Kyle’s Top 10 Country Singles of 2022

Forget the day that music died—this might be the year that radio died.

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).

In my 2021 list, I called out country music for doing nothing to address these issues, and warned them not to repeat their mistake in 2022. When the receipts were tallied, Country Aircheck reported that “2021 saw Country radio’s lowest PPM share since the
methodology launched in 2007,” which you would think would kick-start some soul-searching and lead to some changes to the format.

Instead, it felt like country music chose the exact opposite approach, doubling down on their bad habits and continuing to flood the market with bland, boring tracks. Over the years I’ve found that the single quality seems to ebb and flow over the course of the year, but this year the genre went straight to the bottom and stayed there. It never felt like country music was getting its act together, and it made listening to (and reviewing) their output a less-than-pleasant experience.

Still, some artists dared to step out of line and go beyond the minimum required effort to put out some truly memorable songs. A few dared to tell some stories and offer some helpful tips, but a lot of the good stuff this year focused on perfect execution of sounds and ideas from within the rigid radio meta.

Last Year’s Winner: Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow”

Honorable Mentions:

Artist, SongFinal Score
#15Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak”6/10
#14Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town”6/10
#13Dierks Bentley, “Gold”6/10
#12Kylie Morgan, “If He Wanted To He Would”6/10
#11Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”6/10

#10: Midland ft. Jon Pardi, “Longneck Way To Go” (final review score: 6/10)

Here we go again. Somehow, some way, despite having zero chart success, leaning on the most tired of tropes, and teaming up with one of my least-favorite acts in the genre, Midland has found a way to sneak onto my best-song list once again. (It was darn close though; Jackson Dean didn’t miss this list by much.)

How do they do it? Well, as I stated in the beginning, the difference boils down to execution. Mark Wystrach remains one of the stronger, more charismatic singers in the genre, and can make you have a good time no matter what he’s singing about. The harmony work between Wystrach, Cameron Duddy, and Jess Carson remains as solid as ever, adding yet another extra layer of positivity to the feel-good track. The production remains firmly rooted in an older, pre-neotraditional lane that nobody else plays in right now, making their sound distinct as well as good. All of these qualities are vitally important when the lyrics clash badly with the upbeat production (as they do with all sad songs trying to masquerade as party tracks), because they push the listener to look past this mismatch and focus on how the sound and singers are telling you to feel, and when it works, it’s like the tears never fell at all. Pardi is as nasally and annoying as ever, but he’s had a little bit of success on collabs like this in the past (think “Beer Can’t Fix” with Thomas Rhett last year), and he meshes surprisingly well with Midland: He’s one of the few artists still leaning into the cowboy image, and his vocal chemistry with the group is far better than it has any right to be (maybe he needs these guys to be his backup band going forward).

The clock appears to have run out on Midland’s mainstream career, but then again, I would have said that last year too, and they still managed to get an album released. They’ve been on every year-end list of mine since 2017, and if this truly is the last time we see them here, let’s joining them in pouring one out in tribute to a great run.

#9: Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do” (6/10)

The Ex-Boyfriend trend gained a lot of traction in country music this year, but not a lot of sympathy from yours truly. In contrast, the “Ex-Girlfriend” wing of the trend was much smaller (no surprise given the genre’s continued allergy to female artists), with only a handful of women lending their voices to their movement (and generally receiving the same tepid response from the blog; think Priscilla Block’s “My Bar” or Carrie Underwood’s “Ghost Story”). Pearce, however, was the one exception with “What He Didn’t Do,” so how did she manage to break through the noise?

Say it with me now: Execution. Pearce struck a careful balance between laying out the case against her ex and taking the high road about the whole mess—her tone on the song is mostly disappointed, showing only hints of the anger that made other artists come across as petty and unlikable. The sound is much more subdued as well, leaning on acoustic elements and even including brighter-sounding instruments like a mandolin to to make the song feel measured and thoughtful, as if it were the product of many days of careful deliberation (as opposed to its knee-jerk, reactionary-sounding counterparts). Finally, the lyrics are effectively vague, with lines like “Treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word, stay home ’cause he wanted to” feeling like they were pulled from every Hallmark movie ever made while also leaving plenty unsaid for the listener to speculate about how the ex dishonored the narrator.

Unlike most of her contemporaries, Pearce didn’t get mad—she got even (at least in the court of audience opinion), which was more than enough for her to earn a return trip to this list.

