Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles of 2021

Welcome to 2021: The year that should’ve been but never was.

In my 2020 list, I called out country music for three issues:

  • Everybody looks the same (the genre is dominated by white men, and women and artists of color are mostly ignored by the radio).
  • Everything sounds the same (every song features the same three or four instruments and does nothing interesting with them).
  • Everyone talks about the same thing (there’s a list of 10-20 words that every song has to include, and you’re either drinking because you’re happy, drinking because you’re sad, or drinking because you don’t feel like doing anything else).

2021 was supposed to be different. We had seen all the rot behind the curtain, and we were going to finally do something about it.

Spoiler alert: We didn’t.

For all the optimism that the year started with, we find ourselves at the end of this year in pretty much the same spot we did last year: Bitterly divided, starkly unequal, and mostly drunk. In short, 2021 was a major disappointment, leading most of us to not put the same faith in 2022.

However, for all the bland sameness permeating the airwaves, there were a few artists who dared to throw away the mold, ignore the headwinds, and walk the road less traveled. These artists shook up the mainstream formula, whether it be with different tales, different sounds, or by simply standing up and being themselves, and while they weren’t always rewarded by radio for doing so by radio, giving them the recognition they deserve here is the least that I can do.

I present to you my ten favorite songs from 2021.

Last Year’s Winner: Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me”

Honorable Mentions:

Artist, SongFinal Score
#15Thomas Rhett, “Country Again”7/10
#14Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like”7/10
#13Garth Brooks, “That’s What Cowboys Do”7/10
#12Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown”7/10
#11Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God”7/10

#10: Midland, “Sunrise Tells The Story” (final score: 7/10)

Because it’s not a Top Ten list on this blog without these guys, right? You might think that Midland, whose star has fallen precipitously since the days of “Drinkin’ Problem,” had simply missed their moment, but I’d argue that they never got a moment to begin with: The brief turn back towards a classic country sound around 2016-2017 turned out to be a mere head-fake, and when we plunged headfirst into the Boyfriend and Cobronavirus eras, there isn’t much wiggle room for a throwback band like this one. Still, I give the trio credit for sticking to their guns and making the sort of music they want to make, and I still think they’ve got a lot going for them: A textured sound that still stands out on the radio, a charismatic lead in Mark Wystrach and solid vocal harmonies from Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson, and while their material has trended a bit more towards the ephemeral side over time, there’s still a thoughtful storytelling quality to songs like this one. While I fear their downward trend will continue into next year Midland will always have their incredible run of dominance here on the blog.

#9: Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (7/10)

Cody Johnson hit the mainstream scene at about the same time as Midland, and until “‘Til You Can’t” arrived, he’d seen a similar lack of success too. This song has really taken off on the radio, however, and I think it’s because it not only fits the mid-pandemic moment well, but also because it takes a more active approach to delivering its message. On the surface, this is simple, straightforward, and generally obvious: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today, because tomorrow may never come. (As someone who’s been really sick all week, I certainly feel this one as the Friday post deadline approaches.) What sets this song apart is how the song forgoes the usual ‘woe is me’ attitude, and instead pushes the listener hard to act before it’s too late. There’s an urgency and an energy to both the production and Johnson’s vocals—he’s practically screaming at the user to do the right thing, and it’s surprisingly motivating (is it too late to sign this guy up as a vaccine spokesperson?). A lot of people are reevaluating their lives right now and thinking about what they really want to do, and Johnson’s call to action feels like just the sort of thing both the genre and the nation needs right now.

#8: Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (7/10)

I honestly thought that Lambert was washed up not too long ago, and that she needed to get away from the genre for a while to recharge her creative batteries. 2020’s “Settling Down,” however, signaled that Lambert wasn’t ready to step off stage just yet (even if that’s sort of what that song was about), and “If I Was A Cowboy” is another step in the right direction. The production here is suitably atmospheric (it brings to mind scenes of the Old West with its guitar arrangement), and the song accomplishes two impressive goals: It allows Lambert to indulge in a classic outlaw fantasy (something her public persona is uniquely suited for), while also subtly exploring the gender implications of the trope, noting that men are often given the latitude for being “outlaw” while women usually aren’t. Lambert dials back her trademark in-your-face, devil-may-care attitude here, but she balances the freedom and isolation of the cowboy lifestyle perfectly in her performance, giving the listener a complete picture of just what such a life would seem like. I’m not sure how long this second wind will last, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

#7: Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (8/10)

“How does one end up caught in a cheating relationship?” It’s a question you ponder more than you should when you listen to as many cheating songs as I have, and this song provides as deep and as thorough an answer as we’ve ever gotten. I’ve given a lot of people static for throwing two random artists together on a song that doesn’t need it, but getting both the wife’s and the lover’s perspective on the event is what makes the song so insightful, and both Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde play their roles perfectly. A lot of songs like this focus on who’s right and who’s wrong, but the truth is often more complicated than this, and this track present the entire scene without judgement, framing both women as reasonable, rational creatures whose behavior is completely understandable and giving the audience a sense of just how big the gray areas are in a situation like this. Throw in understated production that leans on a dobro to differentiate it from its peers, and you’ve got a recipe for a song that deserves a spot on this list.

#6: Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer” (8/10)

This, on the other hand, seems like a recipe for how not to end up on this list. So how does a song this booze-soaked and cliché-filled end up this high on my year-end list? First of all, you justify your behavior by telling us all the ways the other person has wronged you and showing us that they’re the clear villain in the story. Second, you play an Uno reverse card and use your “country” checklist to talk about all the things you’d rather not do to make the listener feel just how over the relationship is (not fish, not hunt, and of course “drink a hot beer”). Third, bring an affable-yet-over-the-top delivery to the table as Carmichael does, and have enough everyman charisma to let the audience “bask in the schadenfreude” and not feel guilty about such a guilty pleasure. Finally, drop a surprisingly-neotraditional mix on top of the whole thing, and rely on your rough-edged guitars and plentiful fiddle to let people know exactly what song they’re listening to. Carmichael hasn’t yet been able to find traction on the radio yet, but if he keeps bringing songs like this to the table, the genre won’t be able to ignore him for much longer.

#5: Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (8/10)

Songs from male artists have gotten noticeably more shallow lately: They seem to force themselves onto people the moment they meet them, and then they get incredibly whiny when they don’t get their way. In response, Wilson puts masculinity under a microscope here, and makes a strong case that emotional maturity should be just as big a part of the concept as using guns and changing tires. Her narrator has the sort of hard-worn edge that indicates she’s been on the wrong end of a immature man before making them both a believable and sympathetic character. The writing does a nice job moving from the classic staples of “being a man” to the relationship wisdom that they’re advocating for, and the production does just enough (i.e., it works in a mandolin) to give it a standout sound while making sure it stays in the background and doesn’t overwhelm the song’s message. It’s a stark departure from Wilson’s uncaring, unlikable persona on “Dirty Looks,” and while I’m only lukewarm on her new duet with Cole Swindell, I’m interested to see where this new and improved version of Wilson goes in the future.

