Photo: Louis Nice
6 Ways Zach Bryan Is Changing The Music Industry
With his new, self-titled album, Zach Bryan looks to continue growing his unprecedentedly massive career — one built from little more than pure passion.
In a few short years, Zach Bryan has taken the country and Americana worlds by storm. And he's ready to do it again with his self-titled album.
Zach Bryan follows the wildly popular singer/songwriter's 2022 major label debut American Heartbreak, a sprawling triple album of raw country and roots songs that elevated Bryan from something of a cult favorite on the fringes of the genre to a full-blown superstar.
Bryan's latest record showcases his ever-evolving talent as both a singer and a songwriter; his singular voice shines, aching and gritty with a touch of soul and no shortage of twang. The album's 16 tracks incorporate a bit more of his own taste, too, as he taps several guests to join him on the LP, including Kacey Musgraves and The War and Treaty.
What remains most true with Zach Bryan is that the star is still doing things his own way. Bryan wrote and produced the LP himself, releasing it under his own Belting Broncos imprint in partnership with Warner Records, through whom he also signed the imprint's first artist, Levi Turner, in June.
And while Zach Bryan is likely to be a hit, the notoriously fame agnostic artist — a 2022 profile in the New York Times called him "music's most reluctant new star" — isn't concerned with sales or accolades. As he declared on social media, "I've got no grand explanation for these songs, I got no riddle in reasoning behind writing them, I don't have a bullshit roll-out plan to stuff it in front of as many people as I can. I just wrote some poems and songs that I want to share because I think they're special."
Rejection of the traditional album roll-out model is in line with Bryan's DIY ethos, the very philosophy that helped catapult him from an active duty member of the Navy to arena-packing superstar in just a few short years. Accordingly, the only press Bryan did in advance of the new LP was an interview on "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast. As he's done for most of his career, Bryan likes to let his music speak for itself.
As Bryan kicks off his next chapter, check out six ways Bryan is singlehandedly changing the country music industry.
He Found Success The DIY Way
Bryan is part of a new generation of country stars who built fan bases themselves before attracting the attention of the Music Row machine. He posted his earliest songs to YouTube before finding even greater success on TikTok, and released two albums independently prior to his breakout LP American Heartbreak: 2019's DeAnn, named for his late mother, and 2020's Elisabeth, named for his ex-wife. What's more, he's toured relentlessly over the years, drawing a rabid following to his lively, rowdy shows.
And that spirit hasn't seemed to wane in the wake of releasing Zach Bryan, as he wrote the following Instagram caption when sharing the record's track list: "really proud to call the writing and production on somethin' all mine, thank y'all for your patience, I didn't make this album to appease people who will never be happy anyways, I made it for my people."
He's Taken On The Ticketing Industry
Anyone who's tried to buy a concert ticket in recent years knows how difficult the secondary market has made it for regular fans to afford to see their favorite artists live. With his rabid following, Bryan would be a prime target for resellers if he hadn't taken proactive steps to ensure that tickets land in the hands of actual fans, not scalpers. For his 2023 Burn Burn Burn Tour, Bryan partnered with AXS to prevent for-profit resale, and also made sure that all tickets were reasonably priced — the most expensive ticket available cost $156, a far cry from the several hundreds of dollars fans typically have to drop on concerts now.
And if that weren't enough, in 2022 Bryan dropped a live EP called All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster, making plain how he feels about the monopoly currently controlling much of the live ticketing market.
He's A Veteran
Country music has strong ties to the military, but few modern stars have actually served in some capacity. Prior to pursuing music full time, Bryan served as an Aviation Ordnanceman in the Navy, having enlisted at the age of 17.
While serving, he completed tours in Djibouti and Bahrain, stealing pockets of free time to work on his songwriting. He soon found fans after posting music online and, after eight years of service, was honorably discharged in 2021 upon signing a record deal with Warner Records.
When announcing his discharge on social media, Bryan shared, "If it was my decision, I would never get out of the world's greatest Navy, but here I am and they kindly honorably discharged me to go play some music. Can't tell if I'm a coward or if I'm chasing a dream but regardless, the best eight years of my life were spent serving the best country in the whole damn world."
Military service runs in Bryan's family, as both his father and his late mother served in the Navy. Bryan was actually born in Japan while his father was stationed there. The family moved around throughout Bryan's young life, making him a Navy brat.
