Country Music: 2023 In Review

country music

In 2023, the country music scene experienced the most electrifying year we’ve seen in some time. It featured releases from the oldies, the newbies, the forgotten folk, and of course, the juggernauts. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget just how much music was released this year. As we look back on the journey, 2023 was full of memorable music for both good and bad reasons. Country music finally got a chance to shine as one of the top genres in all of music. Countless records were broken. Oliver Anthony came and went. Morgan Wallen broke the charts. Post Malone even made an appearance. There are new faces representing the format and other artists who are on their way out of the limelight, and that’s just scratching the surface of the crazy year. To attempt to fully break down the fun that occurred, we’re breaking the most notable artists down into a few distinct groups:

The Juggernauts:

The most memorable part of this year was the massive amount of music released by country music’s biggest names. As far as commercial impact goes, no one rivaled Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time. Wallen’s album was one of the most successful records music as a whole has ever seen to date. It was a whopping 36 tracks long and featured some excellent songs as well as some head-scratching misses. The big headline from the collection was the most streamed song of 2023, “Last Night.” It was the Billboard #1 song of the year and spent more time in the number one spot than any other song this calendar year. Wallen also achieved three other #1s from One Thing at a Time. Even on the heels of a massive international stadium tour, he came up short of the prestigious CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year. Morgan Wallen might’ve walked home from the CMAs empty-handed, but a week later, he left the Billboard Awards with a jaw-dropping 11 awards. Wallen walked into 2023 as one of the faces of country music, and he will leave it no different.

Morgan Wallen wasn’t the only big name to release an album in March. Luke Combs came out with a record of his own, entitled Gettin’ Old, as a companion to 2022’s Growin’ Up. His cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” saw all kinds of chart success and won both song and single of the year at the CMAs. However, as far as quality country songs go, that humongous single wasn’t even the standout from this collection. “Where the Wild Things Are” was a storytelling tour de force that answered any questions about Luke running out of new ideas to sing about. The smooth production paired with a chilling story makes it one of the highlight singles of the year. While Gettin’ Old didn’t break as many records, it left just as much of an impact on country music as One Thing at a Time. Combs also headlined a stadium tour of his own around North America featuring Lainey Wilson, Riley Green, and Flatland Cavalry as support. Combs took charge and showed a massive improvement from his lackluster Growin’ Up album. 

Zach Bryan had a historic 2022 to put himself on the map and he showed no signs of slowing down in 2023. Always one to keep his listeners satisfied, he released two projects, his self-titled LP Zach Bryan, and a surprise EP Boys of Faith about a month later. He also released the hit single “Dawns” back in January. It seems like Zach is releasing new music every other day, but when the momentum is this high, why not? Zach Bryan was entirely written and produced by Zach himself, and while that was clear from the rough-around-the-edge production, it all still worked very well. It was the year of collabs for the Okie native as he teamed up with Kacey Musgraves, Sierra Ferrell, The Lumineers, The War and Treaty, Noah Kahan, and Bon Iver across the two collections. His song with Kacey Musgraves “I Remember Everything” was an immediate fan favorite and saw the most success from his new music this year. Bryan fully established himself as one of the biggest names in all of music with one of the most in-demand tours in the country before he even revealed his new album. Since then, Zach has announced his 2024 “Quittin’ Time” stadium tour.

Other “juggernauts” to put out music this year included Chris Stapleton and Cody Johnson. Stapleton put out his first album in three years and to no one’s surprise, it was mind-blowing. From start to finish, Higher was a masterpiece. It was as versatile and well-executed as listeners would’ve expected from Stapleton and then some. Cody Johnson put out his highly anticipated record Leather. It was a step down from Johnson’s work in the past, but it was still quality work. None of the tracks will be among the first CoJo songs that come to mind for fans, but they will make their way on the playlist. 

Prominent Artists:

Of course, some well-known artists aren’t quite on that “juggernaut” level put out music this year as well. Most of these artists took 2023 to prove they aren’t a fluke and they’re here to stay on country music’s biggest stages. 

