What an interesting year it’s been for Country music in 2022. Here we re-cap some of what we think have been the biggest stories of the year for the genre and the artists involved in it.
Country Music Culture Wars
Social media platforms, most notably Twitter, have been a battleground between certain factions and people in Country music this year, reflecting the divisive nature of America itself, right now. The south is a hotbed of tension politically as it divides between the liberal urban / city dwellers and the more rural conservative voters. Maren Morris and the more progressive, liberal sections of Twitter that include writers like Lorie Liebig & Marissa Moss and broadcasters like Hunter Kelly have found themselves continually at loggerheads with artists like Jason Aldean and his wife Brittany over a number of issues this year.
John Rich, meanwhile, has found himself the natural inheritor of the Trumpian Christian right and rarely a week goes by without him being involved in some sort of spat with artists like Margo Price and other such progressive thinkers. It’s a mess but what’s worse? Artists standing up for the issues they believe in or staying deathly quiet for fear of alienating their fan base? Just like most things in life, there’s no right or wrong answer. Shades of grey and nuance is required but social media wasn’t made for that, was it?
The Passing of Loretta Lynn and Naomi Judd
Each year brings the loss of talent to the Country genre but 2022 was a particularly hard year with both the deaths of Loretta Lynn and Naomi Judd. Naomi was just about to embark on a tour with her daughter, Wynonna which did still go ahead, but as a tribute with artists like Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde guesting in certain cities. It was a privilege to be in the Nissan stadium in June for CMAFest to watch Carly and Wynonna sing ‘Why Not Me’ to the tens of thousands of fans.
Loretta Lynn, meanwhile, died in her sleep in October at the ripe old age of 90. Over the course of her distinguished career she recorded over 60 albums, topping the charts 16 times and winning 3 Grammy’s along the way too.
Nashville also lost Jerry Lee Lewis and Leslie Jordan this year too.
Kelsea Ballerini and Morgan Evans Get Divorced
No-one saw this one coming, not even Morgan if you listen carefully to his new song ‘Over For You’. Neither artist has gone public with their sides of the story yet and we’re not sure if they will. They seemed happy on their social media accounts but no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. It puts the title of Kelsea’s new album, ‘Subject to Change’ into greater context. Both artists are due in the UK in the first quarter of 2023 so we’ll see how they tackle the change in their music and from the stage.
Ticketmaster Continue to Let Fans Down
The Ticketmaster situation isn’t something limited or exclusive to Country music fans but it continues to be a huge issue. Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen both suffered from Ticketmaster’s inability to sell tickets properly whilst their surge pricing policy saw Bruce Springsteen tickets selling for inordinate amounts of money as they seem to think that huge price hikes for popular events deter bots and scalpers when, in effect, it does nothing but price your ordinary concert go-er out of the reckoning. Nothing will change until the UK and American governments begin to legislate against this nefarious company.
Garth Books Came to Ireland
A 25 year wait was brought to an end for European fans of the G.O.A.T. of Country music, Garth Brooks, as he ended the stadium part of his career with five sold out shows at Croke Park in Dublin. We, alongside tens of thousands of other European Garth fans, flew over from England on a series of flights full of cowboy hats and plaid shirts as the staff of airlines like BA and Aer Lingus wondered what was going on for two consecutive weekends in September. Temple Bar was awash with Guinness drinking Country fans and the merch sold in its millions. A great time was had by all.
Live music is Back With a Vengeance
After a nigh-on two year break due to the pandemic, live shows and tours came back with a bang. Every single artist announced tours and whilst Covid was still a factor that haunted artists and organisations to begin with (Chris Young pulled out of his headline slot at The Long Road festival in the UK at 48 hours notice), as we sit here at the end of the year, it is beginning to feel like something that is now part of a dim, distant and difficult past. Nashville was able to host it’s first CMAFest in two years last June and many festivals came roaring back to life too.
Schedules are looking healthy for 2023 too, with huge tours winding their way through the American markets of the south and the coasts and it feels like we can just about say that life has returned back to normal in that regard now.
Yellowstone Became Zeitgeist
It took four, maybe even five series but the Paramount TV show, ‘Yellowstone’, starring Kevin Costner seems to have become intrinsically linked with Country music in 2022. The exploits of the Dutton family and their efforts to save their ranch and their way of life in rural Montana is now a part of Country music in the same way that Deacon and Reyna James and Co were in ‘Nashville’.
The addition of Lainey Wilson to the cast helps in that she forms a direct bridge between the genre and the show. Other artists, like Isaac Hoskins, who we spoke to back in November, also flesh out the action on screen with a superb Country music soundtrack.
Diversity Continues to Crow Bar the Gates Open
Aarp.org declared back in June that Country music was the new Rock n Roll. “Experimentation in country music isn’t just a trend anymore, it’s almost a norm,” says Beville Dunkerley, head of country industry and artist relations at SiriusXM and Pandora. “It’s inviting more people to enjoy the genre. It’s not just about pickup trucks, tailgate parties, dogs and divorces.”
2022 has seen a proliferation of sounds and styles being marketed under the broad church umbrella of Country music. You can still hear and feel the hackles being raised by the traditionalists and gatekeepers at times but a wider spectrum of ethnicities, backgrounds and sexuality of artists within the genre is only serving to broaden its appeal and, ultimately, its commercially in the long term.
And let’s not forget, that age old cry of ‘…but it’s not proper Country music’ was levelled at artists from Merle Haggard through to Garth Brooks at one time or another. It’s a moribund accusation as old as the genre itself.
Florida Georgia Line Call it a Day
One of the most successful Country duos of all time went their separate ways this year. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley parted in the summer with all sorts of rumours about why. Hubbard has gone on to have his first solo number one with ‘5ft 9’ whilst Kelley has rebranded himself a ‘beach cowboy’ and is pursuing a solo career of his own. Hubbard appeared on a podcast with Nashville based radio personality Bobby Bones and famously said he wouldn’t even get back together with Kelley for ‘a million dollars’ right now and would maybe see how he felt about it in 5-6 years time. Although he did strenuously deny that the fall out was to do with politics, Trump, the last election and their wives, which is what a lot of the rumours have been based around.
Shay Mooney Loses Over 50 Pounds of Weight
On his social media, Dan + Shay’s Shay Mooney shared a montage of photos and videos documenting his journey, set to their song ‘One Direction.’ Ranging from mirror selfies to home family footage to shots of the singer at work, the clip takes fans through Mooney’s weight loss, ultimately leading to a lifestyle change that the singer says has made his life much happier.
We couldn’t be happier for one of the nicest guys in the genre and as long as the weight loss hasn’t diminished his vocal power (Samson and Delilah, anyone?) we’re thrilled for him if it has made his life happier.