The genre known for three chords and the truth reached new heights of authenticity and storytelling in 2021. After a year of doubt, confusion and isolation in 2020, many country artists are back on the road and their careers with a rejuvenated passion, unleashing some of their most ambitious projects to date.
Popular ways to find success have emerged, with several artists – both established and up-and-coming – unlocking whole new fan bases through social media. The result? Some unlikely successes have climbed to the top of the country radio charts, artists have been able to release more music than ever before, and unprecedented cross-genre collaborations have sprung from midlife connections.
Read on to learn about some of the trends, both musical and cultural, that dominated country music in 2021.
Double and triple albums
During their downtime caused by the pandemic, many artists discovered that the only thing they could do was write songs. By 2021, the plethora of music created during those sessions was recorded and ready to stream, resulting in longer tracklists and beefier projects.
One of these pioneers was Eric Church, who released a whopping 24 tracks Heart soul album spread over three discs. Morgan Wallen has dropped his 30 tracks – or 33 tracks, if you count Target’s exclusive and bonus editions – Dangerous: the double album in January. The latter made history, becoming the first country album to spend his first 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 all genres; it also spent 43 weeks in the top 10 of the chart, more than any other album in 2021. (Amid the album’s success, Wallen sparked a major controversy when a video surfaced of the singer using a racial slur. He apologized and pretended to donate to black-led groups, but was close quickly country radio and streaming services, as well as several events and awards shows.)
Thomas rhett also created several music albums in 2021. He released Country again: side A in April, announcement in november this Side B will arrive in the fall of 2022 after another one album, titled Where we started, which the star has revealed will be released “in early 2022”.
Success Stories Years in the Making
Longtime B-Listers finally got their country radio ownership in 2021, due to ever-increasing opportunities for artists to create popular social media hits. Walker Hayes’ ubiquitous “Fancy Like” has gone viral on TikTok (notably thanks to a infatuation with family dancing) and went on to become a # 1 hit on Billboard’s Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts. The song gave the singer – who moved to Nashville in 2005 – his first crossover hit, hitting pop radio and climbing to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Parmalee also took country radio by surprise this year. The group hasn’t been number 1 since 2013, and their two most recent singles have fizzled out without ever making it to the charts. But “Just the Way,” an unlikely team with “The Git Up” star Blanco Brown, saw them return to number one.
Another success story came from Lainey Wilson, another Nashville veteran who got his big chance with the insightful hit “Things a Man Oughta Know”. The song became his first No.1 on country radio after almost 10 years of releasing music. His latest single, a collaboration with chart top resident Cole Swindell titled “Never Say Never”, is currently climbing the charts.
Classic hits have found new life on TikTok
While TikTok was instrumental in creating new hits like “Fancy Like” in 2021, he was also responsible for revitalizing a few old ones. Reba McEntireThe 2001 hit, “I’m a Survivor” went viral thanks to a parody trend from TikTok, with users tuning the song to video footage of themselves doing their daily chores in a melodramatic fashion. McEntire herself had fun, post a clip of his attempt to feed a pair of ungrateful donkeys.
Shania twain has also reached a whole new audience with its presence on TikTok. She posts clips of iconic selections from her discography, along with her hilarious comments on fries, glimpses of her Las Vegas residency and the occasional trend compromise with Taylor Swift.
Career-defining divorce albums
Breakups aren’t exactly a new topic for country, but some country artists have had some very public heartbreaks over the past couple of years. Carly Pearce separated from fellow artist Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage, and Kacey musgraves broke up with her husband for two years, singer-songwriter Ruston kelly.
But rather than go through these difficult times in private, Pearce and Musgraves turned their grief into gold, with each singer releasing their most revealing, personal and elaborate record to date. Pearce relied heavily on his peasant roots to make 29: written in stone, while Musgraves expertly defied the boundaries of the genre to break out damn, a project so vulnerable that she performed one of her songs on Saturday Night Live wearing nothing but a strategically placed acoustic guitar.
Black Country Stars got drilled
After the country world said goodbye to the legendary Charley Pride in December 2020, his avant-garde legacy continued into 2021. Black country stars have made waves in several ways this year, winning awards, launching businesses, making statements on stage and singing. .
Hitmakers Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen – of whom the latter is the only country artist to win the Best New Artist award at the GRAMMYS 2022 – made history with their victories at the ACM Awards (Brown was the first black artist to win Video of the Year; Allen was the first black solo artist to win New Male Artist of the Year). Both also started their own businesses in 2021: Brown started his own label, 1021 Entertainment (in partnership with his house label, Sony Music Nashville), and Allen started both a publishing company, Bettie James Music Publishing. , and a service and production management company, JAB Entertainment.
Mickey guyton, who first gained attention outside the genre for her GRAMMY-nominated single “Black Like Me” last year, has gone on to make an impact with her powerful album, Remember his name. The album features several vignettes of her experience as a black woman, including a bouncy hymn “Different” and a poignant ballad “Love My Hair”. She delivered a moving performance of the latter track at the 2021 CMA Awards alongside rising stars Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, two of many promising black voices in the genre, which also includes Yola, Breland, Willie Jones, and Shy Carter, among others.
Artists have lived their truth
Amid the challenges that country music has faced this year, there have also been moments of personal authenticity and joy. Osborne BrothersTJ Osborne came out as gay in a Time feature film, and the sibling duo went on to release “Younger Me,” a compassionate and timely ode to the obstacles they overcame to become who they are today.
Osborne was one of two country groups signed to a major label to go gay: the other was Brooke Eden, who came out in January, and later that year got engaged to partner Hilary Hoover. She released the first new songs she had released in years, and in a performance of Grand Ole Opry, she and Trisha Bois of the Year as a duet on the Yearwood classic “She’s in Love With the Boy”, changing the lyrics to “She’s in love with the girl”.
Eden and Osborne are part of a very small – but growing – list of major publicly gay country music players, also including a successful songwriter. Shane McAnally and american star Brandi carlile.
Dolly Parton retained her reign as Queen of the Country
Dolly parton was a major bright spot in the gloomy year of 2020. Not only did she cheer up with the release of her third Christmas album, A Christmas Holly Dolly, but she also donated $ 1 million to fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s hard to top that, but this year Parton has continued to be trending for his uplifting acts of kindness and legendary musical feats. She sent social media into a frenzy when she celebrated “hot girls summer” – and the birthday of her 57-year-old husband, Carl Dean – by recreating the iconic outfit she wore for her Playboy resumed in 1978. She also first performed a duet with Reba McEntire, landed on Forbes’ list of richest self-taught women, and capped 2021 by setting two new Guinness World Records (and breaking a third which she already held) for her longtime accomplishments in the charts.
Complete albums of collaborations
What’s better than a duo? An album full of them, apparently. Collaborations were hot in country music in 2021, but many artists took it a step further by completing full projects featuring a group of duo partners.
The Hardy-preserved Hixtape Vol. 2 dug deep into the country lifestyle and party songs, courtesy of some of the biggest names from all over the genre. Brantley Gilbert, Osborne Brothers, Jon Pardi, Dierks Bentley and Jake owen These are just a few of the artists who have lent their voices to the songlist, which includes a total of 33 guest artists across 14 songs.
While the Hixtape went ultra-country, other duet albums spanned all genres. Rapper nelly turn off his Heartland project, featuring Darius rucker, Brélande and Florida Georgia Line. Jimmie Allen went even further for his Bettie James Gold Edition, which featured everyone from the rapper Pit bull to R & B / soul singer Monique and pop star Noah Cyrus.
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