The Opinions Section (Part Two): A Modern Country Music History

READ: The Opinions Section (Part One)


6.) Critics often debate bro-country’s origins. Some also debate its meaning, like claiming that all party and beer-drinking songs qualify as bro-country music. Some say it’s less about the party and more about the misogyny portrayed through the subject matter. In your opinion, what led to bro-country’s popularity? And what do you think characterizes “bro-country” music?

I think its popularity has everything to do with the demographic that was tuning into radio at that time – namely, young people, predominantly male, and also people new to the genre. They were people looking for fluff entertainment and party songs that they could live vicariously through or live right alongside to. Those new to the genre were looking for songs that sounded more like the music they listened to on other stations, and the heavily rock, hip-hop, and R&B-influenced tracks were gold to them. 

As far as what characterizes the term and music, I’d say it comes down to sound first, subject matter second. The hip-hop and R&B influence can be heard throughout the bro-country movement, the main gripe being that all of the songs were formulaic, sounding the same to the point where you had a hard time figuring out where one song ended and the other began. Then there’s the subject matter. Parties, trucks, and the objectification of women (mainly used as pretty little sexy props). Put it all together, you’ve got a frat boy’s dreams and a matured country soul’s nightmare. – Liz Austin 

Florida Georgia Line
Every time I hear Florida Georgia Line sing “slide that sugar-shaker over here” or Luke Bryan’s “drip of honey on the moneymaker,” I want to take a shower. – Jim Bartlett

To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what led to the popularity and emergence of bro-country. But I have two theories. The first is the huge popularity of Duck Dynasty in pop culture in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as it sort of “glamorized” redneck culture to mainstream audiences, even if the portrayal was quite hackneyed and caricatured. The other theory is the success of Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem.” This laid out the blueprint that Florida Georgia Line followed to make “Cruise” a mega hit, right down to remixing it with a rapper that was years removed from being mainstream relevant. And of course, as country music history has shown, if a trend can make money, many will follow, especially when it attracts the younger demo like bro-country did. Combine the cliché, easy-to-connect-with imagery of Duck Dynasty with the hip-hop leanings of “Dirt Road Anthem,” and you have yourself bro-country. 

(Duck Dynasty would, of course, later also appear in the music video for Tyler Farr’s bro-country hit “Redneck Crazy,” which I still regard as one of the worst songs in the history of country music.) (Editor’s note: And that’s why Tyler Farr is not mentioned in this series!) – Josh Schott 

The success of songs like Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” led to everyone else wanting to replicate those songs. Not all bro-country songs are bad, but during 2013 and 2014, every song on country radio sounded the same. Country had developed a trend of checklist songs in the 2000s, like songs about the South and small-town life. As female representation in the genre decreased, the checklist songs devolved into more misogynistic material, which in turn further devalued the female perspective. Bro-country is easy to identify but hard to define; it’s a subgenre of party songs with specifically “Southern” imagery, like back roads, trucks, and beer, meant to instill Southern pride and differentiate its subjects and listeners from the city folk partying in nightclubs and drinking champagne. At the same time, it is meant to romanticize country living for those city folks, never mentioning the darker side of life in small towns and rural communities. It is not always misogynistic, but it is never concerned with a woman’s perspective. The nights are always glorified with no thoughts wasted on tomorrow. – Megan Bledsoe 

I kind of roll my eyes when people say that “bro-country” originated with, say, the amped-up presentation and drinking songs offered by ‘90s acts like Garth Brooks or Brooks & Dunn. Good-timing party music has long been a staple of the genre, and I am one of those people who faults it more for its misogyny over its vapid content. I mean, let’s be honest, sometimes stupid escapism is fun, and I do think there are a few artists that got the sound and trend “right,” for whatever that’s worth. The operative word there, though, being “trend.” I cited Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as a way of playing Devil’s advocate within the piece itself, but I’d say “Cruise” sparked the trend and that was that. It was a massive single by a duo that hadn’t even released its first album yet, and I think it was just Nashville’s way of capitalizing on a youth market – a 21st century marketing ploy, at that, given the genre’s traditionally older audience. – Zackary Kephart 

