Lainey Wilson: Photos From the Billboard Cover Shoot

When Lainey Wilson played ­Australia for the first time in March, she made sure to meet the country’s animal ambassadors: She held a koala; she pet a kangaroo. But it wasn’t all furry fun. “I got crapped on by a bird twice,” Wilson says in her thick Louisiana drawl, shaking her head in bemused disbelief. “In the exact same spot. I heard it was good fortune, so I was like, ‘Go ahead. Do what you got to do, bird.’”

But if there’s anyone who doesn’t need luck, it’s Wilson. With a perseverance and grit that’s reflected in her music, the ascendant 31-year-old country star has made her own. After she moved to Nashville in 2011, Wilson endured a decade of disheartening struggles — including seven American Idol rejections. But over the past two-and-a-half years, she has broken records and reached new milestones at a staggering pace — all without compromising her traditional country sound.

When “Save Me,” her urgent duet with Jelly Roll, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in December, only six weeks had passed since her solo hit, the coming-of-age tale “Watermelon Moonshine,” had summited the list — the shortest stint between No. 1s for a female artist in the chart’s 34-year history. “Watermelon Moonshine” appeared on Wilson’s most recent album, 2022’s Bell Bottom Country (Broken Bow Records/BMG), which took home both the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and Country Music Association Awards for album of the year, as well as the Grammy for best country album — only the ninth record ever to complete that trifecta. And at November’s CMA Awards, Wilson became the first woman to win entertainer of the year since Taylor Swift in 2011 and the first artist since Garth Brooks in 1991 to win best new artist one year and entertainer of the year the next.

Read the full Billboard cover story here.  

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