#4: Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” (8/10)

When I first put together my list, I thought that this one was way too cheesy to be ranked this high, so I listened to it again…and after having to stop the song twice to gather myself, I remembered why it was here (and for the record, my mother still’s happily alive!). The song makes me think of Randy Travis’s classic “He Walked On Water” because it’s one of those tracks you don’t appreciate when you’re younger, and as you get older and stare down death from different angles, you really start to appreciate what you have and how fragile it all really is. We’ve lost over 810,000 people in the U.S. to the coronavirus to date, and that’s a lot of unexpected, premature goodbyes we’ve had to say to a parent as a country. The production does a good job balancing reverence and melancholy with its sound, and with his earnest, relatable performance, Janson continues to be the most confounding artist in the genre (how is the “Fix A Drink” and “Good Vibes” guy also the “Drunk Girl” and “Bye Mom” guy?). There’s a certain timelessness to this song, and if the genre ever sobers up and moves back towards deeper material, Janson stands to be one if the biggest beneficiaries.

#3: Taylor Swift, “No Body, No Crime” (9/10)

Swift is the first artist to wind up on my best and worst lists in a year simultaneously: Where “I Bet You Think About Me” felt petulant and over-assuming, “No Body, No Crime” might be the best story song the genre has heard since “Whiskey Lullaby.” Swift uses a firm, matter-of-fact tone to get her point across (something had to be done, and she was just the person to do it), and the other characters are unsavory enough to make what sounds like a gruesome murder at least feel understandable (whether it was justified or not is another matter, but that’s a high bar to clear). The details we get are plentiful and immaculate, allowing us to see the whole scenario from every perspective, and the production sets a dark, businesslike tone that complements the story without distracting from it. Murder ballads are tricky and it’s really hard to get them right, but through Swift’s outstanding songwriting talents and some inspired production choices, she does enough to earn a spot on my list and almost forgive her for “I Bet You Think About Me.” (Almost.)

#2: Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (10/10)

Devil’s Advocate Kyle, the floor is yours.

Thanks, Flip-Flopping Kyle. *ahem* Putting this song at #2 on this list is completely unjustifiable, and is nothing more than liberal signaling. You’re a documented Brothers Osborne hater that has labeled them a one-hit wonder, and then you’re conveniently on board the duo’s hype train the moment T.J. Osborne comes out as gay and the pair becomes one of those underrepresented artists you like to tout so much. You’re so transparent that it’s pathetic.

First of all, I don’t recall you raising a fuss when I “flip-flopped” on Miranda Lambert earlier on this list. Second of all, even if you set the sexuality issue aside, this song has a lot of the things I’m looking for from the genre right now: A distinct, textured sound (mostly thanks to John Osborne’s guitar work and the chorus accordion) that sets a hopeful, positive vibe, an inclusive message that declares that country music is a big tent for all types of people, and both brothers do a nice job of selling their story (and their position just outside the genre’s mainstream—there’s a reason I called them a one-hit wonder—lends credence to their claim that they’re an acquired taste.

While I’ll admit that T.J.’s sexuality does play a role in the song being where it is on my list, it’s because it adds another layer of complexity and a hint of darkness to what would otherwise be a kinda-sorta generic track. Consider what I said in my review back in June:

“Put this song alongside TJ Osborne coming out of the closet, however, and it takes on a whole new meaning, becoming a call for understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. When the narrator says ‘Some people are just like me, I hope y’all forgive ’em,’ they’re asking the genre and its audience (which are not typically known for their inclusivity) for tolerance of Osborne and others like him. ‘I’m a bad joke at the wrong time’ suddenly flips from a reference to the narrator’s poor sense of humor to a calling out of the slurs and derogatory terms (which are often couched in terms of bad-faith humor) that members of this community have had to endure. The description of a bar that’s always open and welcoming becomes a vision of the world the narrator wishes to see, where people can gather without pretense or prejudice and revel in their common humanity.”

In this context, the song is both a firm statement that the narrator can’t change who they are and a plea for the greater country community (and the country as a whole, to be honest) to open their minds, set aside their biases, and judge people like T.J. as whole, complete individuals, rather than as just some token who’s defined solely by who they’re attracted to.

You want to know why this song is at #2? It’s because it deserves to be.

#1: Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow” (10/10)

So now that we’re done patting ourselves on the back, let’s ask a tougher question: Chapel Hart released three official singles in 2021 (in addition to “I Will Follow,” there was “You Can Have Him Jolene” and “Grown Ass Woman”). So why did I only cover one of these releases for this list?

There’s no excuse for this, but there’s at least an explanation, and it gets right to the heart of country radio’s issues: Reviews here at the Korner are primarily dictated by our weekly Pulse posts (I try to have a score for every song on the list, even if it’s only preliminary), which in turn is dictated by the contents of the weekly Mediabase charts, which is based on the weekly spin counts from reporting country radio stations. By way of the transitive property, this means that our reviews are essentially driven by the radio status quo, which means that artists that don’t get airplay also have a harder time getting on our lists. Essentially, these reviews and lists are helping perpetuate the problems we spend so much time railing against, and someone gets screwed over nearly every year because of it (Chapel Hart in 2021, Mickey Guyton in 2020, Kacey Musgraves and Jason Isbell in 2018, etc.).

All of this is part of the reason I’m thinking about changing up my post/review strategy in 2022 (of course, I’ve been saying this for over a year now), but for the moment, let’s address the song in front of us and give it the credit it deserves. “I Will Follow” is similar to “I’m Not For Everyone” is a lot of ways: A simple, straightforward message that projects pride in oneself, a complementary sound that creates an upbeat and optimistic atmosphere that envelops the listener without getting in the way of the lyrics (heck, even the electric guitar sounds a bit like John Osborne’s signature axe), and an extra layer of meaning added by the artists themselves (Black artists have historically faced a number of barriers in the genre due to prejudice and racism, and continue to do so today—you’re telling me this trio can’t even get a hint of airplay, but Morgan Wallen is back in the Top Ten only ten months after being caught using the N-word?). What elevates this song to #1 is its sheer energy, which pushes it past mere declaration territory and into the realm of empowerment and inspiration. The quicker tempo, the organic feel of the production (even the clap track feels natural and fits seamlessly into the mix), the incredible vocal and harmony work that project determination and confidence (I’ve been hyping Midland for years, but Chapel Hart is even better)…this song has it all, and that’s why this is the #1 country single of 2021.

