No music genre has evolved more than country music. From its bluegrass origins, country music has been sliced and diced into country pop, the Nashville sound, outlaw country, cowpunk, bro-country, red dirt, alternative country, and something called gothabilly, among other interpretations.
Whatever the iteration, country music is about life’s journeys — love and marriage, getting your first truck, a performer’s religious beliefs, the struggle with substance abuse, or a turbulent childhood. Some country music acts have courted controversy because of their association with the pre-Civil War South. Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks have changed their names to Lady A and the Chicks, respectively, following protests over racial injustice and inequality that erupted after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.
In recognition of this singular American music genre, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the 50 most popular country music stars. We reviewed data from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and Wikipedia to help create our list.
Country music is associated with southern and rural America, and data show the genre remains strong in those parts of the nation. According to a Country Music Association report, 60% of the population in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi listens to country music. However, its appeal is almost as prevalent in western states like Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and Colorado, where 58% of people surveyed are country music fans.
Known as Music City, the hub of country music is Nashville, Tennessee. Aspiring musicians and songwriters come from all over the country (and in singer Keith Urban’s case, from New Zealand) to perform at cafes and bars in the city to get noticed and land a record deal. Their dream is to join the pantheon of great country performers. Here are the country musicians with the most hits.
A recent example of the evolution of country was the unexpected success of the song “Old Town Road” last year. The song paired Atlanta-based rapper Lil Nas X with country singer Billy Ray Cyrus and was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks, at the time the longest period in the chart’s 60-year history. The quirky collaboration was in keeping with the tradition of outside-the-box musical pairings. Here are 25 bizarre musical collaborations.