I’m sure no one wants to hear the “real country” debate get brought up again. To some, this issue is about the sound of the country music genre and little more. From a broad perspective, it also looks at representation.
Therefore, whether artists identify as “country,” “Americana,” “roots,” or whatever else, it doesn’t exclude them from impacting a particular music genre, good or bad. As such, no matter what you hear when you listen to Brandi Carlile’s music, there’s no denying she’s been a fantastic ambassador for the genre in 2019.
Actually, let’s rewind the clock with that. While Carlile and her work have seen increased recognition this year, the roots were planted long ago. From performing a Johnny Cash cover with her mother, Teresa, to dropping out of school to make art for a living, Carlile has slowly built her legacy. Sure, there have been cool smaller steps taken along the way – including being featured on the soundtrack for The Ranch and performing on Letterman – but Carlile’s reign has truly taken form over the past two years, and that’s what this piece will highlight.
In Feb. 2018, Carlile released her sixth studio album, By The Way, I Forgive You. It was her second No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Rock Albums chart (dated March 3), and sold 43,000 equivalent album units.
Of that sum, 41,000 were traditional album sales, Carlile’s second-best sales frame behind The Firewatcher’s Daughter from 2015 with 42,000 units. That set became her first No. 1 on Top Rock Albums dated for March 21, 2015.
The album also debuted at No. 1 on the Americana/Folk Albums, Carlile’s fourth No. 1, following Daughter, 2012’s Bear Creek, and 2010’s XOBC EP. On the all-genre Billboard 200, By the Way marked Carlile’s best rank and first top five title, debuting at No. 5.
But this was only the beginning for that album’s journey. On Dec. 7, 2018, the nominees for the 61st annual Grammy Awards were announced, with Carlile earning six nominations. Not only was Carlile nominated for the Americana categories, she was also nominated in the all-genre categories for Album, Record, and Song of the Year with By The Way, I Forgive You and “The Joke,” respectively. While Carlile didn’t win any of the all-genre awards, she still, alongside Kacey Musgraves and Dolly Parton, benefited from the exposure.
Although all of her three Grammy Awards came during the pre-telecast Premiere Ceremony, her monster performance of “The Joke” caused a surge of 2,771% in sales (the song 8,000 downloads on Feb. 10). The talent was always there, but now the attention thankfully was as well.
Carlile wields her power in a way that’s indicative of a true leader, both for country music and for music as a whole. While female representation has been an ongoing problem in country music, Carlile took initiative in July 2018 by launching the “Girls Just Wanna Weekend.” The festival, which took place Jan. 30 through Feb. 3 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Rivera Maya, Mexico, featured Margo Price, Patty Griffin, Maren Morris, Indigo Girls, Lucius, KT Tunstall, The Secret Sisters, and Ruby Amanfu.
That influence only continues to linger in 2019. Now, Carlile has formed a supergroup with Amanda Shires and Maren Morris titled the Highwomen. Additionally, Carlile was featured on Morris’ sophomore album, GIRL, for the track, “Common.” Last year, Carlile was featured on Dierks Bentley’s album, The Mountain, for “Travelin’ Light.” She also capped off her 2018 by being featured on former President Obama’s favorite songs of 2018 list with “Every Time I Hear That Song.” Additionally, Carlile has also expressed a desire to collaborate with more artists.
Carlile also recently announced that she’ll be co-producing an album for Tanya Tucker alongside Shooter Jennings. With Carlile’s eclectic musical background, this has the potential to be a Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash or Jack White and Loretta Lynn-level collaboration. And that’s the key to it all – working from the outside in. As mentioned previously, it doesn’t matter what you label Carlile’s music; her influence on the country music genre has been undeniable over the past two years. To cap it off, now Carlile is set to perform at the 2019 ACM Awards, although what she’ll perform has yet to be announced.
Through positive leadership aiming to connect instead of divide, Carlile has represented a powerful ally to both the country music industry and music as a whole. She’s an outsider who doesn’t look with contempt on the country music genre nor uses it as a scapegoat to dump unfair stereotypes. Instead, Carlile listens and takes action, and while no genre can truly claim her, we’re all better off for having Carlile as a representative of good musical taste. Thankfully, she doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.