Image from Sounds Like Nashville

Last year, I closed my best-of list with the following statement:

“If there’s one takeaway I hope we all get from 2020, it’s this: We’re all in this together, so we’d better start caring about one another and work towards making life better for everyone.”

So yeah, that didn’t happen. Instead, 2021 was an example of what happens when everyone decides they’re not all in this together, and acts only in their own perceived self-interest and tells the rest of the world to jump in a lake. From corporations raking in massive profits on the backs of exploited workers to politicians using misinformation and outright lies to further their own careers to people putting their community’s health at risk by refusing a safe and effective vaccine, nobody was interested in hearing anyone else’s sob story—they were free to do whatever the heck they wanted, regardless of what their behavior did to other people.

We need to get back to caring about other people again, and country music can play a vital role in all of this. Artists can start as Chapel Hart and Brothers Osborne did and tell us their own stories, and then move on to Eric Church’s call from last year and tell us about the struggles that other people are facing. With increased awareness, we can take action to help those in need (whether on a personal or policymaking level), and show that having happy, healthy, and vibrant communities are truly in the self-interest of us all.

There’s a reason that Merle Haggard, “The Poet Of The Common Man,” was a country artist. It’s because country music was a place to show the world the burdens that someone carried, a place where you can stand in someone else’s shoes for three minutes and see what their life was really like. Country music doesn’t feel like that place right now, but there’s no reason why it can’t be that place again, and it’s a good bet that artists who drop songs that try to make that happen will wind up on this list next year.

2020 was a call to action, and 2021 showed us the consequences of ignoring it. My only hope for 2022 is that we don’t make that same mistake twice.

Kyle’s Top 10 WORST Country Singles of 2021

Country songs fall all over the quality spectrum, but only a chosen few can earn the dubious distinction of sitting at the bottom of the barrel. Through a special combination of poor production, subpar songwriting, and vacuous vocals, the songs presented below are the sorts of headache-inducing tracks that move listeners to plug their ears, turn their dials, or just run screaming from the room.

Just as with my mid-year list, these songs will be presented without comment because a) I’m lazy (so much so that I’ve been copy-pasting all this opening text since 2018), and b) I’ve wasted enough words on this junk already in my prior reviews. Let’s get this over with quickly, shall we?

Last Year’s “Winner”: Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (final rating: 2/10)

Little Big Town ended up sitting out 2021 and abdicating their crown of thorns, so who will claim the cursed throne this year? Let’s open the envelope and find out…

Dishonorable Mentions:

Artist, SongFinal Rating
#15Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS”4/10
#14Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone”4/10
#13Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time”4/10
#12Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots”4/10
#11Sam Hunt, “23”4/10

#10: Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” (4/10)

#9: Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (3/10)

#8: Niko Moon, “PARADISE TO ME” (3/10)

Nobody put two songs in the bottom ten this year, but Moon came dang close with “PARADISE TO ME” and “NO SAD SONGS,” so he walks away with the Dustin Lynch Memorial Anti-Excellence Award for this year. With any luck, he keeps walking right out of Nashville and never comes back.

#7: Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” (3/10)

#6: Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit” (3/10)

Because it’s just not a worst-of-the-year list without Florida Georgia Line, am I right?

#5: Travis Denning, “ABBY” (3/10)

#4: Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (3/10)

#3: Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In” (2/10)

#2: Brantley Gilbert ft Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (2/10)

This trio screwed up so badly that they even failed at being the worst. This year, that distinction goes to…

#1: Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” (1/10)

At the end of my worst-of-2020 list, I made the following statement:

“I have a feeling that 2021 is going to be a better year, if only because there’s (almost) no possible way that it could be any worse than this one. 2021, please don’t make me eat those words.”

Apparently Shelton, who is finding an increasing number of ways to irritate me, decided to take this as a challenge, and earned himself a special spot right next to Michael Ray at one of the worst songs ever reviewed here at the Korner. I look forward to the day that Shelton retires and gets out of my hair for good, but until that day arrives, on behalf of country listeners around the globe, I humbly ask Shelton, Moon, and everyone else on this list to make better single choices in the future.

As for me, I’ve learned my lesson: 2022 will have to earn my hope next year—right now, I’m assuming it will be a complete tire fire. Please please please make me eat those words.

Kyle’s Official 2021 Country Single Rankings

“Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping it’s better than the last one.”

Kyle’s 2020 Pandemic Playlist, Dec. 30, 2020

“Eh…no.”

—2021’s official response

Remember late last year, when we were all saying some variation of “Bring on 2021, because there’s no possible way it could be as bad as 2020”? There was a lot of change coming on the horizon (a new president, new vaccines, a new focus of societal issues that had long been ignored), and there was even some hope that country music would finally mend its ways and become a more inclusive and interesting genre. Everything was coming back, and it was coming back better.

As we stand today, you could make a strong argument that exactly none of this promise wound up being fulfilled. We’ll talk about the non-music stuff at some point before the new year, but from a music standpoint this year felt noticeably worse than previous ones, as every song seemed to devolve into the same three instruments and the same ten buzzwords, with a continued emphasis on drawing sharp lines between “us” and “them” and drowning ourselves in both nostalgia and alcohol. Things seemed to improve at the end of the year, however, and I prefer to draw conclusions using data rather than feelings (even if said data is 100% based on feelings—such is the critic’s plight), so I crunched some numbers to find out if 2021 was really as bad as I suspected.

YearAverage Review Score
20175.65
20185.49
20195.34
20205.42
20215.18

So the short answer is that yes, 2021 was the worst year for country music as recorded here at the blog. However, 5.18 is still an average score, so my usual quote still holds as well: “In the end, the year still resembles the previous two [now five] that I’ve ranked: Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff in the mushy middle.” (This also corroborates the near-zero Pulse scores we’ve been recording for the last few months.) Even a “bad” year like this one appears to have ended up being “meh” overall.

So who excelled and who floundered in this year of insurrections, virus variants, and reborn YouTube channels? It’s time to find a comfortable chair, tip our hats to Bob Kingsley, and count down the hits of the year that was. The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2021 calendar year to be eligible.
  • Rankings are not strictly tied to my review ratings, as my opinion of a song may have changed between now and the review date.

We begin with one last salute to the best song of 2020:

2020 #1 Song: Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me” (final rating: 10/10)

Guyton finally got her album released in 2021, but as yet another sign of how little things ended up changing, Capitol didn’t release an official single for her in 2021. So who took the top spot on our list this year?

