The popularity of country music is an interesting thing. On one hand, it is one of the most popular genres in the United States. A few years back, a poll showed that nearly half of the people in the nation considered themselves country fans. On the other hand, country music often gets overlooked by music publications that don’t keep their finger on the pulse of the scene. This is especially true for artists who don’t fit into the pop crossover box. Recently, Billboard released a list of its staff’s picks for the 50 best albums of 2022 so far and ten percent of those albums were from country and roots artists.
Billboard Highlights Country Albums
The Billboard list contained some unmistakably country-sounding albums. For instance, Miranda Lambert’s Palomino made the list which isn’t much of a surprise. Miranda is one of the most successful artists in the genre right now. She’s an award-winning, hit-making, arena-packing, damn-good-song-writing star. Additionally, Bonnie Raitt’s newest album Just Like That… made the list. Raitt isn’t exactly a country singer. She is, however, one of the most lauded roots music performers still working today.
However, the Billboard staff didn’t just highlight albums from roots legends and country stars. They also dove into some lesser-known acts and rising stars in the genre. For instance, they highlighted Randall King’s debut studio album Shot Glass. King’s Texas country sound was a hit among genre fans and it’s great to see it reaching a more mainstream audience.
Straying a little further from traditional country, the Billboard list also included the newest releases from Orville Peck and Maren Morris. Peck’s Bronco blends vintage and indie rock with some country themes to create a sound that brings in a wide variety of ears. Morris’ Humble Quest is a pop-country album that has a few tracks like “Hummingbird” “Circles Around This Town” and “What Would This World Do?” which make a case for Morris as a dyed-in-the-wool country singer.
A Shift Is Happening in Country Music
Sure, they missed some releases that we would’ve had on our list. American Heartbreak, for one, is conspicuously absent. However, to see this many country and roots albums on the Billboard best-of list is refreshing. That’s especially true when you look at the rest of the artists on the list. With artists like Gunna, Future, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, and Avril Lavigne filling out the rest of the list, it reads like a who’s who of hip hop, indie rock, and pop.
However, I’d like to take a minute to look at the presence of Shot Glass on this list and what that could mean for country music moving forward. After nearly a decade of “bro-country” laden with style-over-substance lyrics, drum machines, and overtly pop or hip hop arrangements, we’re seeing a resurgence of traditional-sounding country music like Randall King’s release.
Obviously, traditional country-leaning artists like Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, and Sturgill Simpson have been big hits with genre fans for years. Additionally, legacy artists like Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, George Strait, and Alan Jackson have had massive fanbases for decades. More recently, though, we’re seeing a crop of younger artists such as Randall King, Carly Pearce, and Luke Combs lean into traditional country and garner mainstream success. Then, there are up-and-comers like Joshua Hedley, Mike & The Moonpies, and Jason Boland & The Stragglers who are releasing traditional country albums and finding success in the independent market.
At the same time, 90s greats like Clint Black, and Brooks & Dunn are seeing a resurgence in popularity with a younger audience.
All of these things seem to point to a shift coming in the genre. Up-and-comers, current stars, and veteran performers alike are drawing inspiration from the traditions on which country music is built. That connection to the past could make for a bright future for country music as a whole.