Billboard Cover Sneak Peek: 5 Ways Sam Hunt Is Breaking Down Country Stereotypes

David Needleman
Sam Hunt photographed on Aug. 12, 2015 at Industria in New York City.

Sam Hunt is writing his own rules in country music. He dresses more like a rapper than Kenny Chesney, decorates his stage with florals, and takes a hard-line stance on respect for women in his lyrics. The Georgia native has shuffled the deck, but somehow it's all falling into place: His 2014 debut Montevallo has sold almost 700,000 copies to date and he showing no signs of slowing down. Five years from now, there's a good chance country music will be following Hunt's lead.

In Billboard's latest cover story, out Thursday, Aug. 20, Hunt is one of four sartorially inclined cover stars -- including Adam Lambert, Wiz Khalifa and Miguel -- featured in the Music's Men of Style special portfolio. Here are five reasons why the country star has broken down Nashville stereotypes -- from his fashion aesthetic to his sound.

His Style Tears Down Nashville Norms
When Hunt played the televised CMA Music Festival, one viewer tweeted, "If you really want to be country, drop the flat bill and pick up a cowboy hat and some boots." Elsewhere, he's performed beneath a banner featuring two rows of pastel flowers. But the flowers and flat bills aren't going anywhere. "A lot of the people working in Nashville, they have a model," Hunt tells Billboard. "I don't really fit into that."

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He's a Free Thinker 
Shane McAnally is currently one of Nashville's most successful songwriters, but that wasn't the case when he first met Hunt. "Six years ago, that wasn't the smartest move," McAnally tells Billboard about the singer deciding to work with him. "Today, it doesn't take courage to work with me. Back then, he was one of a few -- and definitely the only man."

His Other Collaborators Are Nashville 'Misfits' 
Hunt looked outside the box when assembling his team, and he's stuck with them through his recent success. Along with McAnally, Hunt enlisted an unknown named Zack Crowell to co-produce Montevallo. Hunt tells Billboard that Crowell "had been making beats for rappers, literally selling them out of his basement for cash. He didn't know anything about country." No wonder the album features turnable-scratching and a dubstep drop.

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His Lyrics Treat Women Equally 
"Respect for women was a very important part of my upbringing," Hunt tells Billboard. "The women in my life demanded that from me."  He even named his album after the hometown of a former girlfriend (reportedly Hannah Lee Fowler) and consulted her when writing the lyrics: "I spent a lot of time talking to her about the songs and asking, 'What do you think about this?' Her perspective was a powerful part of me being able to connect with a female audience, not just a male audience."

His Path to Stardom Hasn't Been Traditional
Hunt is a 6-foot-3 jock who played college football and even tried out for the NFL. Two months after failing to impress the Kansas City Chiefs, he shocked his family and friends by grabbing some food and two mattresses and driving his mom's minivan to Nashville, along with one other friend (who is now his road manager). No one in his family even knew he had been writing songs since he was 18. “I want to sound different than everybody else," says Hunt. "To use a football phrase, I try to zig when other people zag.” 

Read more about Sam Hunt and Music's Men of Style's other cover stars when Billboard is out Thursday, Aug. 20. But first take a peek at the other cover stars below.