RankingArtist, SongFinal Score
Worst 15 coming Wednesday!
#74Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am”4/10
#73Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll”4/10
#72Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads”4/10
#71Luke Bryan, “Up”4/10
#70Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks”4/10
#69Walker Hayes, “AA”4/10
#68Luke Bryan, “Waves”4/10
#67Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me”4/10
#66Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now”4/10
#65Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist”4/10
#64Lee Brice, “Soul”5/10
#63Toby Keith, “Old School”5/10
#62Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him”5/10
#61Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”5/10
#60Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots”5/10
#59Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty”5/10
#58Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage”5/10
#57Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love”5/10
#56Parmalee, “Take My Name”5/10
#55Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You”5/10
#54Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway”5/10
#53Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts”5/10
#52Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar”5/10
#51Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”5/10
#50Lady A, “Like A Lady”5/10
#49Luke Combs, “Cold As You”5/10
#48Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More”5/10
#47Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave”5/10
#46Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes”5/10
#45Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO”5/10
#44Dylan Scott, “New Truck”5/10
#43Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”5/10
#42Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You”5/10
#41Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”5/10
#40Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer”5/10
#39Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never”5/10
#38Luke Combs, “Forever After All”5/10
#37Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t”5/10
#36Ingrid Andress & Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”5/10
#35Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided”6/10
#34Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat”6/10
#33Kane Brown, “One Mississippi”6/10
#32Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left”6/10
#31Brett Young, “Not Yet”6/10
#30Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet”6/10
#29Morgan Evans, “Love Is Real”6/10
#28Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”6/10
#27Eric Church, “Heart On Fire”6/10
#26Gabby Barrett, “Footprints On The Moon”6/10
#25Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me”6/10
#24HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell”6/10
#23Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow”6/10
#22Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You”6/10
#21Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”6/10
#20Brett Young, “You Didn’t”6/10
#19Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece”6/10
#18Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”6/10
#17Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)”6/10
#16Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait”6/10
Best 15 coming Friday!

New/Returning Arrivals*: 27

*Tyler Hubbard is excluded from the count, since he appeared last year as part of Florida Georgia Line. BRELAND is included in the count despite only appearing as a featured artist.

  • Best New Artist: ????, #1
  • Worst New Artist: ????, #87

Artists Returning To The Top Ten: 2

So What Happened This Year?

Artist2020 Position2021
Mickey Guyton#1, #7No covered releases
Eric Church#2One release, #27
Ashley McBryde#3????
Tim McGraw#4Two releases, #35 and #45
Rascal Flatts#5No covered releases
Old Dominion#62.5 releases, #21, #37, and ????
Midland#8????
Randy Travis#9No covered releases
Dolly Parton#10No covered releases

Artists Returning To The Bottom Ten: 2

Top Risers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
????????????+93
Caroline Jones#88#17+71
HARDY#93#24+69
Scotty McCreery#78#16+62
????????????+59

Worst Fallers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
Tenille Arts#19#66-47
????????????-44
Jon Pardi#23#62-39
Lady A#13#50-37
Morgan Wallen#24#60-36

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Award: No winner this year.

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Honorable Mention:

Artist2020 Position2021 PositionMissed It By…
Chris Stapleton#46#471 spot

Kyle’s Favorite Songs Of 2021 So Far

As I mentioned on Monday, 2021 has felt like a relatively weak year in mainstream country music, as artists have gravitated towards the predictable, the steretypical, and the flat out boring. Still, there are a few needles hidden in this haystack in you look hard enough, and the common thread between the best of these tracks is the confidence to walk a different path: Longer stories at a time when no one pays attention the lyrics, varied instruments at a time when everyone seems to be sharing the same guitars and drum sets, and even the simple act of standing up to Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line and declaring that they belong in the genre and that they’re comfortable in their own skin. It’s true that some of these songs wouldn’t make the cut if they were released in previous years, but the best of this class would stand out in any era, and it’s high time we celebrate them.

I present to you my favorite song that have been released in 2021 thus far.

Honorable Mentions:

#10: Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” (6/10)

#9: Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (6/10)

#8: Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” (6/10)

#7: Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” (7/10)

#6: Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (7/10)

#5: Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer” (7/10)

#4: Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (7/10)

#3: Taylor Swift, “no body, no crime” (8/10)

#2: Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (8/10)

#1: Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow” (8/10)

Kyle’s LEAST Favorite Songs Of 2021 So Far

Every time I think I’ve hit bottom, Nashville is all too happy to throw me a shovel.

Whenever I take stock of the genre for my mid-year and year-end lists, I find the usual bell curve of material: Some good songs, some bad songs, and a whole lot of forgettable stuff in the middle. 2021, however, has felt like an exceptionally weak year in mainstream country music, and the shape of this year’s curve bares that out:

  • On the higher end of the rating scale, the tail of the distribution is shorter and smaller. Where 2020 had a pair of 10’s and three 9’s by July, no song has scored higher than an eight so far this year.
  • On the lower end of the scale, the number of songs is about the same overall, but the scores are lower on average due to an increase of 3/10 ratings (I had one by this time last year, but I’ve got four this time around).

So what’s gone wrong for country music this year? In short, the genre has an attitude problem, with a number of artists coming across as too narrow-minded to admit their faults, too closed-minded to adapt to changing times, and occasionally too busy drinking and partying to care about anything at all. There’s also the persistent issue of being too quick to try and revive dying trends that should have been kicked to the curb a long time ago, but that’s a whole other story.

Frankly, I’m sick of talking or thinking about these songs, so I’m going to shut up and let them speak for themselves. These are the worst tracks I’ve heard in 2021 thus far.

Dishonorable Mentions:

#10: Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS” (4/10)

#9: Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (4/10)

#8: Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (4/10)

#7: Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (4/10)

#6: Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (3/10)

#5: Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit” (3/10)

#4: Travis Denning, “ABBY” (3/10)

#3: Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (3/10)

#2: Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In” (2/10)

#1: Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (2/10)

Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles Of 2020

Ho ho ho! Santa Claus is in the house, and he’s got a sack full of songs for you to enjoy.

I opened my 2019 list with “What is a country song?”, but the question was mostly set aside this year to focus on a bigger issue: Country music has a real problem, and in a word, it’s diversity:

  • Artist diversity is the most obvious part of this: Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line continues unabated, and women and artists of color remain criminally underrepresented despite producing better tracks than their counterparts on average (at least by my count).
  • Sound diversity has become a real problem as well: It feels like nearly every mix these days boils down to some percussion, a few mass-produced guitars, and some guy on a laptop, with some keyboards tossed in if the song wants to sound serious.
  • Finally, topic diversity in the genre seems to be shrinking, and you can forget about finding any depth in these songs. It felt like every song boiled down to three things:
    • “The world sucks, so let’s drink ourselves to death.”
    • “My love left me, so let’s drink ourselves to death.”
    • “I love you soooooooooooooooooooo much! I would totally drink myself to death for you.”