He's Maintained An Aura Of Mystery
Bryan's songs are honest and confessional, but he famously shares little about his personal life outside of what he reveals in his music. The songwriter rarely gives interviews, speaking with the media even less since seeing his star rise after the success of American Heartbreak. And most of his social media posts are about music and touring, occasionally sharing candid snaps with friends or photos of his dog, fittingly named Jack Daniel's.
Though many country stars find themselves, willingly or not, involved in the current culture wars, Bryan (so far) has managed to stay removed — with the occasional exception, like when hecalled out Travis Tritt for removing Bud Light from his tour rider in the wake of the beer brand's involvement with trans social media personality Dylan Mulvaney.
Some Of His Fan-Favorite Songs Aren't Even Officially Released
When Bryan posted the track listing for Zach Bryan on Aug. 18, many fans took to the comments to lament songs they love that didn't make the cut. The top comment on Bryan's Instagram post of the track listing reads, "zachary lane we are BEGGING for deep satin," with over three thousand likes emphasizing the sentiment.
Other fans are hoping for "Somebody," an especially raw love song that namechecks Tracy Chapman, and the wistful "Screen Door." That passion from fans for unreleased music is yet another indication that Bryan is far from your average artist.
His Powers Extend Beyond Music
Sure, Bryan can pen a hit song, but he also helped the Oakland Athletics win a baseball game.
On Aug. 21, the team was playing the Kansas City Royals and found the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning. Oakland left fielder Brent Rooker was itching to finish the game so he could head across the street to Bryan's concert at the Oakland Arena, so he took matters into his own hands, hitting a two-run homer to end the game and clinch the victory for his team. Rooker not only made it to Bryan's show, but got to join the star on stage to sing together.
Other prominent sports figures who have gotten into the action at Bryan's shows include WWE stars Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman, Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy and San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey. And in a particularly funny, quintessentially Zach Bryan moment, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones joined him during a tour stop in Queens — but Bryan, an avowed Philadelphia Eagles fan, quickly took back the mic to yell, "Go Birds!"
Photo: Mickey Bernal/Getty Images
Zach Bryan's Massive Breakout Year: How The "Something In The Orange" Singer's Authenticity & Defiance Shot Him To Stardom
Dubbed "Music's Most Reluctant New Star," Zach Bryan’s road to success was as organic as can be. Now with a 2023 GRAMMY nomination and a No. 1 song, the country/Americana star is poised to be a mainstay in the genre and beyond.
For a guy who was on active duty in the Navy until late 2021, Zach Bryan has already established quite the musical career for himself. While enlisted, he wrote music in his spare time, self-recording and releasing it on YouTube and social media. And just three years after his first viral success, Bryan is one of country music's most popular new stars.
Bryan first caught attention in 2019 with "Heading South," his self-released breakout song. In the video — which, as of press time, has more than 19 million views on YouTube — a sweaty, rosy-cheeked Bryan hunches over his guitar, singing lyrics that turned out to be remarkably prescient: "Boys we've got a riser/ A riser in our midst."
In that video and still today, Bryan's music feels raw and intimate — it'd be easy to imagine him jamming on your front porch on a summer evening, but these days he's selling out multi-thousand seat venues. With his raspy voice and relatable, vulnerable lyrics, Bryan has built a massive following of country and non-country fans alike.
His mainstream breakout, 2022's "Something In The Orange," has both critically and commercially proven Bryan's appeal. In addition to earning Bryan his first GRAMMY nomination (the song is up for Best Country Solo Performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs), "Something In The Orange" recently cracked the top 10 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 after 38 weeks on the chart, and landed Bryan his first No. 1 on both Billboard's Hot Country Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts in January.
In the track, a husky-voiced and contemplative Bryan sings to a lost love, hoping she'll give him a second chance. The song's sincerity struck a chord with listeners, who filled the YouTube comments section with comments like "I'm not a fan of country music, but, this song is helping me through a very rough situation," "I just felt this in my soul," and "this is by far the most powerful song I have ever listened to."
Bryan hasn't slowed down since the "Heading South" video went viral. He recorded and self-released his first album, DeAnn — named for his late mother — in 2019, followed by his second self-released album, Elisabeth, in 2020. The next year, he made his Grand Ole Opry debut, signed a record deal with Warner Records, and was honorably discharged from the Navy so he could be a full-time musician. But 2022 was easily his biggest year yet.
