If 2020 was the year for country artists to hunker down and try to avoid the pandemic, 2021 was the year to recover. After taking advantage of time off the road to craft new songs and develop ambitious projects, they hit the bricks last year with renewed vigor.
Some artists mined social media to develop new fan bases and produced unlikely hits. The genre that made the twangy guitar famous continued to reach across the music spectrum to create new collaborations and generated more music than ever.
To determine the best country songs of last year, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Year-End Chart for 2021. Billboard’s rankings are based on radio airplay audience impressions, sales data, and streaming activity as compiled by Nielsen Music. Data on each song’s number of lifetime Spotify streams was collected on January 18, 2022.
It was a big year for the controversial Morgan Wallen, who placed five songs on the list. He also released a 30-track album titled “Dangerous: The Double Album” that became only the fourth country album to top the Billboard 200 for a year.
Luke Combs and Florida Georgia Line each landed three songs on the list as solo performers and in collaboration with other artists. The latter continued country music’s genre-crossing success by pairing with rapper Nelly on the song “Lil Bit.” Country stalwarts Thomas Rhett and Chris Stapleton (five Grammy wins), meanwhile, each placed two songs on the list. (These are the 50 most popular country stars right now.)
Some artists skillfully used social media to promote their music. Walker Hayes’ tune “Fancy Like” went viral on TikTok and soared to the top on both Billboard’s Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts. It became a crossover hit when it reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lainey Wilson had a breakthrough year, with the No. 1 single “Things A Man Oughta Know” from her debut album “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’.” Gabby Barrett has leveraged her appearance on “American Idol” in 2018 to build her career. Her debut album “Goldmine” in 2020 featured the catchy and ubiquitous hit “The Good Ones.” Performers like Niko Moon, himself a successful songwriter, released the hip-hop-influenced album “Good Time,” containing the hit single of the same name. (Can you answer these real “Jeopardy!” clues about country music?)
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