Country Universe writer and founder of The Musical Divide Zack Kephart completes his deep dive into the history of Modern Country Music, with the sixth part taking us through 2019:
By 2016, mainstream country music found itself in a post-bro-country world and once again directionless. The artists who rose to prominence in country music’s A-list remained fine: Florida Georgia Line pivoted towards something of an unexpected soulful Christian sound with “H.O.L.Y.” (an amalgamation of “high on loving you”) and teamed up with Tim McGraw for “May We All,” which, still true to the duo’s style, referenced both country and hip-hop influences in Travis Tritt and Tupac Shakur; Jason Aldean returned to the loud, rocking sound he broke through with a decade earlier on “Lights Come On,” after a foray in R&B through 2014’s “Burnin’ it Down”; and Luke Bryan returned to emphasizing his country roots on a more personal, distinctive level with hits like “Huntin,’ Fishin,’ and Lovin’ Every Day.”
None of the artists mentioned, though, would top their former success, and even newer artists associated with them that adopted the same bro-ish formula – Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, and Tyler Farr, for a few examples – wouldn’t find much further success outside of that label. Acts who chose to distance themselves from the trend – like Brett Eldredge or Randy Houser – would later find career rebirths through personal passion projects – 2020’s Sunday Drive, for Eldredge, and 2019’s Magnolia, for Houser – despite not quite attaining the commercial success to match it. As far as a defining trend or sound was concerned, the mainstream was scattershot. Country music’s current and rising A and B-list acts, then, would find success through their own means.