In May, Bryan released his major label debut, the triple album, American Heartbreak. The LP broke the record for most global streams of a country album in a 24-hour period; just three days after its release, the album had been streamed more than a billion times. Displaying Bryan's widespread impact, Heartbreak topped album charts in country, folk and rock — solidifying him as one of music's most promising new voices.
American Heartbreak is a treatise on the human condition. Supported by guitar, fiddle, banjo, and harmonica, Bryan works his way through life experiences — both his and others' — singing about love, loss, heartbreak, addiction, recovery and hope. The Bryan of American Heartbreak sounds very similar to the Bryan many first heard on "Heading South," but with a more sophisticated, contemplative bent — perhaps because, as Bryan said recently, "I believe that the best songs are written after the best living's done."
"I would say true love of anything is supposed to rip your heart out and put it back together all in the same go 'round. This album to me is all the trials we face day-in and day out," Bryan told Amnplify. "American Heartbreak is my effort at trying to explain what being a 26-year-old man in America is like."
Bryan, who was raised in Oologah, Oklahoma, began dabbling in songwriting as a teenager — though he didn't necessarily see it as a career path. "I just never really expected to be a musician, ever," he told the Oklahoman last year. "But I always wanted to write songs. That's what I wanted to do: I wanted to be a songwriter."
Although he is now definitively a musician, Bryan is wary of the fame often inherent to mainstream success; a 2022 New York Times profile dubbed him "Music's Most Reluctant New Star." And like many of his genre-bending peers, he's also not looking to be put in a box.
"I decided to record American Heartbreak in New York because I didn't want it to sound like anything else," he wrote in a note on Instagram upon the release of American Heartbreak. "At the risk of sounding pretentious; I don't want a genre, I don't want a scene, I don't want a title, I just want to make music."
Leaning into his new career's momentum, Bryan released music at a lightning-fast pace in 2022. Less than two months after the release of American Heartbreak, he delivered even more music with Summertime Blues, a 9-track EP, followed by a handful of singles, including the gut-wrenching breakup track, "Starved" and "Burn, Burn, Burn," a fast-rhyming slow song longing for the simple things in life.
Bryan's dedication to his music is certainly paying off. He has sold out shows across the country, Heartbreak debuted at No. 5 on the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart — making it one of the most successful country music album debuts in history — and he finished the year with the No. 2 slot on Billboard's Year-End chart of Top New Artists.
Bryan wrapped up his big year with one more release, a live album (recorded during his sold-out Red Rocks show) cheekily titled All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster in a nod to his dislike for the company's control over concert ticket prices. Staying true to his independent roots and outsider brand, Bryan announced that for his summer 2023 Burn Burn Burn Tour, he'll primarily sell tickets through AXS, and not allow marked-up resale tickets.
As he has navigated his unexpected success, Bryan is already feeling just how draining it can be; as he told NYT, "People don't understand the pressure exerting emotion on other people exerts back on you." Even so, seeing the impact his songs have had on others keeps him going.
"I can't stop writing," Bryan added in the NYT interview. "I have this weird fear of like, if I don't put this music out, someone 20 years from now isn't going to be able to hear it. If some kid needs this in 40 years and he's 16, he's sitting in his room, what if I didn't put out 'Quiet, Heavy Dreams'? What if that's his favorite song of all time?"
Male vulnerability in country music often falls within narrow lines — heartbreak and anger — but Bryan allows himself and his songs to be sensitive outside those boundaries, displaying a raw honesty that's resonated with millions of people. With nearly 50 new songs in 2022, and a new single in 2023 already ("Dawns," a duet with Maggie Rogers), Bryan is well on his way to realizing his songwriting dreams, which means as much to him as it does his fans.
"I write because it's just like how I deal with life," Bryan told Music Mayhem Magazine last year. "Just like people watch sports, just like people go golf, just like people listen to music, it's just something that comes naturally to me, which is beautiful to find that and get to do that."
Photo: (L-R) Mickey Bernal/Getty Images, Neil Lupin/Redferns, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images
2022 In Review: 6 Trends That Defined Country Music
From Dolly Parton to Zach Bryan, country music's veterans and new generation found room to grow within the genre in 2022.
