Country music is having a moment; whether it’s a short blip or an enduring bonanza remains to be seen.

In a Country Radio Broadcasters CRS360 webinar, “Moment Us: Leveraging Country Music’s Growth,” executives from three different industry sectors — radio, streaming and touring — grappled with the genre’s precedent-setting achievements, which raise serious questions about why country is popular and how to harness the current momentum.

Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town,” Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” gave country the top three titles on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 dated Aug. 5 for the first time in history. Oliver Anthony Music’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” joined Wallen and Combs to repeat the feat on the Aug. 26 chart.

There is no single reason for the trend — panelists cited the genre’s sonic expansion, its increasing acceptance among younger fans, better data that allows gatekeepers to respond quickly to consumers’ habits and streaming’s blurring of stylistic lines.

Fans and country platforms “seem to be embracing the fringes of the format a little bit more now, whether it’s sort of the Americana country that Zach Bryan represents or the rock-leaning country that a Jelly Roll represents,” CAA Nashville co-head Marc Dennis said. “Artists like that — that you wouldn’t necessarily have called mainstream country five, six years ago — those artists are bringing fans into the format.”

As country’s face is changing in the marketplace, some of the accepted norms are changing, too. Where country devotees were once reliable followers of all artists in the genre, individual acts increasingly have specific fan bases, and Dennis said he is no longer concerned about keeping 30 days’ distance between competing country concerts in the same market, though he does try to keep separation between on-sale dates for different shows. And with radio listeners tuning in stations for shorter spans, programmers are less concerned about the gap between repeat spins from the same act.

“If the average tune-in is 11 to 15 minutes, the idea that we’re going to artificially say, ‘Well, we’re only going to play X artist every hour and 15 minutes,’ that seems very shortsighted,” WIRK West Palm Beach, Fla., operations manager/PD Bruce Logan said.

Artists are bubbling up from more sources — including TikTok, YouTube and a variety of playlists — and they also have more corporate opportunities, with fashion and food brands courting their endorsements alongside the prototypical trucks, boots and beers.

But the popularity is accompanied by concerns. Aldean’s “Small Town” video and a Wallen incident from 2021 put a spotlight on racism. Far-right media and conspiracy theorists quickly championed Anthony, though he has claimed political neutrality. Executives have privately lamented the possibility that country’s short-term popularity may feed long-term negative perceptions about it at a time when the industry is trying to diversify.

“We’re going to see more of these hot-button moments in country music,” Spotify Nashville head of editorial Rachel Whitney said. “There’s a lot of questionable history in the genre, and it’s really important that we all kind of do our homework, in a way, and make sure that what we do going forward is creating a welcoming space.”

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