Remember how shitty things were in country music back in 2015?
A quick look at the charts and you’ll notice songs like Sam Hunt’s “House Party,” “Sun Daze” by Florida Georgia Line, “Kick the Dust Up” from Luke Bryan and “Make Me Wanna” by Thomas Rhett.
We were smack dab in the middle of bro country hell. Things were looking bleak.
But on November 4, 2015, one performance from the CMA Awards seemingly stopped the bro-country train in its tracks and began the long, slow turnaround for country music.
And it was all thanks to Chris Stapleton – and, ironically, Justin Timberlake.
Chris was already well-known in the country music community. Writing songs for artists like Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, and more, everybody in Nashville knew Chris Stapleton was the real deal. Dierks Bentley even called him “probably the best singer in the world,” all the way back in 2010.
But the time of the 49th Annual CMA Awards, Chris Stapleton was still relatively unknown in the mainstream.
He released his stunning debut solo album Traveller in May of 2015, and while it did generate some good buzz, it fell off the Billboard 200 albums chart by September. But it was enough to earn Chris a trip to the CMA Awards, where he was nominated for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year.
He won all three.
But then, he took the stage alongside pop superstar (and Tennessee native) Justin Timberlake to perform “Tennessee Whiskey,” along with Timberlake’s “Drink You Away,” and they blew the roof off. The world had finally been exposed to the magic of Chris Stapleton.
Traveller’s sales shot up over 6,000% and Chris has been on a rocket to the moon ever since. In fact, to this day, you can still find Traveller in the Top 10 on any country album sales chart at any given time. Even right now, six years after it was released, Traveller still sits at NUMBER FOUR on the iTunes country album charts.
That’s absolutely insane for an album to have that much sustained success for such a long period of time.
It was arguably the most influential country album of the decade, because it turned the tide for the entire genre. While we were neck deep in the pits of bro-country garbage, it set off a chain reaction that ultimately started to swing the pendulum back towards traditional country music.
Now here we are six years later, and we not only have the emergence of neo-traditional artists like Luke Combs, Midland, Jon Pardi, Ashley McBryde and Cody Johnson in the mainstream, but they’re having a ton of success.
And the turning point was right here, six years ago today – and at the CMA Awards, of all places.