Country music isn't always heralded as a haven for artists who fall outside the genre's accepted mainstream. But 2022 saw country music claim a bigger piece of the cultural pie than it has in recent years.
Artists are discovering new paths to success, driven by the meme-ification of culture and music and templated by stars like Walker Hayes, whose GRAMMY-nominated song "Fancy Like" broke through in mid-2021 thanks to TikTok and ended 2022 among the top five of Billboard's Hot Country Songs. Breakout stars Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman also rode online acceptance to mainstream success — the former built a career on his YouTube buzz, while the latter turned his TikTok virality into Platinum sales.
The genre expanded in other non-traditional ways in 2022 as well. In particular, indie-rock and LGBTQIA+ artists are no longer hovering in the periphery, but making real impacts on country music listenership, thanks to worthy efforts by Waxahatchee and Adeem the Artist, among others.
As country music continues to expand its horizons into 2023, here are six trends that defined country music in 2022.
New Artists Dominated
If the emergence of new talent is a barometer of a genre's health, country music has nothing to worry about. Not since 2015 has a country artist landed on Billboard's top five Best New Artists, when Sam Hunt broke through big. But this year, country music landed two of the five spots on the year-end chart, thanks to newcomers Zach Bryan and Bailey Zimmerman.
Bryan emerged with an audacious statement, claiming country's biggest first-week sales with his major-label debut, the triple-album American Heartbreak. The album landed at No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200 and topped country streaming tallies on both Spotify and Apple Music.
Like Bryan, who first found success when his music went viral on social media, Bailey Zimmerman parlayed his online following into an impressive run with Platinum singles "Fall in Love" and "Rock and a Hard Place." Both are off of his first EP on Warner Music Nashville, Leave the Light On, which became the most-streamed all-genre debut of the year and the biggest streaming country debut of all time.
Lainey Wilson also had a banner year, proving that her No. 1 hit on country radio with "Things A Man Oughta Know" in 2021 was no fluke. In between winning new artist honors from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association this year, she landed her second No. 1 on country radio with the Cole Swindell collab "Never Say Never" in April. Most recently, Wilson became the latest country star to appear on the hit Paramount TV drama "Yellowstone"; she debuted on season five as the character Abby, performing her original songs "Smell Like Smoke" and "Watermelon Moonshine," and has become a recurring character.
After Jelly Roll made waves with his 2021 single "Dead Man Walking" and the 2022 Brantley Gilbert collaboration "Son of the Dirty South," the Nashville country rapper solidified himself as a newcomer to watch with "Son of a Sinner." The slow-burning single scored Jelly Roll his first top 10 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts, and it broke the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. He also proved his hometown pride is strong: On. Dec 9, he headlined a sold-out show at Nashville's 20,000-cap Bridgestone Arena.
Bluegrass Saw A Resurgence
You'd be hard-pressed to find another artist who has broadened the bluegrass horizon in recent years more than Billy Strings; his progressive approach to the foundational country genre pulls in elements of rock and psychedelia. While he titled his 2019 Grammy-winning album Home, on his 2022 set Me/And/Dad, Strings came full-circle to play traditional bluegrass standards with his father, Terry, like they did when he was a kid. Strings (whose birth name is William Lee Apostol) even located the Martin acoustic guitar Terry played in those early days but pawned to support the family, fulfilling Billy's bucket-list bluegrass album in more ways than one.
Representing the more traditional approach to the genre, bluegrass icon Del McCoury issued his 17th album, Almost Proud, in February. A peer and collaborator of the genre's Mt. Rushmore (Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs), McCoury is keeping the flame lit in his ninth decade — and he hasn't lost a lick of his abilities. McCoury and his sons Ronnie and Robbie pick, roll and harmonize like it's a Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Po' Ramblin' Boys have tapped into a similar authenticity by playing bluegrass standards like their forebears. Although they formed around a regular gig at a moonshine distillery, their 2022 album God's Love Is So Divine walks the straight and narrow on 13 gospel bluegrass tunes.
Old Crow Medicine Show have come a long way since O.G. bluegrass musician Doc Watson discovered them busking on the streets of Boone, North Carolina in 2000. While that growth is evident throughout 2022's Paint This Town, they incorporate bluegrass on tracks like "Painkiller," "DeFord Rides Again" and "Hillbilly Boy." The group also invited Americana mainstay Jim Lauderdale to co-write a couple of tunes, and Mississippi fife master Sharde Thomas to guest on "New Mississippi Flag."
