Music

From Beyoncé to Post Malone, Why Is Everyone Going Country?

Bolstered by acts like Morgan Wallen, Zach Bryan and Luke Combs, country music in 2023 experienced its biggest growth spurt in more than 30 years — way back when Garth Brooks soared to superstardom. Already, this year seems on track to continue that explosion, as country stars and pop icons alike are capitalizing on the genre’s recent boom.

In February, Beyoncé became the first Black woman to top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart with her galloping hit, “Texas Hold ’Em,” from her upcoming Act II, expected to be a full-on country album, out March 29. Post Malone has teased a duet with Combs on social media and written with other genre stars including Wallen and HARDY for his upcoming country album. And Lana Del Rey — who declared that her fall album, Lasso, will be a country set — recently posted a snippet of a song that she worked on with noted Nashville songwriter-producer Luke Laird.

CMT senior vp of music strategy and talent Leslie Fram views the influx as a sign of “overwhelming respect for the storytelling and the songwriting in Nashville,” but predicts that noncountry artists taking up slots at terrestrial country radio “is going to be a major topic of conversation … If [a core country artist] has spent 30 to 50 weeks trying to climb up a chart and, all of a sudden, they’re replaced by someone who is not in the genre, I do believe there will be concerns.”

However, Simon Tikhman, co-founder of The Core Entertainment, which manages Nickelback and country upstarts Bailey Zimmerman and Nate Smith, sees the possible radio displacement as a good sign overall. “We were on a call with Nate’s Sony team talking about adds at radio, and No. 1 was Beyoncé and No. 2 was Nate,” he says, adding that The Core Entertainment co-founder Kevin “Chief” Zaruk “and I were like, ‘This is amazing that she sees what’s going on over here.’ She’s as brilliant as a performer gets, and she wants to be part of this. It just goes to show how powerful the genre is right now.”

As Alan Jackson famously sang in his 1994 hit, “Gone Country,” for decades, any artist who released such music but who hadn’t moved to Nashville or put in the time building a country audience and courting country radio was considered a carpetbagger. But now, many insiders see it as a sign that borders between genres have fallen and that country’s recent surge in popularity has made it extremely appealing to artists who have fallen in love with the music, too.

And unlike in the past, when artists might explore country only as their pop career dwindled, today’s infiltration and interest are coming from names at the peak of their pop prowess. “It isn’t like the heritage artists before that wanted to do a country record. These are artists at the top of their game,” Fram says. Olivia Rodrigo attended Megan Moroney’s Los Angeles show last year and posted photos backstage together. And in November, Post Malone made his debut performance at the Country Music Association Awards.

Plus, fandom aside, it’s smart business. “The pop labels are seeing the success of a Morgan Wallen,” Sony Nashville chairman/CEO Randy Goodman says of the country superstar, whose smash “Last Night” and album One Thing at a Time logged the most weeks of any song or album on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 last year, respectively. He adds: “The biggest female artist in the world is Taylor [Swift], who started in country. I don’t think that’s lost on any of the labels.”

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Range Media Partners co-founder Matt Graham, whose company manages Jack Harlow, Midland and Saweetie, believes the pop transplants could help expand country’s global audience. “It’s good for making the genre international,” he says, noting that acts like Wallen and Combs have already helped country grow worldwide. “This has the potential to blow that wide open.” He predicts streaming numbers for country artists, which were already up nearly 24% year over year in 2023 domestically, according to Luminate, will “drastically” increase this year and beyond.

And the genre-flipping isn’t just flowing one way: Country artists are finding success in other formats, too. Combs had a massive crossover hit with his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” and Wallen topped Billboard’s year-end Streaming Songs Artists chart, the first time a country act had achieved the feat. Meanwhile, Jelly Roll and HARDY — both of whom are considered primarily country artists — reached No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock and Hard Rock charts, respectively.

Like 21-year-old Rodrigo, younger music listeners don’t “put music in a box,” Zaruk says, noting Zimmerman’s November duet with the Jonas Brothers. “For years, country fans didn’t really listen to hip-hop and rap and rap fans were not listening to country,” he continues. “We’re genreless now.”

This story will appear in the March 9, 2024, issue of Billboard.

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