#8: Randy Houser, “Note To Self” (7/10)

On Monday I mentioned that I was “looking for more out the music I hear” as I got older, and in particular I like songs that try to say some meaningful and provide a pearl of wisdom that the listener can use long after the song ends. That’s why Houser, whose track record here at the Korner has been mixed up to this point, finds himself on this list this year: He took the sort of lost-love premise that has gone so wrong so many times in the Ex-Boyfriend era, and instead reflected on what happened, identified some of the ways he could have done better, and provided his findings to the audience in hopes that his mistake would not be repeated by anyone (including himself) that was listening. After ten-plus years in the genre, Houser now has the experience to go along with his weathered delivery, giving him some extra clout when delivering his findings (even when they’re a bit scattershot and generic at the start of the song). The production isn’t terribly notable, but the steel guitar gives the song a decent hint of flavor and the mix creates the sort of thoughtful vibe that invites the listener to ruminate on the writing without getting in the way of the song. In short, the song is the complete package, giving me darn near everything I’m looking for from a country song.

If someone like Bailey Zimmerman wants to stay off of my worst-song list next year, I suggest he start by listening to this song and taking lots of notes.

#7: Kelsea Ballerini, “IF YOU GO DOWN (I’M GOING DOWN TOO)” (7/10)

Back in 2018, I declared that “Miss Me More” had something to say to country music:

“Pop radio has substantially fewer misgivings about putting women on the airwaves, and after ‘I Hate Love Songs’ faltered, Ballerini is sending a pointed message to country radio: She can jump genres anytime she wants, and it’ll be country music that will ‘miss her more.’”

Country radio, however, decided to call Ballerini’s bluff, and her attempts at pop crossover success never found any traction (anyone remember “The Other Girl” or “I Quit Drinking”?), leaving her stuck on the Nashville B-list as of the end of this year, not quite a star but certainly not a flop either. I still say this is Nashville’s loss, because Ballerini has continued to produce solid output in the meantime (“Hole In The Bottle,” “Half Of My Hometown“), and does so again with the unnecessarily-ALL-CAPS “IF YOU GO DOWN (I’M GOING DOWN TOO).”

Yes, the writing advocates some less-than-healthy lifestyle choices (please don’t help your best friend kill their husband), but Ballerini is able to frame it as a noble display of devotion by leaning on the playful, tongue-in-cheek delivery that made “Hole In The Bottle” so enjoyable. The production here is absolutely exquisite, with a bright, bluegrass-tinged mix that brings to mind The Chicks’ early work, and the writing does a nice job leaning into the criminality theme without it ever feeling forced (and there are some pretty decent lines in here to boot). There’s that e-word again: Every piece of this song is executed to perfection (but hopefully not the friend’s husband), making the song an absolute joy to listen to.

I remain firmly planted on the Ballerini bandwagon, and it’s high time Nashville got over its issue with female artists and got behind her as well. If she keeps spitting fire like this, the sky’s the limit for her in 2023 (especially if “YOU’RE DRUNK, GO HOME” gets released as a single).

WARNING: If you’re drinking something right now, I advise you to swallow whatever is in your mouth before continuing. I don’t want to be responsible for any computer-ruining spit takes this next song induces…

#6: Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (7/10)

Kevin Garnett was right, folks: Anything is possible.

Four years ago, I declared that “One That Got Away” was “the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever reviewed on this blog” and that “Ray needs to get the heck out of country music and not let the door hit him on the way out.” The song was deemed the worst release of 2018, and its 1/10 remains the worst score I’ve ever given out here at the Korner (although Blake Shelton matched the feat last year). This man was a blight upon the country landscape, and I never wanted to hear another word from him.

Unfortunately, I’m duty-bound to listen to country singles if they make enough noise to make the Mediabase charts, and so I took a deep breath and reluctantly hit the play button on “Holy Water” back in April. What hit my ears was the absolute last thing I expected: An intriguing tale of a bootlegging preacher who used his moonshine to enrich himself, his church, and (plot twist!) eventually the people who catch him. No hint of Bro-Country bluster, no cast of unlikable characters, and no reason to question the choice of personnel behind the mic. Ray played the role of impartial storyteller perfectly, the swampy, mostly-classical production set a suitably dark and unsettled tone to support the story, and the writing provided enough detail to let the listener visualize the scenes without crushing the song under their weight. It was an honest-to-goodness good song from an artists that I didn’t think had one in him, and although there was a weak field this year, I think this track would have held up against stronger competition.

I bring the knives out for a lot of songs here at the blog, and some artists have become repeat offenders for the constant garbage they shovel out onto the airwaves. Still, to quote Willie Nelson, “Ain’t nothing wrong with any of us that a great song can’t fix,” and Ray finally gave us the great song he needed to justify his presence in Nashville. Ironically, its eventual failure on the charts might actually make it the song that ends his mainstream career, and suddenly I’m the one who’s calling for him to get one more last chance.

2022 really was a weird year. Don’t believe me? Keep reading—this isn’t even the biggest surprise on the list…

#5: Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her” (7/10)

This track falls along the same lines as Houser’s: In the face of unrepentant Ex-Boyfriend tracks, one man dared to offer a roadmap to a more-successful relationship (one coming from a place of positivity as opposed to Houser’s hardships). So what sets this track above its competition?

