what have been told is "commercial" or "acceptable" in country music.

BRELAND: Mickey revolutionized this space by talking about her experiences at a time where she was one of the only ones doing it. Her GRAMMY nomination [for Best Country Solo Performance for "Black Like Me "in 2021] inspired so many artists, including myself, to believe success was possible here. 

I also think about artists like Nelly, who for the last 20-plus years has blurred the lines of where country music fits into the larger conversation of Black culture. I've been inspired by how seamlessly he weaves between the hip-hop and country worlds.

Artists like Brittney Spencer, Shaboozey and Tanner Adell have all been bringing a new energy into the genre and all of their debut projects are very strong. Seeing Shaboozey's chart topping success with his single, Tanner's movement as an independent artist, and Brittney finally getting her flowers after over a decade in Nashville — all of those artists motivate me to keep going. 

Williams: Brittney Spencer is such an incredible songwriter and an even better artist and performer — I was lucky to write my song "Big Blue House" with her. I appreciate how she uplifts those around her. She is such a force! 

Rissi Palmer started Color Me Country Radio on Apple Music to highlight artists of color in country music and educate folks on the history of country music. She also awards Color Me Country grants to help smaller, independent artists fund their projects.

Denitia Odigie is another artist you cannot miss. Her voice is otherworldly and her blend of classic country sounds with modern twists is so fresh and unlike anything I'm hearing out of Nashville.

Swindle: Darius [Rucker], who first dominated the world with Hootie & The Blowfish, then he said, "I'm going back to my South Carolina roots, and I'm going to sing what I want sing from my heart," even though he didn't look like what most people were expecting country music to be.

That authenticity shines through every time. It's undeniable, and that's with anything. I've seen some artists try something because they think it's trendy, but the minute they just start being themselves, that's when it sticks. 

Where do you think country music is headed in 2024 and beyond?

Roberts: I believe it's going to be a blending of genres. I call my music Country Plus, which is country, hip-hop, rock, and pop. My vision is to create music that is innovative, and to do collaborations that bridge the gap between other genres and country music. I want to work with artists that have inspired me outside country music, including Megan Thee Stallion, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, and Rival Sons.

B. Campbell: With the idea of country music expanding, there are more voices that are going to be heard and more stories that are going to be told. So many more people are seeing themselves in our music and this genre.

BRELAND: Country music is just getting started. It's the final frontier for really well-written songs, which the listening public is desperate for more of, and I think it's going to continue getting more diverse in the process.

Devyn Hart of Chapel Hart: Country music is about to do some things, and I don't know if everybody's ready for it, but it's happening already. There are so many subgenres — country-pop, country-soul, country-hip-hop, country-rock. It's like a melting pot.

Parker: Country music will always remain because of its power to tell stories. My hope is that, in the future, we will see more art that tells our stories more authentically, creatively, and uninterrupted by anything that doesn't push us toward the future. 

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Queer country feature hero
(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

feature

How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

Read More: 9 Times Queer Artists Made History At The GRAMMYs: From Elton John's Collab With BSB To Kim & Sam's "Unholy" Union

"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Jungkook
Jungkook performing in New York City in 2023

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for TSX Entertainment

list

New Music Friday: Listen To Songs & Albums From Jungkook, Meghan Trainor, Peggy Gou, & More

Bask in the pre-summer magic with fresh musical offerings from acts as diverse as Ski Mask the Slump God, Kaytranada, Thomas Rhett, and more.

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2024 - 03:42 pm

We're still a couple of weeks away from the summer solstice, but the smell of cookouts and chlorine is already in the air. As parts of the country experience summer weather, there's plenty of musical delights ready to soundtrack the start of summer.

From pop to alt-country to rap, this New Music Friday sprouted sounds for listeners of all persuasions. Here's a cross-section of today's songs and albums to check out, from
Peggy Gou's debut album to the latest single from Jungkook.

Meghan Trainor — 'Timeless'

Just a few weeks before Meghan Trainor's breakthrough smash, "All About That Bass," turns 10, the GRAMMY winner rings in the anniversary in major fashion: a brand new album.

Trainor's sixth LP, Timeless, an irresistible split difference between bubblegum pop and woo-wop. Back in March, she released the lead single "Been Like This" with T-Pain; the "Buy U a Drank" star also appears on "Love on Hold."

"I cannot believe it has been 10 years since this all started. I have never been more grateful for this life that my incredible Megatronz have gifted me with," Trainor said in a statement — "Megatronz" referring to her rabid fanbase. "This new album and tour are all for them and my beautiful family."

Peggy Gou — 'I Hear You'

I Hear You might be South Korean DJ and singer Peggy Gou's debut album, but she declares it to be much more than that.

"It embodies countless hours of dedication in my journey to create something timeless, and is a testament to the power of listening, to ourselves and to each other," Gou said in a statement

And of the video to "1+1=11," in all of its shadowplay: "By bringing together dance — embodied exploration of space — with colorful shadows, lights, and mirrors, I was able to bring some of the key interests that have long shaped my art into an entirely new context."