I started in country radio in 1979, and it always had its drinkin’ songs, but the bro stuff seemed particularly shallow and hedonistic: all the name-checking of brands and the repetition of the same half-dozen cliched signifiers (dirt road, bonfire, tailgate, girl in a ballcap, “raise your cup,” Hank, etc.). I once back-announced such a song on the air by saying, “That’s new, but it sounds strangely familiar.” The objectifying of women didn’t seem quite as foreign. When I came up, there was a lot of it going on. (I think of T. G. Sheppard singing about all the women he’d “had,” which is a pretty demeaning verb in that context.) But the way it was done by the bros was crass and even more demeaning: to this day, every time I hear Florida Georgia Line sing “slide that sugar-shaker over here” or Luke Bryan’s “drip of honey on the moneymaker,” I want to take a shower. Somebody smarter than me would have to say, but I wonder if bro-country isn’t related to the way conservative America became more openly hostile toward feminism during the Obama years—in a world where smart and powerful women are seemingly everywhere, some people are comforted by believing that the highest purpose a woman can achieve is to have a nice ass, or in the case of boyfriend country, to be pretty and like to cuddle, a good mother to the singer’s babies, etc. The strong and independent women of ’70s/’80s/’90s country, both as singers and the subjects of songs, don’t have a place in that world. – Jim Bartlett 

Luke Bryan
The misogyny portrayed through the subject matter is absolutely a hallmark of bro-country. The whole party-down-by-the-lake-in-a-pickup-truck mentality. Women/girls are an afterthought, seen for sexual desire. All this characterizes bro-country for me. – Jon Pappalardo

The misogyny portrayed through the subject matter is absolutely a hallmark of bro-country. The whole party-down-by-the-lake-in-a-pickup-truck mentality. Women/girls are an afterthought, seen for sexual desire. All this characterizes bro-country for me. 

I think what led to its popularity is that it hit on a sector of our population that hadn’t yet been represented in country music. The people who live their lives just like the folks depicted in the songs. It isn’t a daily lifestyle as these songs suggest, but it’s there. Luke Bryan absolutely knew what he was doing when he made those spring break EPs, for example. – Jon Pappalardo 

I think bro-country’s success was due to the genre-bending and marketability of it. Nobody was buying or enjoying these songs for the lyrical content. They were buying them for house parties, for driving with the windows down, for having a feel good time. They were catchy (even if they all sounded the same) and were aimed at a younger, college-aged crowd that wanted something to dance or drink to. I think the pop and R&B elements appealed to a different target audience as well. The other thing that I think people don’t talk about enough in the bro-country debate is the rise of streaming during that era. That helped reached a younger audience who were more tech-savvy and less inclined to buy music, as opposed to an older crowd that purchased CDs or digital copies of the music. You put all that together and you get what might be the worst era in country music’s history. – Marty Kurtz

Idiocy led to bro-country. I will say I don’t think Big & Rich get enough credit for how early they began to ruin country music with bro-ish type songs. – Julian Spivey

It could be related to club culture in pop music that time. Something in line of “hit da club, hit dat woman, dance till dawn” mindset, and of course, rent-a-rappers that one may see from some bro-country hits. And the equivalent of club in country music is barns.

I lean more towards viewing party songs as bro-country music, and the misogyny is displayed as one of the many results from the said parties. The electronic, hip-hop or butt-rock music influences are just there for surface level to make it sound cool. – Sunny Lee


7.) In 2013, several independent acts broke through with critically acclaimed releases that reached ears like never before, without legitimate major label or radio airplay support. Why do think that was? Do you have any favorite breakthrough collections from that year? 