Say it loud for the people in the back: Execution.

McCreery is one of the most talented vocalists in the genre, and he can lay on the charm and charisma as well as any Boyfriend country singer in the business. He walks the line perfectly between earnest, honest affection and overly-saccharine emotion, and while he’s not Conway Twitty, he’s got a little something extra in his delivery to draw people in. The instrument tones and copious steel guitar put a 90s twist on the typical guitar-and-drum setup (it’s not quite as steel-heavy as “Damn Strait,” but the instrument still defines the mix), and the warm, rich sound of the production provides ample support for the relentlessly-positive writing. There may not be anything overly groundbreaking in the lyrics, but that doesn’t make the advice any less useful, and with the power of McCreery and the producer behind it, you’ll reach the end of the song wondering how anyone could treat their partner in any other way.

So many of McCreery’s contemporaries whine and fuss about how their relationships ended, but never look in the mirror to consider what they could have done to change how the story ends. “It Matters To Her” is the voice they should hear, and while it’s no guarantee of success, at least if the relationship ends now, they can walk away knowing they did everything they could and left everything on the field.

#4: Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (7/10)

I’ve been talking about Brown’s evolution as an artist for a few years now, but this song may well be the culmination of his transformation. The production is a seamless blend of fiddle-and-steel with beats, claps, and hard-rock guitars, creating an infectious atmosphere of pure joy and energy. Brown’s vocals match the production note-for-note, channeling his love for both his partner and country music and putting them both on display in such a grand and upbeat manner that it’s impossible not to share in the good vibes. (The inclusion of Brooks & Dunn’s lines after name-dropping them was a nice touch.) Yes, the lyrics oscillate between feeling silly and feeling throwaway, but at the very least they give the song a foundation of positivity and don’t get in the way of the song’s mission.

No, there’s no deeper meaning or thoughtful takeaways to be had from this song, but the song is the sonic equivalent of a Lays potato chip: You can’t listen to it just once—you’ll want to put it on repeat and let it chase away your sorrows, even if only for a little while. Even a frivolous good-time track can be worth listening to when it’s constructed this well, and while Brown may remain a polarizing figure in country music, given his output over the last few years, he’s also one of the best the genre has to offer.

#3: Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” (7/10)

As I declared in my review, “Judge a book by its cover at your own risk.”

With his bizarre stage name, face tattoos, and rap background, I went into this song expecting it to land on my worst-song list. Instead, I found a brutally-honest confessional from a man saddled with the baggage of a troubled past, a tale so personal and compelling that I just couldn’t turn away. Jelly Roll’s delivery was as stone-cold country as you could imagine, with a voice that was both haggard and clear, with a power behind it that allowed the production to stay simple, straightfoward, and out of the way of the message. The sound eschews volume in favor of a restrained-yet-serious tone driven mostly by an acoustic guitar, with some spacious synths in the background to give it the sort of arena-ready quality you rarely find in a powerless ballad. The writing cuts deep as it digs into the narrator’s struggles with substance abuse and the itinerant lifestyle of a musician, doing an incredible job of showing both the narrator’s vulnerability and strength simultaneously.

The fact that my review of this song was my most-viewed post of 2022 is a testament to its power and its reach: “Son Of A Sinner” resonated with its audience, and left enough of an impression to earn a spot on the podium here on my list. You could argue that this song was perhaps a bigger surprise than Ray’s turnaround…and yet, it still isn’t the biggest surprise on my list. Speaking of which…

WARNING: Once again, I advise you to finish your drink and find a seat before continuing. As clickbait as it sounds, #2 will shock you.

#2: HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (8/10)

I can’t believe it either, folks.

HARDY has been responsible for some of the biggest tire fires in country music over the last last few years. He claimed the 2019 worst-song title with “REDNECKER,” he was a driving force behind the worst two songs of 2021 (he was a vocalist on “The Worst Country Song Of All-Time” and a co-writer of “Come Back As A Country Boy”), and he’s a co-writer on this year’s second-worst song as well. Against all odds, however, the man also sits in the runner-up spot for 2022 with a classic country murder ballad that no one saw coming. How did this happen?

One word: Execution (in this case, both figuratively and literally).

Everything about this track is on point, from the dark, guitar-driven production that evokes both the Old West and a religious spiritual to HARDY’s measured-yet-resolute delivery of an honorable-but-rash narrator to the haunting story of a vigilante killing of a domestic abuser and stoically facing the consequences believing that justice had been served. (Wilson doesn’t add a whole lot in her role as the victim, but at least the victim is given a voice here; country music has a habit of ignoring “the other person” altogether.) It’s the sort of song that pulls the listener in and holds their attention from start to finish, and while the narrator “didn’t load her down with questions,” the audience is certainly loaded down with them: What sort of “bro-code” is this guy following, and why did he decide that he had to be the one to act? Why did he immediately reach for the gun instead of getting the victim help and going through the proper channels? What does this say about the perception and effectiveness of our justice system? I’m forever looking for songs that challenge our assumptions and make use think deeply about the world, and this was the song that invited the most and deepest though of the year.