Punk Went Country (And Country Went Punk)
Genre-bending is nothing new in Nashville, and even punk rockers have been acknowledging the raw power of country music since the early '80s — when bands like X, Social Distortion and The Gun Club began incorporating elements into their music, and even covering classics like Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Fast forward to 2022, and the trend has kicked into high gear.
Woody Guthrie, the iconic folk hero of dust-bowl-era America, left behind a large body of unrecorded songs — evidenced by the three volumes of lyrics that have been set to music and recorded as Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Boston pub punks Dropkick Murphys plucked 10 more uncut Guthrie gems for their 2022 set This Machine Still Kills Fascists, a play on the line Guthrie famously scrawled onto the body of his guitar. For their first country album, Dropkick Murphys recruited two of the genre's brightest lights: Nikki Lane, who guests on "Never Git Drunk No More," and Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours, who shares the mic on "The Last One."
Foo Fighter Chris Shiflett — who previously played with speedy punks No Use For A Name — got into the act, too. When he isn't cranking guitars alongside Dave Grohl and Pat Smear, he plays his own Bakersfield-inspired country rock, as heard on 2017's West Coast Town and 2019's Hard Lessons. This year, he issued the singles "Born & Raised" and "Long, Long Year," a pair of breezy, pedal steel-assisted cuts that find him leaning more than ever into his sunny SoCal disposition.
Shiflett previously shredded the guitar solo on "Goin' Nowhere," a collaboration with country hitmaker HARDY on his Hixtape Vol. 2, released in the last weeks of 2021. Now, HARDY's back and flipping the script with his own rock record, the mockingbird & THE CROW, set for release in January. Early singles "JACK," "TRUCK BED" and the title track, all released in 2022, show the influence of Nirvana and post-grunge songcraft alongside his distinctive, rhythmic lyrical delivery.
Legends Got Their Due
In 2022, country music proved that age is irrelevant when the music is this good. Newcomers Chapel Hart captured the national spotlight — and a rare Golden Buzzer — on "America's Got Talent" in July with a nod to icon Dolly Parton. The trio's electrifying performance of their original song "You Can Have Him Jolene," an answer to Parton's 1974 smash "Jolene," elevated them to star status, and they spent the latter half of 2022 playing to sold-out audiences across America. Darius Rucker even recruited them to back him on his song "Ol' Church Hymn."
Parton had her own high point this year, earning her first No. 1 on Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart with her 48th studio album, Run, Rose, Run. She also released a new compilation album, Diamonds & Rhinestones: The Greatest Hits Collection, in November.
After Shania Twain spent the last couple of years featuring on other artist's songs, the best-selling female country artist of all time returned to her throne in 2022. She announced her sixth studio album, Queen of Me (due Feb. 3, 2023), helmed by the dance-floor bop "Waking Up Dreaming." The announcement followed the Netflix documentary Not Just A Girl (and the companion album that featured more than a dozen unreleased songs) and preceded another huge announcement: a 76-date U.S. tour for 2023.
Twain's fellow genre-bending '90s icon, Sheryl Crow, also issued a documentary in 2022. The Showtime special, "Sheryl," was accompanied by a double-album compilation of the same name, which featured two discs of hits plus collaborations with Chris Stapleton, Stevie Nicks, Jason Isbell and more. Crow also featured on 2022 releases from TobyMac and Lucius. The latter track also featured Brandi Carlile, who has played a big role in Tanya Tucker's recent comeback story — as shown in yet another 2022 doc, "The Return of Tanya Tucker," which featured their song "Ready As I'll Never Be."
The CMA Awards paid tribute to icons Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away in October, and Alan Jackson, who is in the midst of a farewell tour dubbed Last Call: One More For the Road. Firebrand singer Elle King channeled The Killer's wild moves as she performed his signature hit, "Great Balls of Fire," backed by The Black Keys. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood led a star-studded Jackson tribute featuring Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and Lainey Wilson, who performed a melody of his hits including "Chattahoochee" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox."
The legacies continued both on stage and in studio. Brooks & Dunn's Ronnie Dunn, Reba McEntire and Bonnie Raitt all returned with new albums in 2022; meanwhile, Shenandoah, Billy Dean and Wade Hayes appeared on the Country Comeback Tour, and Wynonna led The Judds: The Final Tour in tribute to her mother, Naomi Judd, who passed away in April.