The one that stands out for me is Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. I’m not really sure why artists like him broke through, but I know I started paying attention based on the enormously positive press artists like him received both when the album came out and on year-end lists. He especially just demanded my attention. – Jon Pappalardo 

I think people were just starved for music with substance and something more story-oriented. Radio had become oversaturated with bro-country songs and the start of the R&B-infused stuff, and traditional fans tuned out and started looking elsewhere. I know I did. I loved Holly Williams’ The Highway, Ashley Monroe’s Like A Rose, Pistol Annies’ Annie Up, Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park, Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, and Alan Jackson’s The Bluegrass Album. – Liz Austin 

Like a Rose cover
Many readers gave high marks to albums like Ashley Monroe’s ‘Like a Rose’ and Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern.’ “Although she was on a major label, she had no radio support. Her album was pure country both musically and lyrically,” Megan Bledsoe says of the former artist and her album.

Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park, Brandi Clark’s 12 Stories, and Ashely Monroe’s Like a Rose were all good. Southeastern by Jason Isbell is obviously a classic and an important album as well. – Leo Kelly

It happened in 2013 because bro-country was dominating country radio. Everything sounded the same and listeners began to look elsewhere in search of the country sound and substance they missed. My favorite album of 2013 and one of my favorite albums ever is Like a Rose by Ashley Monroe. Although she was on a major label, she had no radio support. Her album was pure country both musically and lyrically. – Megan Bledsoe 

I think these breakthroughs were a combination of country music’s decade-plus-long era of not really having an identity, the internet becoming a bigger thing, streaming taking off, and the blog era finally starting to have an influence on the genre. 

There are a lot of albums I enjoyed from the 2013 collection, but the best of the bunch for me, while not independent, but certainly not mainstream either, is The Mavericks’ In Time. Front to back, this album is incredible! And Big Machine Records, of all labels, released this comeback record. This album is also a reminder you don’t need to adhere to the standard sounds to deliver something great. 

Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern are also two favorites from 2013 for me. – Josh Schott 

Speaking from personal experience, I know that a general distaste for what was getting popular on country radio spurred me to look elsewhere for new music that year and especially in 2014. I still think High Top Mountain is Sturgill Simpson’s best album, just as I still think Southeastern is Jason Isbell’s best work. I also loved Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, the Mavericks’ comeback effort in This Time, Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star, Holly Williams’ The Highway, and plenty of others, too. Really, I remember getting so excited to discover (what seemed like) an entirely brand new world of sounds and ideas, and I don’t think my experience is unique in that regard. – Zackary Kephart 

Two acts saved my faith in country or country-adjacent music: Jason Isbell and Turnpike Troubadours. They made me see that there was good music in the genre I liked it just was no longer being played on the radio. Southeastern was huge for me. Turnpike’s Goodbye Normal Street (2012) and Diamonds & Gasoline (2010) weren’t 2013 releases, but that was around the time I became familiar with them. It was songwriting that spoke to me because it actually told stories. – Julian Spivey

Kacey Musgraves
I primarily remember this year as the breakthrough year of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark and Holly Williams for independent artists. But I also never knew that it was the breakthrough year of John Moreland, Sarah Jarosz, and Valerie June, too. Not to mention you had Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies and Charlie Worsham in the mainstream side that year. That’s a long-lasting group of new artists! – Sunny Lee

When the mainstream was at its worst with stale bro-country songs, some critics begin to highlight the indie scene as a better alternative, and it connected with the hipsters more.

And what the heck, I primarily remember this year as the breakthrough year of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark and Holly Williams for independent artists. But I also never knew that it was the breakthrough year of John Moreland, Sarah Jarosz, and Valerie June, too. Not to mention you had Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies and Charlie Worsham in the mainstream side that year. That’s a long-lasting group of new artists!

My favorite one is 12 Stories by Brandy Clark. The production is top-notch and the songwriting is incredible, particularly considering the mainstream is materializing women, the highlights of real women in 12 Stories are more reverent. – Sunny Lee


8.) What do you think led to Taylor Swift’s shift to pop music?