However, there’s a time and place for songs that make you feel rather than think, and I believe this is one of those moments. My #1 song of 2022 is…

#1: Drake Milligan, “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” (8/10)

Seriously people, I have not been able to stop playing this song since I reviewed it a few short months ago. I haven’t felt a song like this since Aaron Watson took my 2018 Song of the Year crown for “Run Wild Horses,” and to borrow a term from Travis Tritt, I haven’t heard a song with this much drive behind it since Dierks Bentley burst onto the scene with “What Was I Thinkin'” nearly twenty years ago. This song is an absolute rocket-ride from start to finish, and its unmatched replayability helped catapault it past HARDY to grab the 2022 crown.

The Elvis comparisons that get thrown around are mostly based on Milligan’s appearance and incredible stage presence, but he’s got a strong voice and an earnest charisma that allows him to play the classic willing-to-be-reformed bad-boy in such a way that he gets the entire audience behind him. The production harkens back to the muscular feel of the early 1990s, with its rollicking electric guitars pairing well with the classic fiddle-and-steel combo in such a way that everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight (heck, even the drums get a brief solo to introduce the second chorus). I also really like the way the song seems to build up its energy on the verses and then explode through the choruses like a NASCAR driver coming out of a corner onto the straightaway. The writing may be nothing special in the grand scheme of the genre, but it’s the kind of song that tailor-made for being elevated with the right combination of sound and signer, and when all the pieces come together this perfectly, you’ve got the most fun that we’ve had with a song in nearly a half-decade (yes, even Mr. Lonely wishes he sounded this good).

Writing song reviews can be a painful grind sometimes, but songs like “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” (and all the other songs on this list, to be honest) are why we reviewers do what we do. When you come across a powerful track from an unexpected place (and especially from some of the places we found quality this year), it makes the whole thing worthwhile.

2022 was unquestionably a down year for country music, but believe it or not I actually hold out a small slice of hope that 2023 could be a rebound, if for no other reason than it would be following the general trend of society. Everyone struck a hopeless chord at the start of the year, but while country music never shook its malaise, a lot of other parts of society showed signs of a turnaround late in the year. After getting invaded by Russia, Ukraine raised a long, stiff middle finger to Vladimir Putin and turned the tide of battle, and much of the world stood resolute behind them and gave them the aid they needed to fuel the turnaround. Inflation spiked to a forty-year high, but started to ease late in the year. Politicians who wanted to upend democracy and take away the rights of their fellow citizens were defeated in droves in November, as voters demonstrated that a) they cared about having a say in their government, and b) they wanted women, people of color, and LGTBQ+ individuals to be able to live their lives without fear of persecution. I got the sense that people have been shaken from their complacency and are ready to take a more-active role in improving everyone’s lives, and I’m very interested to see how these trends are reflected in our music next year.

It’s time to set aside the anger and selfishness that have defined our world over the last year or so, and come together to make meaningful progress towards solving the major issues that confront us today. If 2021 showed us what happened when we ignored these calls to action, 2022 gave us a hint of what we could do if we heeded them. Will 2023 see us reach across our divides or retreat back into our corners? It’s an exercise that I’ll have to leave to the reader, and next year will hinge on what course we choose.

Execution was the key to success in 2022, and it will be the key to progress in 2023. Let’s go out and make it happen.

Kyle’s Top 10 WORST Country Singles Of 2022

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

Shelton’s 2022 wasn’t much better than his 2021, as he almost pulled off the double-double of repeating as the #1 worst song in the genre and walking away with this year’s Dustin Lynch Memorial Anti-Excellence Award. How close did he come? Read on, if you dare…

Dishonorable Mentions:

Artist, SongFinal Rating
#15Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”4/10
#14Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”4/10
#13Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”4/10
#12Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”4/10
#11Blake Shelton, “No Body”4/10

#10: Toby Keith, “Oklahoma Breakdown” (4/10)

#9: Hailey Whitters, “Everything She Ain’t” (4/10)

#8: Morgan Wallen, “You Proof” (4/10)

#7: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (4/10)

#6: Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” (4/10)

For putting two of his three singles in the bottom ten this year, Wallen gets the nod over Shelton for the Dustin Lynch Memorial Anti-Excellence Award. I’m really ready for this guy to just go away…

#5: Chris Janson, “Keys To The Country” (3/10)

#4: Luke Bryan, “Country On” (3/10)

#3: Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life” (2/10)

#2: Brantley Gilbert & Blake Shelton ft. Vince Gill, “Heaven By Then” (2/10)

Two things to note here:

  • Gilbert spends back-to-back years as part of the second-worst song of the year.
  • Shelton comes up just short of the worst spot here, thanks to a new (and very angry) kid on the block…

#1: Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love” (2/10)

With his dark sound, his awful off-brand Morgan Wallen vocals, and his toxic attitude, Zimmerman crowned himself king of the Ex-Boyfriend trend with this “incel origin story,” and thus squeaked out a nail-biter over Gilbert/Shelton/Gill and Hayes to be the worst country single of 2022.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Zimmerman doesn’t have the track record of garbage that Wallen or Shelton does, and with “Rock And A Hard Place” being a small step in the right direction, there’s still a chance that Zimmerman can pull out of this tailspin and be a tolerable artist. (As this year’s best-song list will show, redemption is possible for anyone…) Until that day arrives, however, I humbly ask Zimmerman, Wallen, Shelton, Tyler Hubbard (don’t think I didn’t notice you came one spot away from have two dishonorable mentions), and everyone else on this list to make better single choices in the future.

Kyle’s Official 2022 Single Rankings

2022: The year that country radio was taken off of life support.

I’ll talk about the non-music stuff in another post, but from a country music perspective, this seemed to be the year that Nashville gave up putting any effort into the radio at all. After 2021 turned out to be the worst year for country radio since the powers that be started tracking the data, the genre took a hard look as what was wrong (and there was a lot: “Soundalike songs, zombie tracks, chart shenanigans,” changing preferences among key demographics, the fact that there was no incentive to make new music when the old music was still printing money, etc.) and decided it wasn’t worth fixing. Instead, radio was left to wither on the vine as Nashville finally started leaning hard into streaming services, with the latter receiving fresher and more varied takes as the former got nothing but stale, halfhearted background noise. (Seriously, I started seeing more and more artists go several years and several streaming releases before their first official radio push.)

2021 was also the worst year for review scores here at the blog, and although I crunched the numbers to claim that the year was more “meh” than bad, the trend line that emerged was still concerning. Unfortunately, this trend not only continued into 2022, it got worse:

YearAverage Review Score

2021 was the worst year for review scores because 2022 is the worst year, with the average review score dropping below 5 for the first time in the blog’s history. (This tracks with the airplay Pulse scores we’ve been seeing lately, which have been hovering around zero-to-slightly-negative for much of the year.) Truthfully, I could see this coming from a mile away: So many songs fell into the “forgettable, indistinguishable drivel” category, and true gems were few and far between.

Now, part of this falls at the feet of the person handing out the scores: I’m rapidly moving from an “honorary old guy” to an actual one, and I’m looking for more out the music I hear, even compared to just a few short years ago. However, I’m not going to take all the blame here: Country radio has a problem, and it’s that no one wants to solve any of its other problems. We’ve talked in circles for years about what ails the genre, but we’ve never taken any meaningful steps to fix any of it (in fact, in the wake of things like the Morgan Wallen incident, you could argue things have just gotten worse).

But that’s enough editorializing for today. You go to the mic with the playlist you have, and we’ve got nearly 90 songs to count down to see who were the winners and losers of 2022. Pour yourself a glass of water and make sure you’ve got a Don Williams record on standby, because here we go!

The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2022 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.

First, let’s pay tribute to the class of last year’s field:

2021 #1 Song: Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow”

Chapel Hart released two singles in 2022 and even had a solid run on this year’s season of America Got Talent, but were completely ignored by country radio despite it all (highlighting one of the problems that the powers that be refuse to solve), and thus they never made it onto my review radar either (I need to be more proactive at finding songs to review instead of just waiting for the Mediabase chart to deliver them to me). It means we’ve got a new artist at #1 this year, but who could it be?

RankingArtist, SongFinal Rating
Worst 15 coming Wednesday!
#73Tyler Hubbard, “Dancin’ In The Country”4/10
#72Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”4/10
#71Carrie Underwood, “Hate My Heart”4/10
#70Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scot, “She Likes It”4/10
#69Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”4/10
#68Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”4/10
#67Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”4/10
#66Bailey Zimmerman, “Rock And A Hard Place”5/10
#65Kolby Cooper, “Excuses”5/10
#64Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”5/10
#63Priscilla Block, “My Bar”5/10
#62Morgan Evans, “Over For You”5/10
#61Kameron Marlowe, “Giving You Up”5/10
#60Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely”5/10
#59Jon Pardi, “Your Heart Or Mine”5/10
#58Justin Moore & Priscilla Block, “You, Me, And Whiskey”5/10
#57Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”5/10
#56Shane Profitt, “How It Oughta Be”5/10
#55Conner Smith, “Learn From It”5/10
#54Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me”5/10
#53Morgan Wallen, “Thought You Should Know”5/10
#52Ryan Griffin, “Salt, Lime, & Tequila”5/10
#51Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”5/10
#50Eli Young Band, “Love Talking”5/10
#49Caitlyn Smith, “Downtown Baby”5/10
#48Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”5/10
#47Elle King & Dierks Bentley, “Worth A Shot”5/10
#46Matt Stell, “Man Made”5/10
#45Dan + Shay, “You”5/10
#44Restless Road, “Growing Old With You”5/10
#43Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”5/10
#42Luke Combs, “Doin’ This”5/10
#41Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”5/10
#40ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops”5/10
#39Zach Bryan, “Something In The Orange”5/10
#38Dylan Scott, “Can’t Have Mine (Find You A Girl)”5/10
#37Russell Dickerson, “God Gave Me A Girl”5/10
#36Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”5/10
#35Luke Combs, “Going, Going, Gone”5/10
#34Ashley Cooke & Brett Young, “Never ‘Til Now”5/10
#33Cody Johnson, “Human”5/10
#32Lady A, “What A Song Can Do”5/10
#31Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”5/10
#30Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”5/10
#29Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”5/10
#28Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows”5/10
#27Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”5/10
#26Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”5/10
#25Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory”5/10
#24Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”5/10
#23Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”5/10
#22Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Decide”5/10
#21Miranda Lambert, “Strange”5/10
#20Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”5/10
#19Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”6/10
#18Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”6/10
#17Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”6/10
#16Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”6/10
Best 15 coming Friday!

New/Returning Arrivals: 30

  • Best New Artist: ????, #1
  • Worst New Artist: ????, #88 (i.e., dead last)

Artists Returning To The Top Ten: 3

*sigh* So What Happened This Time?

Artist2021 Position2022
Chapel Hart#1No covered releases
Brothers Osborne#2No releases at all
Taylor Swift#3No covered releases
Chris Janson#4One release, ????
Lainey Wilson#5Two releases, ???? and #23
Dillon Carmichael#6One release, #51
Ashley McBryde#7No covered releases
Carly Pearce#7One release, ????
Miranda Lambert#8One release, #21
Cody Johnson#9One release, #33
Midland#10One release, ????

Artists Returning To The Bottom Ten: 4

Top Risers:

Artist2021 Peak2022 PeakGain
Parker McCollum#86#24+62
Riley Green#70#20+50

Worst Fallers:

Artist2021 Peak2022 PeakLoss
Dillon Carmichael#6#51-45
Old Dominion#21#64-43

Awards To Hand Out Friday:

  • “Hey, this is My spot!” Award
  • “Well, this is awkward…” Award

Kyle’s Favorite Games of 2022

As disappointed as I’ve been with the state of mainstream country music this year, it’s been a pretty good year for video games and Nintendo in particular, with a bounty of different games representing various different genres to try out. Sure, there have been disappointments (the quality of some of these games didn’t quite match the quantity, and I’m starting to think we’re never going to get Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp thanks to Putin’s stupidity), but by and large there was a lot to like in 2022, and if you didn’t like something, you had plenty of chances to find something else that you did.

That being said…after looking back at the year, I only ended up playing five new games, and wasn’t completely thrilled with all of them either, so any “best game” list from me would suffer from a significant small sample size bias to say the least (or perhaps say the most, given how verbose that last line was). Still, I played a few solid titles this year this deserve some sort of recognition (and there’s a serious snub that even caught me by surprise) and thus I’m hear to introduce my top three games of 2022. The envelope, if you please…

The Mario + Rabbids team reacting with surprise as a Wiggler approaches from behind.

#3: Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope

After my lukewarm review brought up all the baggage this game was carrying, I’m kind of surprised to see this game on the list at all. However, I have to admit that as a game itself, this title is pretty solid, and (mostly) an upgrade over its 2017 predecessor. The characters are more distinct and the Rabbids have actual personalities beyond the generic wacky creatures from before (Rabbid Mario probably stands out the most here), most of the gambles the M +R team took pay off (the fluid, free-range combat setup makes the game stand out even among other tactical games, and even the voice acting grows on you after a while!), and the story (while not exactly earth-shattering) provides sufficient motivation for you to keep moving forward.

My main gripe with the game is its lack of difficulty: While I was the rare soul who didn’t think the first game was all that hard, this one can be so simple (despite giving you fewer potential actions per turn than the first game) that you can mostly ignore your inventory, the character skill trees, and even the Spark levels to some extent. I thought having Rabbid Peach as the only healer would become a burden as the game progressed, but instead I found myself specifically leaving her out of team comps just to raise the stakes a little. (While I like games that are relaxed enough to allow for some character experimentation, I’d still like them to present at least a slight challenge.) While no character felt truly game-breaking, the ‘reach area’ battles could be easily broken through the use of Luigi and the invisibility Spark, which felt like a bit of an oversight.

Still, as someone who’s played some truly phenomenal tactical RPGs recently, I’d say that this game matches up against them fairly well, even if I’m not sure I should have bought the game in the first place. However, it wasn’t the best game in that genre that I played this year—that distinction belongs to…

The characters from Triangle Strategy being split into three groups.

#2: Triangle Strategy

I knew that I would enjoy Triangle Strategy, but I didn’t expect to like it enough to sink over 180 hours into three complete playthroughs (especially when I walked away from Fire Emblem: Three Houses once I beat it once) and devote so much virtual ink to the game here at the Korner. Yes, the game is 75% story and can be as slow as molasses uphill sometimes, but unlike 90% of mainstream country music, this is a story that draws you in, holds you attention, and makes you think hard about both your actions and some pretty weighty subjects (as I stated months ago, its unfiltered, thoughtful take on conflict is part of the reason this game was released during the Russia/Ukraine conflict while Advance Wars remains on the shelf). Unlike Mario + Rabbids, this game presents a challenge to the player, and while there are meta-defining characters in your ranks (such as Frederica “The Kensa .52 Gal” Aesfrost), I think the game does a decent job pushing you to consider unorthodox strategies rather than forcing you to conform to a strict meta (Winning a battle using a single character? Actually finding a use for Decimal?). The combat system may not be as groundbreaking as Mario + Rabbids, but it provides enough twists on the classic grid-based action (height advantages, follow-up attacks, terrain effects) to make it feel fresh. (I’m still not keen on the game’s strict item limitations/availability, but over time you could amass enough of a stockpile to keep yourself going.)

By the way, said characters are fantastic, both in their personalities/convictions and in their combat abilities. Because you’ve (almost) always got access to your entire character roster in fights, the developers had to bend over backwards to find ways to make characters both unique and capable, and while they didn’t always succeed (I still don’t know what to do with Giovanna; I guess she has some synergy with Ezana?), they hit far more often than they missed with their results. Characters are fun to use and fun to learn about, and the rich, surprisingly-interwoven backstories let you forge a deep connection with each one. Frankly, these might be the best-designed characters I’ve ever seen in a video game, and it makes working together with them to succeed so darn satisfying (and makes sitting through what can feel like an interactive novel at time much more bearable).

This may be a deep-cut game for tactical RPG fans (casual fans may prefer something faster with a bit more turn-by-turn action), but for fans of this genre, this game is an absolute gem, and honestly deserves better than a runner-up spot on this list. That honor, however, goes to an even bigger surprise…

Harold Baines watching a home run leave the stadium.

#1: MLB The Show 22

I have a confession to make: For as much as I play Splatoon and for as much as I gush over role-playing games, deep down I’m a sports gamer at heart. Games like NHL 96, NES Football, Major League Baseball (yes, that was the full name of the game), and even The Blue Marlin were staples of my formative gaming years along Mario and Kirby. About 10 years ago, however, the sports genre basically abandoned Nintendo hardware, opting for the power of the XBox, Playstation, and PC to provide as realistic a simulation as possible. These games started coming back to the Switch, but the early returns weren’t promising: FIFA never provided feature parity with its other offerings, and the NBA2K control scheme was so awful that I dropped the game after only a few matches. I was beginning to wonder if my sports gaming days were history.

In 2019, however, San Diego Studio (a Sony dev team?!) announced that the Playstation-exclusive MLB The Show franchise would be ported to the XBox Series S/X and Nintendo Switch, and the latter finally got the series this year. No, the game probably wouldn’t look as nice or run as well on “inferior” hardware, but at least it was coming back to Nintendo, and I had to give it a try to see just how the transition went.

400 hours later, I can confidently declare that MLB The Show 22 for the Nintendo Switch was a stellar success. The visuals were better than I expected, the gameplay was as solid as I had hoped, and for someone who hadn’t touched a game like this since maybe 2005, features like Road To The Show and Diamond Dynasty were eye-opening and incredible. I absolutely loved taking control of a single player and playing through their eyes for their career (I chose a two-way infielder/closer, just like I was in fourth grade), and while I was afraid the microtransactions would ruin Diamond Dynasty, the game gave you plenty of ways to earn cards without throwing more money at the game, and the ability to build and use a team of players from across the history of the game was simply intoxicating.

No, the game wasn’t perfect: Diamond Dynasty was eventually consumed by a power creep problem (suddenly every card had to to be rated 99 or it wasn’t viable online), and there was a lot of repetition in their new card releases as time went on (seriously, how many Ken Griffey Jr. cards does one game need?). Still, I liked how the games used seasons, programs, and short challenges to keep the game fresh and give players bite-sized chunks of content when they couldn’t play a full game. I found myself having fun even when I was getting crushed 10-0 online, and when you toss in a solid single-player mode that I could play even when stuck using tin-can-on-a-string networks, you have a recipe for the best game of the year.

Normally this is where I would wrap things up, but I feel like I need to address the octopus in the room first:

How could Splatoon 3, a game that I spend a lot of time playing and use to anchor my YouTube channel, not even make the Top 3 on my 2022 list? I can’t believe it either folks: I thought this game would be my hands-down Game Of The Year at the start of 2022…and instead it wound up one really boring Kirby game away from being my worst game of the year. What happened?

