Nashville is the center of the country music scene. So, there isn’t a city on the planet that’s enjoying the industry’s recent success more than Music City. It’s 2022 and country is more popular than ever, something the most ardent fan couldn’t have predicted in 2013 when the genre was in the doldrums.
2020 and 2021 were particularly fruitful years for country. For example, streams skyrocketed by 16% in 2020, while overall music streams plateaued at 3%. During this period, Morgan Wallen’s second LP reached 240 million streams in its first week. Jay-Z and Beyonce would be proud of those numbers. The question is, why is country music benefitting from a renaissance now?
An Eclectic Genre
Rewind to the 1990s and early 2000s, and nothing about the country music scene would suggest it was diverse with Willie Nelson and co dominated the airwaves with classic editions of songs everyone had heard before. But, because of this, the demand for originality grew like a weed, with artists and listeners dying for something different than the status quo.
Step forward independent outlaws such as Tyler Childers, who is a far cry from the likes of Hardy and Luke Bryan, men that represent the old ways. The country sound is at the heart of his music, yet it’s mixed with folk and bluegrass, not to mention almost chilling vocals. Then there’s the honky-tonk music of Jon Pardi, the pop-country of Kane Brown, and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”.
In this hot pot of sounds, there are representatives from a range of places and cultures, from the capital of country that is Nashville to RnB and hip-hop (Lil Nas X). It isn’t surprising, then, that country was reported to be the third-most listened to genre in the US in 2018 with 50% of people consuming it. Impressively, Rock and Pop, the top two genres, were only 6% points ahead. Considering the improvement in diversity within the country scene in the last four years, it’s reasonable to suggest the figures have moved in the industry’s favor.
Engagement on Digital Platforms
The fact that listeners didn’t engage on digital platforms as much as other music fans never helped country music. While TikTok and YouTube helped to enhance the base of other niches, such as Latin music, the genre’s older base continued to consume via old-fashioned mediums like radio stations. Of course, the evolving demographics of the country music scene mean this is changing. Consider Gabby Barrett for a second. Before 2020, no one knew who she was, Suddenly, “I Hope” broke and she was a star within country music circles. However, her notoriety also permeated popular culture thanks to the make-up of her supporters. Today, she has over 800,000 Instagram followers as a result.
Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen have 4 million and 3.2 million, respectively, causing the music to take center stage in American society. A prime example is Carrie Underwood’s “Game On”, which is now the theme tune for the NFL’s Sunday Night Football. Wallen, meanwhile, hosted Saturday Night Live, a rite of passage in the US. This only builds on country music’s historic role within American pop culture, such as through gambling. For decades, artists have written song after song about wagering, “The Gambler” and “A Good Run of Bad Luck” to “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.”
Plus, the popularity of betting in the US since online operators became more accessible isn’t a bad thing, especially as advancements in tech raise awareness of country music. For example, live dealer casinos enable people to visit an establishment and play for real money from home as live dealer services online bring the action directly to you. This isn’t something just limited to the US either as live casinos have risen in popularity titles across Europe and the Middle East, as well as elsewhere due to the unique experience they offer. Consumers can take advantage of promotions for local options and expect a range of different titles due to the demand for these types of games. As well as safety and security, the experience focuses on the immersion of a brick-and-mortar casino, something live casino offerings do regardless of the location as punters can interact with dealers and fellow players. Music is another essential feature because it imitates the sounds found in land-based establishments, and when you’re in Tennessee, you’re bound to hear country music while gambling!
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Increased opportunities on mainstream channels can’t be ignored. Gabby Barrett, for example, is a graduate of American Idol, a show normally reserved for future pop stars looking to take over the charts. In 2018, however, Barrett garnered enough support to make a name for herself after the fact, with the awareness finally resulting in a record deal with Warner Music Nashville. The same thing happened to Hillary Scott and Colton Swon, so American Idol is one reason country music has caught up to its peers.
Another is the seamless mix between genres that has now become the formula for success. Barrett herself was massively helped by a remix of “I Hope” featuring Charlie Puth. Kane Brown’s “Be Like That” is a huge success thanks to performances from rapper Swae Lee and singer Khalid.
It isn’t a new strategy – Nelly and Tim McGraw combined in 2009 to great effect – yet it appears the timing is perfect for the songs to pierce the veneer of popular culture, a veneer that was once reserved for non-country music artists.
Whether the popularity continues is another matter. As country music connoisseurs, and self-respecting Nashvillians, we’ll enjoy the rollercoaster ride until the end.