Counting Down The Most Viral Stories In Country Music In 2023

Oliver Anthony Miranda Lambert Zach Bryan
Oliver Anthony/Miranda Lambert/Zach Bryan

And with that, the 2023 season comes to an end.

We’re just days away from turning the page on another year. A year that’s brought us some incredible country music, some breakout stars, and plenty of drama along the way.

So before 2024 gets here, we figured we’d take a few minutes to look back on 2023 and count down some of the biggest – and most viral – stories of the year in country music.

12. Eric Church Blasted For CMA Fest Performance

Back in June, Eric Church headlined Nissan Stadium during the annual CMA Fest – but left fans scratching their heads and disappointed after a performance that ended abruptly and didn’t feature some of his biggest hits.

The six-song set to close out the show featured deep cuts like “Bad Mother Trucker,” “Hangin’ Around,” and a cover of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” that led into Church’s 2014 single “Cold One,” as well as a reimagined version of “Drink In My Hand.” So when the lights came on and Church left the stage without playing songs like “Springsteen” or “Record Year,” fans sounded off on social media with their disappointment.

For his part, Church admits that he was surprised by the backlash:

“And I didn’t play ‘Springsteen,’ I didn’t play a bunch of stuff that they probably thought I would play. But it was good! I don’t care what the blowback was. I watched it, and that set was f*cking great.”

Ultimately, Church acknowledged that maybe CMA Fest isn’t the best environment for an artist like him:

“Maybe we’re just not made for stuff like that.”

11. Lainey Wilson’s Viral Behind

It was a massive year for Lainey Wilson – and her massive…well, you know.

A year that was capped off with a win for CMA Entertainer of the Year started out with Lainey getting quite a bit of attention for her backside after videos of her butt began going viral on TikTok.

Lainey managed to capitalize on the attention focused on her most viral asset, saying she was happy that people found her no matter how they got there:

“Whatever brings the people in, whatever brings the people in, but I’m just lettin’ y’all know, go check out my record ‘Bell Bottom Country.’ Happy to have you either way, however you found me, I’m happy. I’m happy you’re here.”

10. Dolly Goes Rock

Dolly Parton was officially inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. But initially, she didn’t feel like she deserved the honor – so she decided to record a rock album and earn her rightful place in the Hall of Fame.

The result was Rockstara 30-song album featuring names like Steve Perry, John Fogarty, Steven Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Pat Benatar, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, just to name a few. And it was also the highest charting album of her long and storied career, debuting at #3 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough to prove that Dolly’s a rock star, let’s not forget her Thanksgiving day performance dressed like a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader

9. Jelly Roll’s Fiery Acceptance Speech

Jelly Roll had arguably one of the biggest years of anybody in country music, scoring three #1 songs and becoming one of the biggest names in the genre off the back of his debut country album, Whitsitt ChapelAnd he capped off his monster year with a win for CMA New Artist of the Year, giving one of the greatest acceptance speeches you’ve ever heard.

“There is something poetic about 39-year old man winning New Artist of theYear.

I don’t know where you’re at in your life or what you’re going through, but I wanna tell you to keep going, baby. I wanna tell you success is on the other side of it.

I wanna tell you it’s gonna be okay. I wanna tell you that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror for a reason, because what’s in front of you is so much more important than what’s behind you. Let’s party Nashville!”

8. Shania Concerts Leave Fans Confused And Disappointed

The Queen of Pop Country, Shania Twain hit the road again in 2023 for her Queen of Me tour. And what started out as excitement over Shania getting back out on the road quickly turned to confusion and disappointment as fans began to report bizarre behavior from Shania on stage – and videos of droves of fans leaving the shows early quickly began to go viral.

@jorymarisperez So many people leaving during the middle of the show….#fyp #shaniatwain #spokane ♬ original sound – Jory Perez

7. At Long Last, Turnpike Drops A New Album

For a brief moment in August, all was right in the world when Turnpike Troubadours finally dropped A Cat In The Rain, their first album in nearly six years.

The long-awaited return of Turnpike came after the band returned from their indefinite hiatus in 2022, and capped off an incredible comeback for one of the greatest bands in country music.

And the album didn’t disappoint: Recorded with the help of producer Shooter Jennings at the fabled F.A.M.E. Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL and wrapped up in Los Angeles, A Cat in the Rain featured 10 potent tracks – eight originals and two covers – that together make a cohesive project for the ages – and one of the best albums of 2023.

6. Zach Bryan Arrested In Oklahoma

Back in September, Zach Bryan found himself in the headlines after winding up behind bars in his home state of Oklahoma. The country music star was booked on an “obstruction of investigation” charge and later released on bond, and of course his mugshot quickly began to go viral among his fans.