    Many songs aimed to make you feel something (even if that something was nothing at all), but very few asked you to think about anything. Instead, ignorance was the name of the game: Solve the world’s problems? Try to get your love back? Nah man, just have another beer and forget about everything.

The songs on this list are the ones who tried to break that mold. They confronted the problems of the world instead of shying away from them. They acknowledged complexity and messiness rather than ignoring it. They exhibited maturity and long-term thinking instead of just shooting for ephemeral highs. They brought some surprises in their arrangements and in their subject matter, bringing back old instruments and demanding that we think about new topics. In short, they found a way to stand out from the crowd, and earned themselves a spot on this list.

I present to everyone my favorite songs of 2020.

Last Year’s Winner: Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards”

Honorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” 7/10
#14 Runaway June, “We Were Rich” 7/10
#13 Lady A, “What I’m Leaving For” 7/10
#12 Ingrid Andress, “The Stranger” 7/10
#11 Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” 7/10

#10 Dolly Parton, “When Life Is Good Again” (final score: 8/10)

Dolly Parton is on the short list of people who, four hundreds years from now, the world will likely look back on with the same respect and reverence that we hold for folks like William Shakespeare now, so it makes sense that her thoughtful-yet-optimistic take on the pandemic would end up high on my list. Of course, no matter how much unrelenting hope Parton offers here, the relentless drumbeat of 2020 news seemed to get worse rather than better over time, causing the track to slide back a bit from its midyear ranking. Still, there’s more going on here than just Parton saying things will get better: She acknowledges that there are things we need to change about ourselves and our world when the pandemic subsides, and she commits to making that change on a personal level. Her level of charisma is perhaps unmatched in modern times, and she uses her power to persuade the listener that everyone should do what they can to help fix what’s broken in the world. No matter what’s going on, I always walk away from this track feeling better about the world, and more committed to help right the wrongs that exist within it.

#9: Randy Travis, “Fool’s Love Affair” (8/10)

First, a disclaimer: I consider Travis the greatest country singer of all time, so he could probably just fart into a microphone and still earn a place on this list. Still, “Fool’s Love Affair” stands in stark contrast to much of modern country music, demonstrating just how the genre has changed in just a few short decades. Take the production, for example: Instead of soundalike guitars and programmed percussion lines, “it’s got fiddle, steel guitar, and piano, with the light-touch drums and understated electric guitar serving as complementary pieces rather than the main attraction.” In terms of the writing, cheating songs like this have a become a real rarity in country music, as relationships rarely reach that stage in songs today (instead, it’s mostly hookups and breakups, with the occasional wedding-ready love song), and thus it probes moral gray areas and explores ideas and feelings that other tracks never reckon with. And of course, with Josh Turner being put out to pasture, no one in today’s business even approaches early-career Travis’s smooth, emotive baritone (in truth, the trend seems to be towards rougher-sounding vocals like Morgan Wallen or Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard). Supposedly there are more vintage Travis tracks that could be released pending some legal issues, so hopefully we get more of these sooner rather than later.

#8: Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” (8/10)

Is the ride already over for Midland? Not only have they been sinking lower on my list every year (From #1 in 2017 to #8 here), but their chart performance has suffered as the genre quickly turned away from its flirtation with a classic sound (neither “Mr. Lonely” nor this track could break out of the twenties on Billboard’s airplay chart). All of the elements that make Midland great are still here: The late 70s/early 80s throwback sound with inspired instrument choices (that wood-block percussion is a small detail that adds a lot to the song’s atmosphere), the excellent harmony work of Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, and Cameron Duddy, and the tackling of cheating (again, a rare subject on the radio today) from a completely different angle than Travis’s tune (the songs have the same foundation, yet set very different moods – the sound is slicker, and the writing is sharper with more interesting details). It stands out from its competition in all the right ways, and yet was mostly ignored in favor of the Cobronavirus and Blandemic movements. It’s very possible that this trio has run out of gas in the mainstream scene (Let It Roll is certainly history at this point, and whether or not Big Machine commits to another album is an open question), but with four straight appearances in our yearly Top Ten, Midland’s legacy here at Kyle’s Korner is already cemented.

#7: Mickey Guyton, “Heaven Down Here” (8/10)

If the ride really is over for Midland, at least they got two albums out of the deal; Guyton, despite being signed to Capitol records since 2011, has yet to get more than a few EPs out into the marketplace. On the surface, this seems inexplicable: Guyton has one of the best power voices the genre has seen since Carrie Underwood (a former Capitol artist, by the way), so you’re telling me the label can’t find a way to bring her voice to the radio and an album to store shelves? Part of the problem is that society doesn’t give her the leeway to be as direct or angry as, say, a white male artist could be, so she’s forced to compromise on songs like “Heaven Down Here”: She confronts problems rather than ignore them, but she’s can’t specifically call out the problems she’s referencing or offer any solution beyond asking a higher power for help, lest she be criticized for being ‘too political’ (after all, country music in 2020 doesn’t solve problems, it pretends they don’t exist). The sound is also very safe, which slick guitars and synthetic percussion that blend in well with the rest of the radio. There’s no compromising with a voice like Guyton’s, however, and she’s able to rise to the moment by channeling both the listener’s desire to solve the problems we face and the angst and powerlessness they feel when trying to do so. Guyton is the sort of artist who can really connect to listeners and speak to the moment we’re all going through, even when she’s artificially constrained, and she turned what could have been a fairly “meh” track into something that felt meaningful, even powerful. Now can we get an album from her, Nashville?

#6: Old Dominion, “Some People Do” (8/10)

I’m still amazed at the transformation Old Dominion has made since the group first emerged with its sleazy tire fire of a song, “Break Up With Him.” The execution on this track is superb: The piano and string section set a somber mood with just a glimmer of hope for the future, the writing shows incredible self-awareness in its assessment of the failed relationship while also professing that they have learned from their mistakes, and lead singer Matthew Ramsey seals the deal with an earnest, sympathetic performance that might be the best of his career. There’s no drowning in whiskey of self-pity, there’s no attempt to pass blame where it isn’t warranted, and there’s no expectation of success with this requestno matter the outcome, the narrator knows that they’ve become a  better person. The Metro-Bro era was a scourge on the genre, but Old Dominion can count themselves among the acts that transitioned to something better as the genre shifted. I’ve gained a lot of respect for the group over the last few years, and while their latest single was a bit of a dud, I’m excited to see where they go in 2021.