My guess, it was business. She would have more genre-bending freedom outside of country, more opportunities as a female artist, and could ultimately make more money by switching to pop, which, really, wasn’t an out of the blue move. She was never country’s female George Strait, after all. – Liz Austin 

Bro-country and her own natural artistic growth led Taylor Swift to go to pop. Swift’s country music always had pop leanings, something that always led to loud griping from country listeners. You throw in bro-country, which was a direct opposition to her music, and it set up a perfect time for her to exit the genre. – Josh Schott 

I think it was a combination of her starting to slip on the charts and, ultimately, wanting to try something new. Even growing up, yes, she listened to the Chicks, but she was also listening to pop music. I think she wanted to branch out, and she has a fanbase that has stayed with her the entire way. The comparison I keep drawing back to for her career arc is to Linda Ronstadt. Both started out in this super country realm (most of Ronstadt’s first album) then had a crossover effect (Ronstadt into rock) and then went into the pop realm. Eventually, Ronstadt came back to her roots with her Trio album with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, and now Swift is re-releasing her older albums. – Joe Kraus 

Taylor Swift went pop for one simple reason; she was being honest with herself. Swift has always had both the nerve and the support to do whatever she wanted. She has always been real. She was not going to send pop songs to country radio. – Megan Bledsoe 

The natural progression of her career. Once “Love Story” hit and performed very well on the Billboard Hot 100, it was clear there was a career for her beyond the boundaries of country music. Couple that with her core fanbase – teenage girls, who aren’t the typical country audience and probably didn’t or don’t listen to much country music at all. Throughout her first few albums she and BMLG kept testing the pop waters and just worked every time. 

I also think she shifted to pop because she had done all she could in country. Plus, she couldn’t keep growing and getting bigger and bigger as a woman in country music. There comes a point where all female country singers “age out” or fall to the next female artist waiting in the wings. That doesn’t really happen in pop, where you can stay on top much longer. I also think she wanted to follow her muse and make whatever kind of music she wanted to, something you really can’t do when you’re “stuck” performing country songs. 

In some respects, it was a business decision. Also, most true country fans never saw her as a country singer in the first place. They always saw her as a pop star mascaraing in country until she finally “fessed up” and labeled her music what it really was. 

Taylor Swift
She was straddling two genres at the time and making distinctly different music to fit each format. When she transitioned to pop, she made no bones about her music not being country. She labeled it what it is and was very transparent and open about it. I’ll always respect that about her. – Jon Pappalardo

I’ll say this, though. There is a difference between Taylor’s country and pop songs, and she’s never pretended a straight-out pop song (i.e. “We Are Never Getting Back Together”) is country or belongs on country radio. She was straddling two genres at the time and making distinctly different music to fit each format. When she transitioned to pop, she made no bones about her music not being country. She labeled it what it is and was very transparent and open about it. I’ll always respect that about her.

In the end, it was a natural progression for her and a smart business decision. – Jon Pappalardo

Taylor Swift
The way she’s sticking it to Big Machine by rerecording her earlier songs, so she collects the song royalties and $$ from new sales even if the label still owns her original masters, is a move Tony Soprano might envy, but in a good way. – Jim Bartlett

The first time Madonna was on American Bandstand, Dick Clark asked about her ambitions, and she said, “To rule the world.” My suspicion is that in her less-flashy way, Taylor Swift intended to do the same thing by switching from country to pop. Pop gave her the mass audience country could not. People who look at Swift and see a cute little pop singer do so at their peril; she’s smarter and more savvy than 95 percent of her peers. The way she’s sticking it to Big Machine by rerecording her earlier songs, so she collects the song royalties and $$ from new sales even if the label still owns her original masters, is a move Tony Soprano might envy, but in a good way. – Jim Bartlett

I forget the nonsensical conspiracy theories behind this that popped up around the time, but I do think Taylor Swift got way too much flack when she was known as a country artist. Her target demographic was established and not quite what mainstream country music was used to at the time as it tried targeting soccer moms through Rascal Flatts and Lonestar (a discussion topic I wasn’t sure how to explore within the piece itself), but no one could deny her songwriting abilities. The one interview I relied on for research from 2009 really opened my eyes as to how self-aware and knowledgeable she was of her place within the genre, and I think the move was simply born out of an honesty to pursue her artistic muse and not lie to country music fans. I must admit, though, that even I think there’s some truth to her departure being linked to the bro-country movement. Hmm. – Zackary Kephart 

