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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Pop musicians are going country! Well, should I say a few mainstream pop musicians are? This may come as a surprise for some, but the 2023 Billboard charts seem to have been hinting at a new evolution of country music. For nearly half of last year, country music artists like Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, and Morgan Wallen dominated the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Wallen’s song “Last Night” even became the longest running No. 1 song for a solo artist in history. I believe that country music has recently been reaching new audiences, like myself. I would say this is why 2024 is anticipated to have several pop and R&B-identified artists experiment with the country sound. Popular artists like Post Malone, Beyoncé, and Lana Del Rey all have country-centered music or albums releasing this year. While the sound may be different than what fans are used to hearing from their favorite artists, the change is introducing a sound that may not have been heard otherwise.  

The music industry has seen many artists go back and forth between genres of music. Most likely because it gives more creative freedom to the artist, and a broader reach in their audience. Even though 2024 is seeing mainstream artists make a genre transition, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been happening for decades. Artists like Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, and Miley Cyrus are a few of many who have jumped from pop to country sometime in their careers. The switch from country to pop was even more popular back in the day because of people’s listening habits, and notable artists like Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, who took the risk of changing genres. It just so happens that country music is receiving more popularity than it has in years, after having taken a back seat in the charts and award shows’ main categories to pop and rap. There was a 23.7 percent increase in streams across the U.S. this past year, and the Billboard Top 100 saw country songs occupy the top three slots for the first time in history last July. Lana Del Rey said it best: “The music business is going country!” 

When Beyoncé announced her highly anticipated Act II following Renaissance, fans were happily surprised to find that she was leaning into her southern roots. Titled Cowboy Carter, the cover features Beyoncé in a cowboy outfit holding an American flag on horseback. Beyoncé seemingly makes a dramatic genre and aesthetic shift from the futuristic Renaissance and its R&B and Black-dance music. Beyoncé making this genre exploration shouldn’t completely surprise fans, as she has drawn from her Louisiana Creole-Alabama-Texas roots in her earlier works. She even acknowledges her heritage in her song “Formation”, saying “My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana/You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama.” Also, the song “Daddy Lessons” featured on her sixth album Lemonade showcases traditional country sounds and beats including a guitar and trumpet reminiscent of New Orleans jazz. Crossing her normal style with country elements, Beyoncé acknowledges her genre-bending and the idea of genres on the album in songs like “SPAGHETTII” and “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW”. This includes having Linda Martell, the first commercially successful black female country artist, cryptically say, “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” at the beginning of one of the songs.  

At a Billboard event in late January of this year, Lana Del Rey announced her new album, Lasso, would be released in September of this year. While on stage Del Rey acknowledged the country music popularity during the 2024 awards season, saying “If you can’t already tell by our award winners and our performers, the music business is going country,” before announcing she was also going country and that “it’s happening.” Despite not having southern, familial roots like Beyoncé, she and producer Jack Antonoff traveled to southern environments like Muscle Shoals, Nashville, and Mississippi over the last four years and made the album. As a fan of Del Rey’s music myself, I would say that it was a long time coming for the indie/alternative/pop artist because I find country music elements and instruments making appearances in her previous work. Songs like “If You Lie Down With Me” and “Let The Light In” in Del Rey’s discography have the melody, instruments, and songwriting that appear in most country songs. Although it was a years-long transition to full country, I’m glad she’s making the leap and I think her musicality will suit the genre.  

I would say the most surprising artist that is leaning into the country music sound is Post Malone, because the sound he was previously making is some of the farthest-sounding music from country. However, Post Malone has experimented with using his voice on some acoustic songs on his album Stoney like “Feeling Whitney” and includes country instrumentals on the song “Lemon Tree“ from his album Twelve Carat Toothache. Malone has covered songs like “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates that have proved his love of the genre and his capability with it. Malone has collaborated with country artists like Billy Strings, Dwight Yoakam, and Keith Urban in released music and performances. In February, Malone teased a collaboration with country artist, Luke Combs, on social media and has said on a Twitch livestream that a “country record is coming.” 

Pop artists shifting into the country genre is obvious to listeners and people in the music industry. While there is no one answer to this phenomenon, many have speculated the reasons. The most popular suggestions are that artists want to broaden their audience and what better way than to expand into a genre that’s growing in popularity? This also allows the artists to capitalize on the genre’s popularity and try to make a sound that more people are listening to. Country music is known for its’ storytelling. Leslie Fram, the senior vice president of music strategy, suggested to Billboard that this may be a reason for pop artists switching genres. Fram says that pop artists going into country music is a sign of “overwhelming respect for the storytelling and the songwriting in Nashville.” Seeing as country artists and country music are garnering much success, it seems that pop artists are hoping to find that success in the genre too. 

From 2017 to 2022, only 2% of the most popular songs in the U.S. were country songs. This has since changed with country music streams exceeding 20 billion. In this new popularity surge, the genre’s artists are getting better recognition on charts and at award shows. Just like when artists switched from country to pop, some are going back to their country roots or starting to plant fresh ones, as several mainstream musicians make the switch to country music. With anticipated country music and albums from artists with wide audience reach, I believe country music will continue to be on the rise.  

Erin is a contributing writer for Her Campus USFSP. She enjoys writing about entertainment topics, such as the music and film industry, and about health and wellness or political topics pertaining to women. If Erin is not reading or browsing Goodreads, she is reviewing films on Letterboxd, making playlists, or in line on Ticketmaster.