#5: Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” (9/10)

After twenty years in the genre, Rascal Flatts has entered the legacy phase  of their career, and they encouraged everyone else to adapt that frame of mind on this track. This track resonated not only because it encouraged long-term reflection, but because 2020 was a year in which our choices seemed to matter that much more: Did you choose to listen to health officials’ advice or ignore it? Did you take a stand against racial injustice or stay on the sidelines? Did you cast your ballot or decide it wasn’t worth the time? When the need was greatest, did you lend a hand? Your choices would in turn shape the world’s perception of you, and Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus, and Joe Don Rooney drove this point home with their typical arena-ready production and solid harmony work bursting with earnest emotion. (This is part of the reason why I don’t understand the success of  Dan + Shay: Why accept an LeVox clone when the OG LeVox is still on the scene?) The trio took the time to encourage us to do the right thing in order to burnish our personal legacies, and added to their own legacies as a result.

#4: Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” (9/10)

Parton, Travis, Rascal Flatts, and now McGraw…is anyone else sensing a pattern here? Some of the  genre’s elders really stepped up this year, and  none moreso than McGraw with this song. The understated production is an unsung hero here (the guitars are a complementary piece, with the banjo driving the melody and the steel guitar getting a ton of room to shine), but I think the lyrics are the big reason this song works: It does a nice job capturing the moment when tragedy really hits home, and seemed to speak for a lot of people as they tried to navigate the loss, realize what’s most important to them, and then reach out to those they care about. While this song is nowhere near Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning),” it felt like it filled a similar role, Despite his occasional missteps (“Truck Yeah,” anyone?), and McGraw has really reframed himself over the last few years as a seasoned, more-reasonable voice within country music, someone you would totally buy singing by a river and calling home to process their grief. Perhaps the reason we saw so many older artists step up this year is the same reason many of them are still around: They’re just dang good at what they do.

#3: Ashley McBryde, “Martha Divine” (9/10)

If I had one complaint about country music as a genre in 2020, it’s that so many of the songs (for the many reasons I discussed earlier) didn’t make me feel anythingthey just kind of existed for their own sake. McBryde had no such problem here: Despite using the same basic guitar-and-drum formula as the rest of the world, the song absolutely crackles with anger and energy, with an added edge to the guitars and some serious punch to the production. McBryde’s rough-and-tumble image makes her a perfect fit for the homicidal protagonist, and she absolutely (metaphorically) kills this performance (this listener 100% believes she’d cut a b***h over something like this). The writing, however, is the real star here: This is a raw, uncut look at some seriously messed-up family dynamics, warts and all. There’s no glossing over the father’s infidelity or the narrator’s rage, and there’s no glorification or true justification of the violence: This is a crime of passion, no more, no less, with the only selling of the story being McBryde letting the audience share in her rage. This is the sort of story song I really miss in country music, and I certainly felt something when I heard it.

Speaking of feeling something…

#2: Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” (10/10)

unlike with Mickey Guyton, our society has given full permission for guys like Church to get as angry as they want, and he takes full advantage of that leeway here. James Brown may have called country music “the white man’s blues,” but over the last few years the genre hasn’t been about anyone’s bluesinstead, we’re all encouraged to drink and party our lives away while the world burns around us. In this song, Church has had it with Nashville’s willful ignorance, and can barely contain his frustration as he demands that the format return to its roots of sharing the pain of invisible individuals with the rest of the world. The production backs up that call with dark, pointed production that crashes down on the listener like a wave and at times wouldn’t sound that out of place on a Godsmack album (those guitars that jump in on the third chorus are absolutely lit). The lyrics do their part by practicing what they preach, discussing the plight of soldiers and teachers and painting vivid-yet-bleak scenes of metropolitan areas where neither jobs nor dreams exist anymore. (Ironically, Church himself made a disappointing pivot back to mainstream country with his follow-up single, notching another aggravating win for societal inertia.) Our nation and our world are fundamentally flawed right now, and we need country music to follow this example and shine a light on the darkest corners of the planet to ensure that we know the stories that exist there and can take action to fix what’s broken. If we stick that in out country songs, maybe eventually we’ll stick that on our to-do lists too.

Speaking of what’s broken…

#1: Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me” (10/10)

If there’s one thing that many white Americans have come to realize over the last twelve months, it’s that we haven’t come nearly as far as we thought when it comes to racial inequality. The experience of being Black in this country is a perspective that’s never seen in a white-majority genre like country music (even artists like Charley Pride or Darius Rucker rarely, if ever, touched upon the topic in their songs). Guyton aimed to change that with this track, and while she’s still subject to the same constraints we mentioned on “Heaven Down Here” (she just can’t release her frustration like Church did above, lest she get hit with the “angry Black woman” label), she simply pairs the hard truth with her powerful, authoritative voice to get her point across, and she makes listeners sit up and pay attention as a result. Her outstanding performance transcended even those societal constraints to connect with the audience and make one simple point: Consider the perspective of people who aren’t like you in your daily interactions and decisions. While the concept may be radical to a genre as whitewashed as this one, it’s an important idea that we all need to hear. (The production does its part by helping drive home the song’s point without getting in its wayin fact, it’s eerily reminiscent of Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”: Primarily piano-driven, some steel guitar sprinkled on top, and some more-prominent percussion, all working to underscore the importance of the message.)

Where Church asked people to “stick that in your country song,” Guyton actually did it, and that’s what makes “Black Like Me” the #1 country single of 2020.

Image from the Associated Press

If there’s one takeaway I hope we all get from 2020, it’s this: We’re all in this together, so we’d better start caring about one another and work towards making life better for everyone. Country music can play a major role in this simply by following the advice of artists like Mickey Guyton or Eric Church: As the Statue of Liberty might say, tell the story of “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Enough with all this nihilistic, alcohol-fueled ignorancelet’s stop turning away from the problems of the world, and instead give these stories of suffering a platform, allowing the audience to share this pain and find ways to alleviate it. If we can develop a vaccine to stop a global pandemic, we can resolve to do better by those that society has long ignored, and take concrete steps to lift these people up and become the better nation we like to believe America is. If we do this, we’ll have both a better genre and a better world as a result.

Happy holidays, everyone. If 2020 was the worst year ever, let’s make a New Year’s resolution to make 2021 the best it can be.