I think it was a combination of her songs already veering into that direction, her losing her stronghold on the country music community with the rise of bro-country, and just the fact that her audience was growing with her and that audience was always one footstep out the country music door. As much as I didn’t care for Swift then (mainly because she won all the awards and her audience was very stan-like), I appreciate her ability to say “Country music isn’t what I am anymore. I’m moving to pop.” – Marty Kurtz

Taylor Swift was always pop. She just seemed to use country music as a stepping stool to finally break into the mainstream of pop. Her being played on country radio was the reason why I absolutely couldn’t stand her the first half or so of her career. She broke out around the time that country started full force into a more pop sound. – Julian Spivey

In the end, pop music is still the most popular music worldwide (hence the name). She wanted to be the most popular artist, like most commercial artists do. Country-pop crossover works the best in the United States, but not other countries. – Sunny Lee


9.) The most popular defining trends of mainstream country music in the 1990s were the arrival of “hat acts” and a general tug-and-war between traditionalism and popification. The 2000s was defined mainly by that same tug-of-war. The 2010s were defined by bro-country and boyfriend country music. Do you think there are other sounds or lyrical clusters that could describe a certain sector of music from the 1990s, 2000s, or 2010s? If so, what you would call them?

I guess an obvious one is the popularity of island-themed country songs – Kenny Chesney being the obvious example, but also Alan Jackson and the Zac Brown Band, too. It probably would’ve raised some eyebrows in the ’80s if you suggested that Jimmy Buffett was gonna be a major mainstream influence on mainstream country music, but it happened. – Leo Kelly 

Jimmy Buffett
It probably would’ve raised some eyebrows in the ’80s if you suggested that Jimmy Buffett was gonna be a major mainstream influence on mainstream country music, but it happened. – Leo Kelly

Well, mainly thinking of the 2010s, with the critical acclaim for albums from Holly Williams, Ashley Monroe, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell, etc., I tend to refer to those artists as more underground country acts. I know some are listed under Americana, but Americana is a fairly wide genre, with country mixed in with roots, bluegrass, and rock, among other sounds. Therefore, I tend to call acts that aren’t a part of mainstream or radio, “underground”. Granted, it’s not the best term. – Liz Austin 

I probably didn’t listen to enough “old” country music to give detailed answers, but I feel there is a rise of adult contemporary influenced ballads in country music in the late 1990s to early 2000s, popularized by Faith Hill. It’s the most basic genre out there which focuses too much on vocals to sell. The generic love themes and lyricisms don’t help it, either.

I also remember there is this bluegrass-influenced pop country that comes from Mumford & Sons? You know, the sound of banjos clashing with electronic beats. A more recent artist that uses this a lot is High Valley, to various results. Maybe Wake Me Up by Avicii brings this style to prosperity? – Sunny Lee


10.) Circling back to the present day, which acts personally give you hope for country music’s future in the 2020s? Objectively speaking, who do you believe will “explode,” so to say, in the decade? 

The ones that give me hope for the future: Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, Sunny Sweeney, Hailey Whitters, Runaway June, Charles Wesley Godwin, and Jon Pardi. 

I think Hailey Whitters is primed to hit this decade – there’s a lot of artists behind her, she’s certainly paid her dues, and she’s a great artist. – Liz Austin

I think Hailey Whitters is primed to hit this decade – there’s a lot of artists behind her, she’s certainly paid her dues, and she’s a great artist. Carly Pearce seems just about ready to hit it big, she has that mainstream appeal and just put out a solid record. Mickey Guyton is also someone I think is about to hit the big time, though I have to say, and this is not meant to sound cynical or critical, but I think the greatest force behind her currently is the fact that she’s been super outspoken about social justice and country is grasping for someone to hold up and say “hey, we’re with the times”. With that said, Guyton has a great voice and will be a positive addition to the genre’s big leagues, and it’s high time. I just wish it was all based on her talent. I also wouldn’t count out Ashley McBryde – she’s primed to take that “Miranda Lambert” role once radio and awards are through with Lambert herself. 