Megan Moroney found fame seemingly overnight. With one quality release after another, she proved herself as a star and she’s not just a one-hit wonder with “Tennessee Orange.” Her debut album, Lucky was one of the wittiest and most unique projects released all year. It was a huge statement for her as an artist well on her way to being country music’s next leading lady. Lucky has all sorts of emotions and she does her “emo cowgirl” nickname justice.

Charles Wesley Godwin finally enjoyed a well-deserved breakout moment with Family Ties finally making his major-label debut on Big Loud records and proving why he’s been one of the fastest-growing acts to come out of the Appalachian music scene. Indeed, it won’t be long before he is headlining arenas country-wide. Once again, CWG showed so much growth as an artist with a passion for family and storytelling. Godwin will be supporting Luke Combs next year on tour, an extremely valuable launching point for a budding star.

HARDY fully embraced his rock side with his album the mockingbird & the CROW. The album is weirdly beautiful and displays both sides of the artist in a super authentic way. The title track perfectly sums up each side, mixing together the much more calming persona of the mockingbird and the rowdy and crazy side of the CROW. HARDY spent most of 2023 supporting Wallen’s tour but also headlined his own “mockingbird & the CROW” tour. This month, he is back in the studio and should have a huge 2024 in store as well.

New Artists:

2023 was a huge year for new artists, but perhaps no new artist had a bigger year than Wyatt Flores. Flores took charge and had a rapid rise to fame and continues to only look up from here on the strength of just seven songs. His collection of tunes entitled Life Lessons put country music’s newest Oklahoma-born phenom on the fast track to indie country superstardom, now opening for Charles Wesley Godwin. Flores is here and he isn’t going anywhere soon. Sam Barber is another new artist who had a big year; he released his Million Eyes EP after coming out of nowhere with the endlessly catchy “Straight and Narrow” blew up. Barber is also headlining his tour playing small venues. Listeners should get tickets to both these artists in a small venue while they still can.

The Underappreciated:

Since so much happened in the last year, it can be very easy to lose some of the dark horse albums of the year. So many albums were overshadowed by the bigger names and didn’t get the credit they deserved. 

While it doesn’t feel like it happened this year, Parker McCollum released Never Enough. It was a solid album but seems to be one of the most forgotten records of the year. Parker got extremely vulnerable with this LP, but none of the tracks are going to immediately come to mind when we reminisce on the year’s best records. With so many outstanding albums that came out this year, it was one that kind of fell in the background and got forgotten.

Just as people had written off Chase Rice, he put out one of the best albums of the year. I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell was one of the more underappreciated albums due to the busy year and minimal promo. Rice finally drifted away from his bro-country tendencies and re-established himself as an incisive, inspired songwriter. He had a much improved 2023 and will hopefully build on it going into next year.

Muscadine Bloodline’s Teenage Dixie brought them to the next level and showcased their creativity as no record before of theirs had to date. The Muscadine boys have been quietly building an exemplary portfolio of uproariously fun country music that doesn’t make you feel dumb for vibing along; they’re one of those groups that feel right on the cusp of mainstream greatness, and with new music already on the horizon once again, you’ll want to keep your eyes on what they do next.

The Chaos:

Of course, there was all kinds of weirdly great (or not-so-great) music that came completely out of left field as well. Oliver Anthony went to bed one night as a normal person, and woke up with the biggest song in the country “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Just a couple of months later, his hype train had derailed and at least for the time being, his impact as a viral star had just about vanished. Post Malone recorded a cover of Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man” and even confirmed he has a country album of his own on the way. Jason Aldean put out one of the most controversial songs and music videos in recent memory and got a number one out of it. 

But even with all of that chaos, there was a lot to be celebrated. For the first time, three country songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Country music is back to being one of the top genres in music today, and it’s never been more sonically diverse Bro-country legends like Luke Bryan still live on. Mainstream artists are killing it while alternative-style artists like Charles Wesley Godwin are seeing wild success on their own. The opportunity to say HARDY and Zach Bryan are the same genre is something country music fans should not take for granted. Fans should also take a minute to appreciate the amount of great music to come out this year. Getting to have a year this big is rare, and we should all be thankful for it. 

2023 was one for the books!

Here’s to 2024!

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