Justin Timberlake has been in the news quite a bit of late, and while pretty much all of that coverage hasn’t exactly been stellar, he was undoubtedly part of the moment that turned Chris Stapleton from a stellar but behind the scenes songwriter to an absolute country music superstar.
Back at the 2015 CMA Awards, the country music world was still in the midst of the bro-country era pioneered by the now defunct Florida Georgia Line duo, but just when it seemed like all may be lost, a knight in shining armor arrived to begin the process of slowly changing the genre for the better.
At the time, Chris Stapleton was well-known inside the country music community, having written a ton of songs for Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Tim McGraw, and penning one of Luke Bryan’s best in “Drink A Beer”. Dierks Bentley had even called him “probably the best singer in the world” back in 2010, but the public at large was still pretty unfamiliar with his work.
He’d gathered a cult following as lead singer of The Steeldrivers and the Jompson Brothers, but to mainstream audiences he was practically unknown.
That was until he released one of the best debut solo albums of all-time in May of 2015.
Traveller generated a good amount of traction at first, but had fallen off the Billboard 200 by September and it looked like it would forever be relegated to one of the hidden gems the old timers talk about before he made an appearance during the award ceremony that forever changed the trajectory of his career.
Chris was nominated for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year, and even though he’d go on to win all three, it was a duet with pop star Justin Timberlake that people best remember.
The two teamed up to perform “Tennessee Whiskey”, the Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove co-write originally released by David Allan Coe in 1981 and redone by George Jones the same year, but it never had the fire it has with Stapleton at the helm.
After their performance, Traveller sales spiked 6,000% and turned him from your favorite artists’ favorite artist, to millions of fans’ favorite around the globe.
The album has gone on to be certified 6x Platinum by RIAA and consistently remains one of the top selling albums over 8 years since its release, currently holding the 16th spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and having ended 2022 as the 6th best selling album.
His sound paved the way for artists who bucked the trend of snap tracks and overproduced songs to have real success, including Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, Hailey Whitters, Sierra Ferrell, and so many more.
While you can make arguments that there were other moments that caused a shift towards a better mainstream country environment, undoubtedly, this was one of, if not the, biggest.