Kyle’s Top 10 WORST Country Singles of 2020

Country songs fall all over the quality spectrum, but only a chosen few can earn the dubious distinction of sitting at the bottom of the barrel. Through a special combination of poor production, subpar songwriting, and vacuous vocals, the songs presented below are the sorts of headache-inducing tracks that move listeners to plug their ears, turn their dials, or just run screaming from the room.

Just as with my mid-year list, these songs will be presented without comment because a) I’m lazy (so much so that I copy-pasted all this opening text from last year, which itself was copy-pasted from 2018), and b) I’ve wasted enough words on this junk already in my prior reviews. Let’s get this over with quickly, shall we?

Last Year’s “Winner”: HARDY, “REDNECKER” (2/10)

“One Beer” was a slight improvement from this garbage heap, but was it enough to keep Mr. Hardy off of the list? (Spoiler alert: I already spoiled that on Monday.) The envelope, if you please…

Dishonorable Mentions:

Artist, Song Final Rating
#15 Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” 4/10
#14 Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” 4/10
#13 Adam Doleac, “Famous” 4/10
#12 Tyler Farr, “Only Truck In Town” 4/10
#11 Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” 4/10

#10: Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” (final score: 4/10)

#9: Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” (4/10)

#8: Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” (4/10)

#7: Tucker Beathard, “You Would Think” (3/10)

#6: Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” (3/10)

#5: Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” (3/10)

#4: Travis Denning, “Where That Beer’s Been” (3/10)

#3: Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” (2/10)

I get one act that puts two songs in the bottom ten every year, but FGL decided to one-up the field by putting 2.5 tracks here, courtesy of their feature on Rice’s awful single. Congrats guys, you’re this year’s recipient of the Dustin Lynch Memorial Anti-Excellence Award. Maybe that’ll make up for losing yet another Best Duo award at the CMAs.

#2: Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” (2/10)

#1: Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (2/10)

I’ve called Little Big Town “the ultimate boom-or-bust group” several times on the blog, but even I didn’t expect them to bust this badly. On behalf of country listeners around the globe, I humbly ask LBT, FGL, and everyone else on this list to make better single choices in the future.

Looking back at my worst-of-2019 list, I closed that post with the following ominous line:

I have a sinking feeling that 2020 is going to be bad enough without bad songs like these clogging up the airwaves…

Poor innocent 2019 Kyle had no idea how right he was going to be, so 2020 Kyle will instead say this: I have a feeling that 2021 is going to be a better year, if only because there’s (almost) no possible way that it could be any worse than this one. 2021, please don’t make me eat those words.

Kyle’s Official 2020 Country Single Rankings

Is…is it finally over? (2020: Nope.)

2020 has been a emotional roller coaster of a year, and country music has been no different: It’s had its highs and lows, it’s made us laugh, cry, and toss our radios out our windows, and on (all too rare) occasions, it’s even made us think about the world around us. The genre seemed to start the year strong before devolving into the Cobronavirus movement in an attempt to imagine the COVID-19 pandemic away, which eventually turned into the Blandemic movement as our optimism waned and label budgets faltered (seriously, it’s as if every studio can only afford to put a laptop and a few guitars in the studio anymore). The last few weeks ended up adding entries to both my best and worst lists, but in the end, my quote from last year still holds: “In the end, the year still resembles the previous two [now three] that I’ve ranked: Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff in the mushy middle.”

From what I could see, the debate over what constitutes “country” music took a backseat this year, as people seemed to recognize the triviality of having an unresolvable debate in the face of over 317,000 coronavirus deaths and a long-overdue reckoning with the racial inequities that plague America. Unfortunately, the genre mostly tried to ignore the issues rather than engage with them, spending much of its time promoting ignorance and alcohol therapy as temporary salves (and even if they did engage with them, it was often in overly vague and optimistic ways, ignoring the hard realities lurking below the surface). If I have one hope for 2021. it’s that country music stops burying its head in the sand, and makes a concerted effort to confront the great challenges of our time, telling the kind of stories and truths that make this genre so awesome in the first place.

But we’re not here to talk about 2021—instead, we’re here to put on our Bob Kingsley hats and count down the hits of the year that was, from the worst to the best. The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2020 calendar year to be eligible.
  • Rankings are not strictly tied to my review ratings, as my opinion of a song may have changed between now and the review date.

We begin by pausing for a moment to re-recognize our winner from 2019 (which feels like it was roughly two decades ago):

2019 #1 Song:  Ashley McBryde, “One Night Standards” (final rating: 10/10)

McBryde released another powerful track in 2020, but is it enough to repeat as our champion? To quote DashieGames, “WITHOUT FURTHER ADO…LET’S DO THIS SH*T!”

