The Year in Country 2015: Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood & Kelsea Ballerini Lead the Way

Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood photographed in 2015.

All hail Luke Bryan. Just as he did in 2014, the Georgia native reigns as 2015's Top Country Artist, as well as Top Male Country Artist. As in recent years, Billboard's country music charts were dominated by the boys (or bros). However, female artists also hoisted their flag.

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Carrie Underwood is the Top Female Country Artist of 2015, while Zac Brown Band is the top country duo/group and Kelsea Ballerini is the Top New Country Artist. The year also belonged in many ways to Sam Hunt, who rules multiple year-end country charts.

LEADING MAN LUKE: Bryan is additionally the Top Country Albums Artist of 2015, fueled by three of his sets ranking among the genre's top 15 albums of the year: Kill the Lights (No. 2 on the year-end Top Country Albums chart), Crash My Party (No. 11) and Spring Break… Checkin' Out (No. 13). Notably, Kill the Lights led Top Country Albums for eight weeks. Bryan's fifth studio album has already produced two Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay No. 1s: "Kick the Dust Up" and "Strip It Down." In a reflection of his chart commands, Bryan won the entertainer of the year award at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards Nov. 4, the second straight year that he took home the coveted trophy.

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STORY CONTINUES: Top Female Country Artist (and No. 4 act overall for the format) Underwood's success in 2015 is powered by her album Storyteller (the No. 14 title of the year on Top Country Albums). Her fifth studio set made history when it opened at No. 1 on Top Country Albums on Nov. 14: Underwood became the first artist in the 51-year history of the chart to post six consecutive career-opening No. 1s (including her 2014 Greatest Hits: Decade #1). "Everything about this album feels like a new chapter for me," Underwood, a new mom in 2015, told Billboard upon hearing the news. "It's the start of my second decade in music. It's so hard to believe it has been 10 years, but I'm as proud of this album as any I've ever done."

GROUP EFFORT: Top Country Duo/Group of 2015 Zac Brown Band (the genre's No. 3 act overall) finishes with the No. 3 country album of the year, Jekyll + Hyde. The set arrived at No. 1 on Top Country Albums in May, while lead single "Homegrown" is No. 7 on the year-end Hot Country Songs tally. Second single "Loving You Easy" wraps at No. 16.

FIRST 'LOVE': When Ballerini, 2015's Top New Country Artist, landed atop Country Airplay with her launch single "Love Me Like You Mean It" (July 4), she ended a notable drought: she became the first solo female to lead with a debut country single since Underwood in 2006 with "Jesus Take the Wheel." "Mean" is the No. 27 hit of the year on Hot Country Songs.

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HUNT'S 'PARTY': Hunt's introductory full-length album Montevallo is No. 1 on Top Country Albums for 2015. Released in late 2014, the set has produced three No. 1s each on Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay: "Leave the Night On," "Take Your Time" and "House Party." Hunt, who won the multi-genre favorite new artist award at the American Music Awards (on Nov. 22), is the top artist for 2015 on Hot Country Songs, Country Digital Songs and Country Streaming Songs.

Plus, "Take Your Time" is No. 1 on the 2015 Hot Country Songs tally. It also places at No. 1 on Country Streaming Songs. "House Party" is No. 3 on Hot Country Songs for 2015.

BIG HIT: On Country Digital Songs, Hunt's "Time" finishes at No. 2, behind champion Little Big Town's "Girl Crush." The latter also ranks at No. 2 for the year on Hot Country Songs after it led the list for a record-breaking 13 weeks, marking the longest command for a song by a group of three or more members in the chart's 57-year history. ("Crush" passed the Browns' classic "Three Bells," which dominated for 10 weeks in 1959.)

HEAD OF THE 'CLASS': On Country Airplay, the No. 1 song for 2015 is Lee Brice's "Drinking Class," followed by Frankie Ballard's "Young & Crazy" at No. 2 and Brett Eldredge's "Lose My Mind" at No. 3. The Top Country Airplay Artist for 2015 is duo Florida Georgia Line.