Luke Combs is already hitting his stride, though I don’t see the hype around him (he’s alright). I think Jon Pardi is also primed to take a step up in the ranks. – Liz Austin 

Tyler Childers gives me hope that artists will be able to make traditional country music without straying and still be able to make gold records. The recent success of Carly Pearce has given me hope for a more organic sound in the mainstream, as well as hope for the fact that more women might be able to have success at radio without going pop. Realistically, I think we can expect to see more artists breaking out through streaming playlists and through TikTok. Kane Brown will continue to be one of the biggest mainstream artists. – Megan Bledsoe 

I’d like to say Mickey Guyton, but I have no faith in mainstream country radio’s willingness to make that happen. I read recently that her latest record has been sent to AC radio, and that’s a wise move. – Jim Bartlett

It’s so hard to say – I could see someone like Tyler Childers becoming more successful, but I can’t imagine him becoming a “mainstream” star. To be honest, there’s not a lot of mainstream starts right now that I think are genuinely exciting, especially not younger ones. Who knows what might happen. It would be kind of interesting to see what happens if someone like Parker McCollum became a huge star. That seems like a possibility. – Leo Kelly 

Brent Cobb
I truly believe Brent Cobb hasn’t gotten his due. The man is so talented. – Bryce Ahaus

I truly believe Brent Cobb hasn’t gotten his due. The man is so talented. Cole Chaney, too. I sense a lot of Evan Felker/Turnpike Troubadours influence iin the John Teague/Teague Brothers Band. Others: 49 Winchester, Vincent Neil Emerson, Alex Williams, and everyone’s favorite Twitter follow, South Texas Tweek. The man just makes sweet music. – Bryce Ahaus 

Luke Combs, Midland, Jon Pardi, Jesse Daniel (think old school Bakersfield dropped into present day), Tenille Townes, and Brothers Osborne – Joe Kraus 

This is tough. There’s just so many B-list male artists (Brett Young, Dustin Lynch, Jordan Davis, Chris Lane, Travis Denning, etc.) I just don’t see breaking out of the pack. Their singles take more than a year to climb the charts, they can’t seem to get out of the opening act slot on major tours, and they can’t gain any real sustainable momentum. They certainty haven’t seen the rabid popularity of Luke Combs or Morgan Wallen. 

That being said, I think Carly Pearce is on to something potentially huge. She’s a darling of the Grand Ole Opry, 29 received a lot of buzz and critical acclaim, and momentum seems to be on her side. I just really wish “Next Girl” was performing as well on country radio as “I Hope You’re Happy Now.” The inconsistency worries me. Hopefully it can start to gain traction. In my eyes she is poised to be the next big thing.   

I would keep an eye out for Jon Pardi. I so want him to be the future. I think he can get there, although I wish Heartache Meditation was performing as well as California Sunrise did. I hope radio and the award shows continue to embrace him moving forward and give him visibility. 

Mickey Guyton is one to watch, too. I’m very curious to hear her full debut album when it drops this summer. I thought Bridges had some really solid songs on it. – Jon Pappalardo

Mickey Guyton
Both Mickey Guyton and Carly Pearce show up frequently in this section as names to watch in the 2020s.

There are a lot of established names that have been making great music and show no signs of slowing down that give me hope, like Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Cody Jinks, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson and many more. But those are names everybody knows already and many expect to continue to deliver great music. So let’s address some newer and lesser-known artists that gleam with potential and who give me hope for country music in the 2020s. 

