This ain't your granddad's country music. Today's country stars are just as at home on the pop charts as they are on the country tallies. Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, the Band Perry and Jason Aldean, among others, all made their mark in other genres in 2011.
Swift, who was honored this month as Billboard's Woman of the Year, made it a point to invite pop (and a few country) stars onstage during her Speak Now world tour, including Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Usher, Justin Bieber, Jason Mraz and Kenny Chesney. The Country Music Association (CMA) and Academy of Country Music both named her their entertainer of the year, and she picked up Billboard Music Awards to boot.
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This was also quite a year for Lady Antebellum, the trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, which placed near the top in several categories, including its ranking as the Top Duo or Group of the Year (No. 3 overall). The threesome placed two of its Capitol Nashville albums in the top 10 of the Top Country Albums category: at No. 4 is Need You Now and at No. 6 is Own the Night, which topped the Billboard 200 in September after selling 347,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The act ranks second on the Country Albums Artist list, behind Swift.
In November, Lady A picked up its third straight CMA Award for vocal group of the year, and earlier this year it nabbed five Grammy Awards and a Billboard Music Award.
If any act in country music had a breakthrough year, it was sibling trio the Band Perry. Not only did Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry reach No. 1 on Hot Country Songs in late 2010 with "If I Die Young," the song also hit No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. It tops the year-end Country Digital Songs list ( viewable on Billboard.biz ), and the act's self-titled debut album finishes at No. 7 on the Top Country Albums recap.
Jason Aldean, who married country and rap on his hit "Dirt Road Anthem" is the top ranked male vocalist on the Top Artist list, coming in at No. 2 overall. He performed the tune at the 2011 CMT Music Awards with Ludacris, no less. Aldean's duet with Kelly Clarkson, "Don't You Wanna Stay," was not only a country hit, but also charted on the Adult Contemporary Songs recap. The Georgia native is also gaining momentum on the touring front, recently winning the Breakthrough Award at the Billboard Touring Conference & Awards.
Blake Shelton may not have crossed over in the traditional sense, but he surely paved some pop culture in-roads in 2011 as one of four coaches on NBC's "The Voice" alongside Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. It was arguably his best year at country radio, scoring his fourth and fifth straight No. 1s on Hot Country Songs, a streak that dates back to 2009. It's no surprise then that he leads the Hot Country Songs Artists recap for the year, placing "Honey Bee" at No. 8 on the Hot Country Songs recap.
The top spot on the year-end Hot Country Songs chart belongs to the Eli Young Band, which had the year's biggest hit with "Crazy Girl." It marked the first trip to the top of Hot Country Songs for the Texas foursome, which had previously failed to crack the top 10 in five attempts dating back to 2007.
The youth movement in country music continued in 2011. Among the top 10 on the Hot Country Songs Artists recap, the sole veteran is Chesney (No. 5 on the list), who scored his first Billboard top 10 airplay single in 1995. The rest of this recap roster all achieved their first hits in the past six years, including Aldean (2005), Swift (2006), Lady Antebellum (2007), Young (2009), Zac Brown Band (2008) and Bryan (2007). The trend is even more apparent on the year-end Top Country Albums Artists tally. There, Paisley (No. 7), who released his debut album in 1999, finds himself the senior member of a group that also includes this year's "American Idol" winner, Scotty McCreery, who is No. 9.