If all this resonates with you, I Hear You is — well, a must-hear.

Listen: Leap Into AAPI Month 2024 With A Playlist Featuring Laufey, Diljit Dosanjh, & Peggy Gou

Orville Peck, Diplo & Kylie Minogue — "Midnight Ride"

As Pride Month kicked off, Kylie Minogue brought out two very special guests at Outloud Fest at West Hollywood Pride: her newest collaborators, Orville Peck and Diplo. The trio debuted the slinky, sparkling "Midnight Ride," a winning trifecta of their diverse talent pools.

Just a few days later, the studio version has arrived. In its full-fledged wonder, the track is just as much of a ride on record as it was on stage.

The single is the latest offering from Peck's forthcoming duets album, Stampede; though the full album's release date has yet to be announced, the alt-country star teased the exciting collabs to come with the seven-song Stampede, Vol. 1 on May 10, which featured Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Nathaniel Rateliff and more.

Glass Animals — "A Tear in Space (Airlock)"

On July 19, English indie favorites Glass Animals will declare I Love You So F***ing Much with their fourth album. They previously released the advance single "Creatures in Heaven." "A Tear in Space (Airlock)" arrives from smack in the middle of the forthcoming album.

A celestial, pulsing track replete with delicious production details, "A Tear in Space (Airlock)" marks another evolutionary step for the Oxford-rooted group. Their smash "Heat Waves" might be in the rearview, but they still know how to craft a song for just that.

Read More: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Glass Animals' Dave Bayley On The Group's Slow Burn To Massive Success With "Heat Waves" — And How It Almost Never Happened

Jungkook — "Never Let Go"

Where would BTS be without its ARMY? It's an unthinkable prospect — and the boy band giants' beloved Jungkook has penned a worthy tribute to the fanbase that made them.

Released for BTS' annual debut anniversary celebration, Festa, "Never Let Go" opens its heart completely. "Without your love, I'm nothing/ You mean more than you know/ And words escape me whenever you're close," he croons. "I tried to put it into words but it don't measure up/ My pen and paper could never do quite enough."

Believe us: the radiant "Never Let Go" is more than enough. "It's the truth, it's the truth," Jungkook concludes. "We got something rеal nothing could break."

Learn more: Breaking Down Every Solo Act From BTS: Singles, Debut Albums & What's Next For The Septet

KAYTRANADA — 'TIMELESS'

The Haitian-Canadian producer, rapper, singer, and DJ born Louis Celestin has produced everyone from Anderson .Paak to Alicia Keys to Victoria Monét, but he's just as compelling when it's his name on the record sleeve.

The two-time GRAMMY winner proves just that with his third album,
TIMELESS. Of course, the producer recruited several collaborators for the project, and the list is a panoply of associates from across his career — not only .Paak, but Childish Gambino, Don Toliver, and more.

Maluma & Blessd — '1 of 1'

"A full production between two Colombian artists had never been done before," rapper and singer Maluma brassily proclaimed in a recent press statement. "If it's the first, it can't be done twice."

He's referring to the (aptly titled) 1 of 1, his new EP with fellow Colombian great Blessd. Co-produced by MadMuscik and the RudeBoyz, this six-pack is a reflection of the clear admiration and respect between the two reggaetón practitioners.

This pre-summer weekend, grab a bestie, hit the road, crank up tunes like "Call Me" and "Goyard/GTA," and let that feeling flow through you, too.

Ski Mask the Slump God — '11th Dimension'

Five years after his last LP, Floridan rap phenom Ski Mask the Slump God returns by taking listeners to the 11th Dimension.

If 11th Dimension's advance singles — the jovial "Ooga Booga!", the propulsive "Headrush" — whetted your thirst, get ready for the other 19 tracks, like head-spinning highlights "By Myself," "KillStreak" and "Him Jung Un."

And while Ski Mask the Slump God takes most of those tracks himself, the album's five features are equally as thrilling: Future and ATL Jacob, Skillibeng, Corbin, and two posthumous duets with late rap stars XXXTentacion and Juice Wrld.

Generally, when an artist has a blast making music, it seeps through the grooves — and Thomas Rhett had an absolute ball making his new album, About A Woman, out Aug. 23.

"I did this with a new batch of producers, a lot of different songwriters. This is the funnest album that I've made, I think," he told Backstage Country. "This is a very, very 'me' album. If you liked Tangled Up and Life Changes, Center Point Road, this album is sort of that on steroids."

He's already revealed the first single, "Beautiful as You"; its follow-up, "Gone Country," is a rough-hewn statement of down-home purpose. Every line and lick is true to his dictum that he "got back to the root of why I love to make music and put smiles on faces." 

Let that smile cross your face as you prepare for your summer adventures — and we'll see you on next week's New Music Friday!

On This Day In Music: 2 Live Crew's 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be' Becomes First Album Declared Legally Obscene, Anticipates First Amendment Cases