Ten years ago, hearing Justin Bieber’s voice on a country radio station would not have made much sense to fans of the genre.
But as country and pop music continue to blend, Bieber’s crossover hit “10,000 Hours” with country duo Dan + Shay has now spent six weeks on top of the Billboard.com “Hot Country Songs” chart.
Country music has been evolving for decades. After the arrival of hip-hop artist Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” on country charts this past summer, Bieber’s debut shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Other artists that have blurred the lines between country and pop, including Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt and the up-and-coming group Old Dominion, have found recent success on country radio.
However, a group of “traditionalist” country artists still exists.
You may not hear them on the radio as much as mainstream acts, but their popularity among the country music fandom remains arguably equal to that of today’s pop-fueled country.
Midland, a neo-traditional country group formed in Dripping Spring, Texas, in 2016, has quickly risen to popularity since its debut single “Drinkin’ Problem” was released in 2017.
Band members Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy mix acoustics with a ton of steel guitar, one of country music’s most legendary instruments, to form a sound that channels country legend George Strait’s early music.
Midland won “New Vocal Duo/Group of the Year” at the 2018 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, and was nominated for “New Artist” and “Vocal Group” of the year in both 2018 and 2019 by the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.
“Drinkin’ Problem” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017 for “Best Country Duo/Group Performance.”
The group’s sophomore album “Let It Roll” debuted atop Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” chart upon its release in August 2019. “Fourteen Gears,” “Mr. Lonely” and “Cheatin’ Songs” are some of my personal favorites from the album.
While Midland has continued to channel the spirit of 1980s and '90s traditional country, a faction of modern artists from Kentucky have revived the “outlaw” movement that made legends such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings famous.
Perhaps the most well-known of the modern Kentucky-born singers is Chris Stapleton, who rose to fame after his recording of “Tennessee Whiskey” became a hit in 2015. The song was originally recorded by David Allan Coe in 1981, and then by George Jones in 1983.
Stapleton’s music echoes the sounds of Jennings from the 1970s and 80s, while his raspy voice resembles that of '90s country star Travis Tritt.
Stapleton has won five Grammy Awards, seven ACM awards, 10 CMA Awards and has been nominated for dozens of others.
If you’re a fan of Stapleton, you’ll enjoy the music of Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, two fairly new artists that have gained popularity over the past several years.
Childers’ third album, “Country Squire,” debuted at number one on the Billboard country chart in August 2019.
The Lawrence County, Kentucky native mixes influences of bluegrass and traditional country to form a raw sound that is hard to find in today’s country landscape.
Simpson, who produced each of Childers’ two most recent albums, put his name on the map in 2014 after his sophomore album, titled “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” reached number eight on the Billboard country chart.
Of course, there is a middle ground in the genre, between the sounds of Stapleton and Dan + Shay.
Artists such as Luke Combs, Jon Pardi and Morgan Wallen have become extremely popular within the last three years by mixing modern popular country trends with traditional sounds.
So, don’t fear, country music fans. With the amount of music available for listening in the digital age, there is something, or someone, for everyone.
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