Indie Rockers Infiltrated Country Music
As '90s-style indie rock has a moment thanks to artists like Big Thief, Momma and Alvvays, Katie Crutchfield is leaning deeper into laid-back country vibes. The leader of Waxahatchee, whose blissful 2020 set Saint Cloud landed her on scores of year-end lists, doubled down in 2022.
Waxahatchee collaborated with Wynonna on the single "Other Side," recorded on the Judds singer's farm in Tennessee — an experience both artists ranked among their favorite recording sessions. Crutchfield also collaborated with Jess Williamson on a new project dubbed Plains, releasing the album I Walked With You A Ways in 2022 to critical acclaim. The 10 songs on Plains' debut rival the artists' soothing solo work and combine their strengths with Fleetwood Mac harmonies.
Madison Cunningham, who is best known for weaving mind-bending melodies and harmonies between her voice and guitar, guested on the second edition of Watkins Family Hour — which pairs siblings Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek with a series of notable collaborators like Fiona Apple and Jackson Browne — contributing her signature spidery guitar playing to "Pitseleh."
Other notables on the indie side of country include Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, who returned with Palomino, a strummy set of acoustic guitar-driven country pop and their first album in four years. Michaela Anne's gentle LP Oh To Be That Free chronicled a period of personal troubles with compassion, while Sierra Ferrell released the sparse, playful single "Hey Me, Hey Mama" and collaborated with Shakey Graves on "Ready Or Not."
LGBTQIA+ Country Artists Were Celebrated
Acceptance for LGBTQIA+ artists in country music has grown steadily in recent years, thanks to efforts by allies like Kacey Musgraves and Dolly Parton, as well as artists who have publicly discussed their sexuality, including T.J. Osborne, Lil Nas X, Chely Wright, Amythyst Kiah and Shane McAnally. With such star power in their corner, gay and non-binary country artists are now getting a fairer shake.
Non-binary singer-songwriter Adeem the Artist released the acclaimed album White Trash Revelry. Over 11 songs, Adeem chronicles their experiences growing up different in small towns surrounded by smaller minds — from the stomp-along "Going to Hell" to the Heartland rocker "Heritage of Arrogance" and fingerpicked album closer "My America."
Elsewhere, Orville Peck, the masked singer who performs a fever dream of '70s-inspired country music with a deep-throated croon, returned with his second album, Bronco. Peck traded the spare songscapes of his 2019 debut, Pony, for Bronco's more fully realized, cinematic arrangements, broadening his sound and the scope of his persona.
Brandi Carlile, whose pro-LGBTQIA+ activism is tied directly to her music — she founded the Looking Out Foundation early in her music career, and donates a portion of touring proceeds to groups like The Trevor Project — has seen her reputation grow steadily over nearly two decades of releasing music to ever-growing audiences. In 2022, she added to an already storied career by performing with her personal hero, Joni Mitchell, at Newport Folk Festival. Carlile also headlined Tennessee's Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, marking the first time a woman has headlined the fest.
However country music continues to expand and impact culture as a result, 2022's trends certainly set up a promising future for the genre.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Photo: Karthik Kher
Global Spin: Relive King's "Good Trip" With This Radiant Performance
New Delhi-based musician King offers a prismatic performance of "Good Trip," a braggadocious track from his newest LP, 'New Life.'
If you walk with burgeoning Indian star King, it's certain to be a "Good Trip."
On Oct. 18, the New Delhi native dropped his most diverse project yet, New Life, via Warner Music India, blending electronic and hip-hop beats with traditional Bollywood melodies. King traverses topics of mental health ("Runaway," featuring Julia Michaels) and ambitious dreams ("CROWN," alongside fellow Indian songstress Natania).
Amongst the album’s most confident tracks is "Good Trip," which King performs in this episode of Global Spin. "I'm the next big thing," King declares before transitioning into Hindi.
King revealed on Instagram that the LP has been in the works since 2019 but was unexpectedly postponed by the pandemic and his breakthrough album, Champagne Talk. "After living and experiencing all this in just two years, I've got to realize everything happens for a reason and this is the actual new life I've been blessed with," he wrote. "Sometimes, being late is being right on time."
Press play on the video above to view King's vibrant performance of "Good Trip," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.