Ranking Artist, Song Final Score
#111 Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” 2/10
#110 Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” 2/10
#109 Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” 2/10
#108 Travis Denning, “Where That Beer’s Been” 3/10
#107 Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” 3/10
#106 Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” 3/10
#105 Tucker Beathard, “You Would Think” 3/10
#104 Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” 4/10
#103 Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” 4/10
#102 Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” 4/10
#101 Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” 4/10
#100 Tyler Farr, “Only Truck In Town” 4/10
#99 Adam Doleac, “Famous” 4/10
#98 Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” 4/10
#97 Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” 4/10
#96 Kane Brown, “Cool Again” 4/10
#95 Brothers Osborne, “All Night” 4/10
#94 Payton Smith, “Like I Knew You Would” 4/10
#93 HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson, “One Beer” 4/10
#92 LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” 4/10
#91 Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” 4/10
#90 Kane Brown, “Worship You” 4/10
#89 Luke Bryan, “Down To One” 5/10
#88 Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” 5/10
#87 Lady A, “Champagne Night” 5/10
#86 Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 5/10
#85 Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 5/10
#84 Keith Urban & Pink, “One Too Many” 5/10
#83 Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 5/10
#82 Parmalee & Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 5/10
#81 Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 5/10
#80 Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 5/10
#79 MacKenzie Porter, “These Days” 5/10
#78 Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 5/10
#77 Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” 5/10
#76 Keith Urban, “God Whispered Your Name” 5/10
#75 Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” 5/10
#74 Jake Owen, “Made For You” 5/10
#73 Luke Combs, “Better Together” 5/10
#72 Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” 5/10
#71 Easton Corbin, “Turn Up” 5/10
#70 Lindsay Ell, “Want Me Back” 5/10
#69 Kenny Chesney, “Here And Now” 5/10
#68 King Calaway, “No Matter What” 5/10
#67 Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 5/10
#66 Brad Paisley, “No I In Beer” 5/10
#65 Cody Johnson & Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo” 5/10
#64 Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 5/10
#63 Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 5/10
#62 Cam, “Classic” 5/10
#61 Danielle Bradbery, “Never Have I Ever” 5/10
#60 Avenue Beat, “Ruin That For Me” 5/10
#59 Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 5/10
#58 Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory” 5/10
#57 Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 5/10
#56 Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 5/10
#55 Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 5/10
#54 Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 5/10
#53 Johnny McGuire, “I Can’t Even” 5/10
#52 Kelsea Ballerini ft. Halsey, “The Other Girl” 5/10
#51 Luke Bryan, “One Margarita” 5/10
#50 Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 5/10
#49 Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry” 5/10
#48 Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 5/10
#47 Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 5/10
#46 Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 5/10
#45 Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Nobody But You” 5/10
#44 Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 5/10
#43 Brandon Lay, “For My Money” 5/10
#42 Sam Hunt ft. Webb Pierce, “Hard To Forget” 5/10
#41 Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 5/10
#40 Bon Jovi ft. Jennifer Nettles, “Do What You Can” 6/10
#38 Zac Brown Band, “Leaving Love Behind” 6/10
#38 Luke Combs ft. Eric Church, “Does To Me” 6/10
#37 Thomas Rhett et al., “Be A Light” 6/10
#36 Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” 6/10
#35 Brett Young, “Lady” 6/10
#34 Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” 6/10
#33 Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” 6/10
#32 Adam Hambrick, “Forever Ain’t Long Enough” 6/10
#31 Taylor Swift, “Betty” 6/10
#30 Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her” 6/10
#29 Hot Country Knights ft. Travis Tritt, “Pick Her Up” 6/10
#28 The Chicks, “Gaslighter” 6/10
#27 Easton Corbin, “Didn’t Miss A Beat” 6/10
#26 Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” 6/10
#25 Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” 6/10
#24 Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” 6/10
#23 Thomas Rhett ft. Jon Pardi, “Beer Can’t Fix” 6/10
#22 Kane Brown, “Worldwide Beautiful” 7/10
#21 Luke Combs, “Six Feet Apart” 7/10
#20 Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” 7/10
#19 Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” 7/10
#18 Elvie Shane, “My Boy” 7/10
#17 Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” 7/10
#16 Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” 7/10
#15 Jason Aldean, Got What I Got” 7/10
#14 Runaway June, “We Were Rich” 7/10
#13 Lady A, “What I’m Leaving For” 7/10
#12 Ingrid Andress, “The Stranger” 7/10
#11 Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” 7/10
#10 Dolly Parton, “When Life Is Good Again” 8/10
#9 Randy Travis, “Fool’s Love Affair” 8/10
#8 Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” 8/10
#7 Mickey Guyton, “Heaven Down Here” 8/10
#6 Old Dominion, “Some People Do” 8/10
#5 Rascal Flatts,  “How They Remember You” 9/10
#4 Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” 9/10
#3 Ashley McBryde, “Martha Divine” 9/10
#2 Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” 10/10
#1 Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me” 10/10

New/Returning Arrivals: 32 artists (a little over half the total we saw last year, further evidence of playlist shortening and radio sticking to what’s familiar)

  • Best “New” Artist: Mickey Guyton, #1
  • Worst New Artist: Robert Counts, #110 (i.e, second-to-last)

Artists Returning To The Top 10: 3

So What Happened This Time?:

Artist 2019 Position 2020
Tanya Tucker #2 No covered releases
Easton Corbin #3 Two releases, #27 and #71
Kacey Musgraves #4 No covered releases
Ingrid Andress #7 One release, #12
Jason Aldean #9 Two releases, #15 and #26
Dierks Bentley #10 One release, #48

Artists Returning To The Bottom 10: 0

Artists Returning To The Bottom 10 from 2018: 0

Artists Returning To The Bottom 10 from 2017: 1

Top Risers:

Artist 2019 Peak 2020 Peak Gain
Justin Moore #103 #20 +83
Sam Hunt #121 #42 +79
Tim McGraw #78 #4 +74
Brantley Gilbert #110 #44 +66
Morgan Wallen #88 #24 +64
Miranda Lambert #86 #25 +61
Kenny Chesney #124 #64 +60
Michael Ray #93 #41 +52

Worst Fallers:

Artist 2019 Peak 2020 Peak Loss
Little Big Town #25 #111 (i.e., Dead Last) -86
Florida Georgia Line #53 #106 -53
Travis Denning #56 #108 -52
Chris Young #58 #107 -49
Dierks Bentley #10 #48 -38

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Award:

Position Artist 2019
2020
#92 LoCash “One Big Country Song” “Beers To Catch Up On”

Kyle’s Favorite Songs Of 2020 So Far

For all the pain, suffering, and terrible music that 2020 has brought upon this world, there has actually been a surprising amount of good, and even great, music on the radio this year. A few artists have really stepped up to the plate so far, whether it be through reflecting the seriousness of the times, making pointed statements about the nation we’ve been and the nation we should be, or by finally upping their sound and song selection enough to leave a stronger impression on the audience. As easy as it is to bash country music in 2020, we should celebrate its successes as well, because there were a lot more in the first six months than I expected.

Without further ado, here are the best songs of the year thus far:

Honorable Mentions:

#10: Lady A, “What I’m Leaving For” (7/10)

#9: Ingrid Andress, “The Stranger” (7/10)

#8: Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” (7/10)

#7: Dolly Parton, “When Life Is Good Again” (8/10)

#6: Old Dominion, “Some People Do” (8/10)

#5: Midland, “Cheatin’ Songs” (8/10)

#4: Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” (9/10)

#3: Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” (9/10)

#2: Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” (10/10)

#1: Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me” (10/10)

Kyle’s LEAST Favorite Songs of 2020 So Far

And I thought 2019 was “a weird year for country music”

Like everything else in 2020, Nashville’s output this year has been all over the map: Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of songs piling up in the mushy middle. Only a few songs, however, can sit at the bottom of the barrel, and we’ve got yet another “strong” crop of losers this year. Whether it be hopping on a careless trend like the Cobronavirus movement, trafficking in antiquated/annoying stereotypes, or simply not putting enough effort into their craft, a few tracks have stood out for being just plain awful, even in a year where police brutality, governmental incompetence, racial injustice, and a global pandemic have pushed the definition of awfulness to a new low.

I don’t want to waste any more words on these songs than I have to, so I’ll stop monologuing. These are the worst tracks I’ve heard in 2020 thus far.

Dishonorable Mentions:

#10: Kane Brown, “Cool Again” (4/10)

#9: Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (4/10)

#8: Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” (4/10)

#7: Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” (4/10)

#6: Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” (4/10)

#5: Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” (4/10)

#4: Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” (4/10)

#3: Tucker Beathard, “You Would Think” (3/10)

#2: Florida Georgia Line, “I Love My Country” (2/10)

#1: Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (2/10)