5 Country Artists Currently Thriving Without Major Radio Support
Current Billboard cover star Miranda Lambert is at an interesting place in her career. Her stature and general acclaim is as high as it's ever been, with her platinum-certified 2016 double album The Weight of These Wings garnering rave reviews, along with an ACM award for album of the year. But you wouldn't know it from listening to the radio.
Despite being one of country's biggest stars, Lambert is virtually a non-entity on the current country airwaves. Wings has yet to produce a single top 10 hit on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, with latest single "Tin Man" stalling out at No. 34. Lambert used to be as reliable an FM presence as anyone in Nashville -- she's scored three airplay No. 1s in her career (2010's "The House That Built Me," 2011's "Heart Like Mine," and 2012's "Over You") -- but with her music aiming less squarely at the mainstream's center, and radio increasingly tilting towards solo male artists, she's found herself increasingly squeezed out of heavy rotation.
That's OK, though: Miranda is in pretty esteemed company these days being left of the Nashville dial. Here are five other artists who've managed to find consistent, impressive success in country, despite being pushed to the fringes of genre radio (or not being let in the first place).
Any discussion of artists who are defining country in 2017 without radio support pretty much has to start with Chris Stapleton, the old-soul throwback artist who became a breakout star alongside Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMA Awards and has thrived ever since. Stapleton had both of the two best-selling albums of 2017's first half, per Nielsen Music, between his 2017 album From A Room and its 2015 predecessor, the double-platinum-certified Traveller. Despite this incredible success, Stapleton has never been paid much mind by country radio -- he's only had one top 10 airplay hit, in the No. 10-peaking "Nobody to Blame," and no song off From A Room has yet to climb past No. 26 ("Either Way," on the chart dated May 20).
Radio is finally starting to perk up its ears a little to Brown, thanks to his hit duet with Lauren Alaina, "What Ifs" -- which is already No. 65 on the Hot 100, but is currently frozen at No. 20 on Country Airplay. That's easily the biggest radio hit of the 23-year-old heartthrob's career to date, though, but his breakthrough via social media has found him greater success on the Country Digital Song Sales chart -- with both 2015's "Used to Love You Sober" and 2016's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" peaking at No. 2 -- and even on the Billboard 200 albums chart, where he scored a pair of top 10s in 2016 (the No. 9-peaking Chapter I EP, and his No. 10-charting self-titled LP).
After scoring a top 10 hit on Country Airplay with her debut single "Merry-Go-Round," Kacey Musgraves has yet to get anywhere near the chart's upper echelon with her subsequent releases -- though she did co-write a No. 2 hit, "Mama's Broken Heart," for Miranda Lambert herself in 2013. Nonetheless, she's sold well, with two top 5-charting albums on the Billboard 200 -- Same Trailer Different Park (No. 2, 2013) and Pageant Material (No. 3, 2015) -- and has garnered consistent acclaim, including a 2014 ACM award for album of the year (for Trailer). Margo Price, another well-reviewed throwback country artist, seems likely headed down a similar career track.
While most of the artists on this list have at least had some kind of moment on radio, alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson has never even scraped the Country Airplay chart. (Adult Alternative has been slightly friendlier, with 2016's "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)" peaking at No. 23.) Nonetheless, his grassroots popularity has swelled to the point where he not only excels on the Billboard 200 -- last year's A Sailor's Guide to to Earth debuted at No. 3 -- but gets nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. Another country-rock artist experiencing a late-career surge in mainstream recognition would be former Drive-By Truckers co-leader Jason Isbell, though he's counted more as rock than country these days -- even topping Billboard's Rock Albums chart with his 2017 effort with backup band The 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound.
Scotty McCreery / RaeLynn
These two reality competition alums both have found moderate success on FM over the years, with American Idol winner Scotty McCreery's "See You Tonight" peaking at No. 8 on Country Airplay in 2014 and The Voice finalist RaeLynn's "God Made Girls" hitting No. 16 in 2015. Support for either artist has been fairly mild in the years since, but they continue to sell well: RaeLynn's 2017 LP Wildhorse topped the Country Albums chart in April, while McCreery's latest single "Five More Minutes" hit No. 6 on Country Digital Song Sales this May -- his highest ranking on the chart since his debut Idol single in 2011.