Dee White really impressed me with his debut album, Southern Gentleman, in 2019, as his voice sounds familiar to country years of past, yet distinctly different, too. While he’s gained some critical acclaim already, I really look forward to new music from Sam Outlaw. His softer approach to country music makes him stand out, and it feels like country lately is moving into a softer direction, so he could get bigger. Daniel Donato delivered a really impressive debut album in 2020 and in my opinion the best take on psychedelic country since Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. There are very few – if any – other acts in country at the moment who appear to seamlessly blend the country sound with The Grateful Dead. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Mike and the Moonpies. While their first couple projects were your standard Texas country music, they really surprised me with 2019’s Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold, which proved this band was way more than a one-trick pony. They proved this further with their Gary Stewart lost songs album in 2020. Combine this with their relentless touring schedule, and it wouldn’t shock me if this group blows up in the next decade. 

Mike and the Moonpies
If there is ever a part seven to this series, Mike and the Moonpies will be one of the first acts mentioned. “With their relentless touring schedule, it wouldn’t shock me if this group blows up in the next decade.” – Josh Schott

As far as more established artists, Tyler Childers is crushing streaming and his star only continues to grow, so he could really explode if the next album is the right one at the right time. Even if he doesn’t explode, I feel like he’ll be one of the biggest stars of the genre in the 2020s. Ashley McBryde has slowly but surely been making her own climb, and her music is only going to get better, so it wouldn’t surprise me if she becomes a star similar to the paths Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church have taken. It feels like Brett Eldredge has hit the restart button on his music with Sunday Drive, and if he sticks with this direction I think he’ll slowly establish himself as one of the best of the mainstream and one that can be counted on as a beacon of quality music. – Josh Schott 

I think my love for Miranda Lambert and Eric Church is very known with my previous answer here, but I think those two still have at least one more good decade in the mainstream before being on the back half of their career. I think as far as others in the genre go … Jon Pardi and Ashley McBryde are the two that I desperately hope reach the next level of success (to arena touring). Pardi, if he continues picking great, traditional songs to record, could become the next George Strait. Nobody will ever have that level of commercial success, but if there’s anybody that can step into that sound, it’s him. For McBryde, there’s really no comparison to what she could become, but damn it. Her music is too good to not push forward.

Luke Combs is another obvious one, but I worry about his career. He can go the Garth Brooks route or the Eric Church route. He’s at a crossroads with his third album, and that’ll be telling of where he goes.

I would also say that I’m a really, really big fan of Jake Owen. I think he’s as solid as they come and that his ceiling is about as good as anybody else out there. He’s got a good voice, picks great songs, and can even write a few good ones. Might fill that Tim McGraw/Kenny Chesney wheelhouse. – Marty Kurtz

Jake Owen
Jake Owen – He’s got a good voice, picks great songs, and can even write a few good ones. – Marty Kurtz

I don’t think what I like to call country music is ever going to see a resurgence when it comes to the mainstream – the charts, radio, CMAs, etc. There are a lot of artists making great music (and some of these do get songs on country radio, win awards, play arenas, but the sound isn’t really infiltrating the genre). Jason Isbell is going to go down as a legend, but will he ever play arenas or lead to a change? No. He’s going to do what John Prine did. He’ll be better than most, but leave the majority of Americans saying, “Who?” – Julian Spivey

Ashley McBryde is the hopeful newbie from the last five years. She can write some powerful choruses, sometimes with social commentaries like Jason Isbell, and with grittiness like Miranda Lambert. Moreover, she is the strongest vocalist in terms of sheer power but also emotionally, and of course, she can handle Jay Joyce’s production well.

I don’t think Morgan Wallen is going away soon even after the accident. After all, the accident only weakens his competition from Luke Combs in terms of radio success, but he has much higher streams than Combs right now. I’d imagine country trap will not go away easily and I can see Wallen’s trend-chasing efforts be played on pop radio, unlike some artists like Thomas Rhett or Lee Brice.

Lastly, I don’t see any Tyler Childers’ songs getting mainstream country airplay, but I am pretty sure he will build his career through streaming and tours. Maybe he will be too big for Music Row to ignore? The more Music Row loses its centralized power from, the better it is for indie music fans. For a slightly smaller scale, Emily Scott Robinson, Ian Noe and Charley Crockett might enjoy much more attention when their next album comes, judging from RateYourMusic’s rating numbers. – Sunny Lee


READ: The Opinions Section (Part Three – Final)

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