Zach later apologized for the whole incident, saying that he just got “too lippy” with the cop during a traffic stop and behaved like “an idiot.” Ultimately it turned out to not really be that big of a deal: The National Police Association thanked Zach for his apology, everybody moved on, and Zach even dressed as a prisoner with his girlfriend, Brianna Chickenfry, dressed as a cop for Halloween.

But for a minute, Zach’s mugshot even served as the cover of Spotify’s Outlaw Country playlist – and I have a feeling we’ll see the picture as an album cover at some point down the road.


5. Maren Morris Leaving Country Music – Or Not

Maren Morris made headlines when she announced that she was leaving country music, calling the institution “toxic” and releasing a song about country music “burning itself down.”

Of course many weren’t too disappointed to see her go, as she’s always leaned more pop than country anyway. But her exit was short lived: Maren quickly did an about-face and said that she wasn’t actually leaving country music and that the headlines were all “clickbait.”

It wasn’t the only time Maren made headlines for something other than her music in 2023. The pop singer also filed for divorce from her husband of five years, fellow singer and songwriter Ryan Hurd, back in October.

4. Miranda Lambert’s “Selfiegate”

We’ve probably all been annoyed by somebody at a concert who’s spending more time on their phone than watching the show. But for Miranda Lambert, that frustration boiled over this summer when she stopped her show to call out a group of girls that she said was more interested in taking selfies than watching the concert:

“I’m gonna stop right here for a second, I’m sorry. These girls are worried about their selfie and not listening to the song. It’s pissing me off a little bit.

I don’t like it. At all. We’re here to hear some country music tonight. I’m singing some country damn music.”

@justingregg8 Amazing show. 10/10 recommend. This had ☠️ lmaooooo #countrymusic #MirandaLambert ♬ original sound – Justin

The viral moment divided the internet, with many praising Miranda for putting an end to the distraction while many said that the girls, who were seated in the VIP area and paid big money for their tickets, should be able to take pictures if they want to. And Miranda’s ex-husband, Blake Shelton, even began trending on Twitter after people began to tweet about him being right to divorce Miranda.

The “influencer” who was called out for taking the pictures later posted the “selfie” (which actually wasn’t a selfie) and claimed that the group had only taken two pictures before Miranda stopped the show to single them out.

3. Country Stars Call Out Bud Light

It was a rough year for Bud Light, after the iconic beer brand came under fire this spring for partnering with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney for a marketing campaign.

Many country stars, including names like John Rich and Travis Tritt, spoke out against Bud Light and called for boycotts of the beer, while Kid Rock took literal shots at cases of Bud Light with a rifle.

Garth Brooks also jumped in the debate this summer when he said that he would serve Bud Light at his Nashville bar Friends In Low Places, and called those who were boycotting the beer “a*sholes.”

Bud Light ultimately lost billions of dollars from the backlash, and was dethroned as the top-selling beer in the country over the controversy. But it seems like some who were leading the charge against the brand have softened their stance, with Kid Rock recently saying that he was willing to forgive and move on.

2. Oliver Anthony Bursts Onto The Scene In A Big Way

There wasn’t a bigger viral star in 2023 than Oliver Anthony.

The Virginia native burst onto the scene in a big way when RadioWV posted a video of Anthony (whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford) performing his original song, “Rich Men North of Richmond.”

The song clearly resonated with listeners, racking up millions of views and streams and debuting at #1 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, the first time in the chart’s history that an artist has debuted in the top spot with their first song.

But it wasn’t without controversy: Many on the left claimed that the song made fun of welfare recipients with its line about “fudge rounds,” and names like Jason Isbell and Maren Morris criticized Anthony’s viral hit.

That didn’t stop it from being one of the biggest songs of the year, and even led to Anthony making his Grand Ole Opry debut earlier this month, just a couple of months after becoming a household name.

1. Jason Aldean Causes Controversy With “Try That In A Small Town”

Without a doubt the biggest viral story of the year in country music was the controversy surrounding Jason Aldean‘s single, “Try That In a Small Town.”

The song that calls out big city lawlessness flew under the radar after being released back in May, but when Aldean dropped a music video featuring scenes of rioting and looting, many began to accuse the song of being racist, and even criticized Aldean for filming the video at the Maury County Courthouse in Tennessee, the scene of a 1927 lynching.

While the video was pulled by CMT, Aldean remained defiant, defending the site of the video as simply being his hometown courthouse. And the song even became a topic in the presidential race, with Republican candidates for president including former president Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis publicly supporting the song.

And the controversy pushed “Try That In a Small Town” to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and ultimately it became one of the biggest songs of the year – and one of the most viral moments of 2023.

Here’s to 2024, and seeing what kind of madness the new year will bring.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock