Kacey Musgraves is one of the up-and-coming acts in country music. (DANNY MOLOSHOK / REUTERS )
Despite country music's recent surge in popularity, the uninitiated still may not know who to listen to outside of, say, Carrie Underwood. RedEye reached out to Billboard magazine's Andrew Hampp and Annie Reuter, a New York-based writer focusing on country music for outlets like CBS radio, via phone for their tips on navigating the modern country scene.
On Kacey Musgraves: "She's an anomaly. She's taking off in the coasts and sings about more liberal-minded subjects. She's kind of a gateway drug in regards to modern country music," Hampp said. Adds Reuter, "She's bringing taboo topics to the forefront with songs like `Follow Your Arrow.' That's why she's touring with folks like Katy Perry. She connects with the pop crowd as much as the country crowd."
And yet: Hampp doesn't believe newer acts like Musgraves have taken hold in Nashville, the genre's home base. "Country still depends on radio play more than other genres," he said. "Artists still have to adhere to that traditional format to get airplay and popularity. Even Taylor Swift had to make a country version of `We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' because the song was leaning too pop."
Men and more men: "If you look at our country airplay chart right now, there's only one woman in the Top 25. Otherwise, it's all males. With there being so many solo male artists in country singing about trucks, girls or beer, it can be hard to differentiate between them," Hampp said.
Names to watch out for: Reuter recommends Brandy Clark, Brett Eldredge ("He's a good gateway for folks getting into country. Very soulful, almost blues-y.") and Kip Moore, who along with Musgraves opens for Lady Antebellum on Wednesday at Allstate Arena. Hampp recommends Dan + Shay, whom he notes share management with Justin Bieber and are writing songs for the new Rascal Flatts album.