There’s something in the air this summer that made people want to put on their cowboy boots and appreciate some country twang. Some of it, to be sure, is a reaction against “wokeness,” as we saw with a few of the summer’s biggest hits. But that can’t fully account for the way country music has dominated the charts over the last few months.
The latest beneficiary of this trend is “I Remember Everything,” a collaboration between Zach Bryan and Kacey Musgraves, which debuted at the top of this week’s Billboard Hot 100. Musgraves, who won the Grammy for Album of the Year for Golden Hour in 2019, is a crossover star who no doubt gave the track a boost. Even so, this is a chart peak for Musgraves, whose previous highest entry was “Follow Your Arrow” at #60. Bryan’s previous peak was #10 with “Something In The Orange,” which became the longest charting country hit by a solo male artist in the survey’s history with 66 total weeks on the chart. Bryan’s eponymous album also hit #1 this week.
“I Remember Everything” is the fourth consecutive country music number one, a streak that has never happened before in Billboard history. It follows Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night,” and Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town.” (1975 is the only other year that saw four country number ones, and they weren’t consecutive.)
Wallen is sort of the canary in the coal mine for country music’s ascendence. He’s been a chart darling for some time now, but 2023 has been particularly kind. Earlier this year, he achieved the most songs on the Hot 100 by an artist in a single week. “Last Night” is one of the longest-charting number one hits ever at 16 weeks, and ranks as the most weeks spent at number one on the Hot 100 for a song with no accompanying artists. And though it’s not a number one (yet), Luke Combs’ cover of “Fast Car” is part of the picture as well—with eight weeks at the number two spot, it’s helped break some of those chart records, like “first time the top three spots of the Hot 100 were country songs.”
Billboard has collected a whole laundry list of chart records for the genre this year (you can check it out here). Some of them are pretty esoteric, but it all paints the same picture: country music seems to be more popular than ever before. In fact, the outlet reports that country consumption “was up 20.3% year-over-year in the first 26 weeks of 2023,” compared to just 2.5% growth during the same period in 2022.
What accounts for country music’s chart dominance? It doesn’t seem accurate to say that today’s country artists are better than ever before, nor that the top songs are stronger than ever. (“Try That In A Small Town” and “Rich Men North Of Richmond” certainly aren’t the genre’s best examples of songwriting, and “Fast Car” isn’t an original track.) Streaming has certainly made popular music more segmented than ever, so perhaps it’s as simple as country music listeners consuming music more traditionally than fans of other genres. Whatever the case, a genre that has long been viewed as niche is becoming undeniably powerful. The truth behind the trend will likely reveal itself in time.