Simply put, Splatoon 3 was NOT ready for prime time when it was released back in September, and has been plagued by bugs, glitches, broken weapons, bad map layouts, matchmaking problems, and network issues that constantly break your immersion in the game (and don’t forget the modes we’re still waiting for, such as League battles and online TableTurf matches). Seriously, just yesterday another problem surfaced with rollers glitching the game on Eeltail Alley:

It feels like we find problems like this one every day, and given the number of bugfixes listed in the last two major patch notes (a smaller patch was just released to fix the no-damage brush problem), there are probably hundreds of them left to find. (For example, given the slowdown I saw in my recent Big Run video, I wonder how much of a problem that mode will be going forward…)

MLB The Show 22 wasn’t glitch-free either (and neither was Splatoon 2 for that matter), but those games seemed to clean up any lingering problems they had pretty quickly, whereas Splatoon 3 remains a mess over three months since its release and will likely remain that way for months into the future (and it’s not the only Nintendo game suffering from performance issues lately…). Simply put, Splatoon 2 is a far superior experience to whatever Splatoon 3 has given us so far, and thus it doesn’t deserve a spot on my list.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. What about you? What were your favorite games of 2022, and did any of them make this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Kyle’s Favorite Songs Of 2022 So Far

In general, I haven’t been happy with country music this year. There hasn’t been much that has caught my ear in the last six months: The sounds have been too simple and stale, the topics have been bland and ephemeral, and the artists have felt utterly replaceable, as if you could let them each perform someone else’s song, and nothing would change. There just aren’t many songs out there that demand your attention right now, which doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the year.

However, a wise (snow)man once said “One friend’s a lot more than no friends,” and the same principle applies to country radio: Not everything is forgettable drivel, and there are still a few songs out there on the airwaves that are worthy of your attention. In fact, given that some of these tracks are coming from unexpected places, this year has been a testament to the true power of a song, as the right track can completely change your perception on the person behind the mic. In other words, there’s still something worth celebrating on the radio right now (even if the bench isn’t terribly deep this time around), and celebrating is just what we’re here to do.

I present to you my favorite song that have been released in 2022 thus far.

Honorable Mentions:

#10: Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (5/10)

#9: Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me” (5/10)

#8: Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (6/10)

#7: Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” (6/10)

#6: Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” (6/10)

#5: Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” (6/10)

#4: Randy Houser, “Note To Self” (7/10)

#3: Michael Ray (!), “Holy Water” (7/10)

#2: Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (7/10)

#1: Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” (7/10)

Kyle’s LEAST Favorite Songs Of 2022 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 bunch of forgettable stuff in the middle. This year, however, the curve has been exceptionally tall and narrow: No one’s scored above an 8, no one’s scored below a 4, and nearly 64% of songs (23 out of 36) sit in the mediocre middle with a 5/10. Where 2021 stood out for its larger number of weaker songs, 2022 stands out only in how much it doesn’t stand out—so far, this has been the genre’s most ignorable year since I’ve been here at the blog. (It’s no coincidence that I’ve spoken a fair bit less about music this year than in years past, especially given the strong year Nintendo has been having so far.)

So what happened? It feels like the genre has become increasingly predictable and soundalike: Everyone leans on the same instruments with the same tone, everyone talks about the same subjects and includes the same list of buzzwords, and very few artists seem to be willing to challenge what’s become a very bland meta (perhaps that “Blandemic” label I’ve tossed around over the last year or so might stick after all). This would make sense if a) the songs being made were of high quality or b) the songs being made were selling well, but I don’t think either of those statements is true, especially given that old music seems to be strongly favored over new music right now. You get the feeling that the music industry doesn’t actually care about the music right now, and thus we’re getting stuck with whatever is cheapest and easier to produce.

As someone who can be exceptionally verbose when talking about songs, most of this year has felt like a massive waste of time, and I’m tired of throwing good time after bad—it’s time to let these songs speak for themselves. These are the worst tracks I’ve heard in 2022 thus far.

Dishonorable Mentions:

#10: Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (5/10)

#9: Kameron Marlowe, “Giving You Up” (5/10)

#8: Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (5/10)

#7: Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” (5/10)

#6: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (5/10)

#5: Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” (4/10)

#4: Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” (4/10)

#3: Russell Dickerson ft. Jack Scott, “She Likes It” (4/10)

#2: Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (4/10)

#1: Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge” (4/10)

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


—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

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 ????
Randy Travis#9No covered releases
Dolly Parton#10No covered releases

Artists Returning To The Bottom Ten: 2

Top Risers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
Caroline Jones#88#17+71
Scotty McCreery#78#16+62

Worst Fallers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
Tenille Arts#19#66-47
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)