From left: Morgan Evans, Tegan Marie & Jordan Davis
From left: Morgan Evans, Tegan Marie & Jordan Davis
Getty Images; Design by Jessica Xie

15 Country Artists to Watch in 2018

by Chuck Dauphin, Taylor Weatherby
January 05, 2018, 12:00pm EST

A new year may have started, but 2017 is certainly not a thing of the past for country music. Last year saw rising stars take over the charts, with Carly Pearce, Midland, Brett Young and Luke Combs making significant career progress from No. 1 songs on country radio and even a couple Grammy nominations.    

With an impressive round of stars born in 2017, who will be the “Ones To Watch” in the world of country music in 2018? Well, everyone has an opinion on that, but Billboard dove right in and found a list of 15 promising musicians who will likely see some major breakthroughs this year.    

Devin Dawson

After spending 2017 touring with 2016’s breakout star Maren Morris, the Orangeville, California native had his own breakthrough year. The singer-songwriter signed a record deal with Warner Music, and despite only having one single out, it’s proving that big things lie ahead for Dawson: “All On Me” currently sits at No. 13 on the Country Airplay chart (dated Jan. 6). And with his debut album Dark Horse coming Jan. 19, that momentum (and chart position) is likely to grow.     

Caroline Jones

If there’s any justice in the music business, this unique musical gem will find a place in the hearts and minds of music fans everywhere in the coming year. Her music is a little country, a sprinkle of pop, and a dash of folk, but when you hear a song that has the infectious sparkle of “Bare Feet,” you know that Jones is something special. And, no less than the Zac Brown Band thinks so, as the songstress has scored points with his fan base while opening his shows this year.

Cody Johnson

His much-talked-about stage show helped him to set some incredible viral numbers – and bring his unique blend of traditional country sounds to a bigger audience. But, as the Texas native continues to grow his brand (which already includes a No. 2 spot on Top Country Albums 2016's Gotta Be Me) by releasing a new disc in 2018, look for those numbers to grow even more.

Morgan Evans

When you’re married to one of country’s current sweethearts, you hardly need anything else to help you to the spotlight. But even though he’s one half of country music’s fairytale couple, Evans has the voice and sound to hold his own when it comes to making waves in the genre. The Australia native released his catchy, lighthearted US debut “Kiss Somebody” last summer that now has more than 14 million Spotify streams and he’s landed supporting spots on tours with Cole Swindell, Lee Brice and Old Dominion. He’ll be putting out more music in the coming months, so get ready to fall in love (almost) as much as Ballerini did.

Delta Rae

One of the most underrated moments in country music in the past twelve months was the emergence of The Valory Music Co’s Delta Rae. With songs like the peppy “A Long and Happy Life” and the declarative “I Moved South,” this talented group has positioned themselves for a run at the fast lane. And, when you hear a track like the jaw-dropping “No Peace In Quiet,” we think you’ll agree that it’s a spot well deserved!

Jimmie Allen

Without even releasing a single to radio, this moving and effective vocalist has already made an impact so far. His “Blue Jean Baby” rocketed to #8 on Spotify’s Viral Top 50 playlist, and groove-based performances such as “Back of Your Mind” will definitely keep interest in his career on the rise. We think he’s about to hit us with his “Best Shot.”

Tegan Marie

Granted, there are no shortage of teenage acts in the marketplace – and they all have talent, to some degree. However, few have the stage presence, songwriting skills and overall show business moxie as this Michigan native who Warner Brothers is banking on heavily in the next twelve months. It’s a new day dawning in the industry, and look for her infectious sound to be at the forefront – particularly for the growing Gen Z audience, who have made her a viral rage.

Cherish Lee

Sometimes it’s all about timing, and this vivacious talent is proof of that. She’s had a life that has knocked her around at times, but manages to still hang in there --  just like the subject of her current single “Tequila Cowgirl.” Sometimes, you’ve got to have lived it to sing about it, and look for Lee to share many of those experiences on her forthcoming EP.

Jordan Davis

While the beard is certainly a great attention-grabber, there’s more to the Louisiana native than meets the eye: Davis has a charming twang that makes his songs just as fun to listen to as his facial hair is to look at. Even though he only has two songs out for the time being, he has more than one million monthly Spotify listeners already and his creatively flirty “Singles You Up” has more than 20 million listens alone. If he keeps shelling out singles that resonate that much, it won’t be the last time Davis achieves the feat.

Bailey Bryan

Kelsea Ballerini may have the young country crowd on lock, but 19-year-old Bryan — who has actually received several endorsements from Ballerini herself — definitely has the means for winning that same crowd over as well with her relatable, heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics and sweet pop-country vibe. Plus, she’s represented by the same PR team as Jason AldeanLady AntebellumThomas Rhett and 2017 breakout star Brett Young (The GreenRoom PR), indicating that she’s the real deal. And with Young’s career in full swing, it's Bryan’s turn to have a breakout year.

Terra Bella

Joseph and Martina Costa, a husband and wife duo from California, there is definitely a current sound to their music, but when you listen to their harmonies – there’s a definite throwback vibe that is reminiscent of a lot of what made the '80s so unforgettable on country radio. She has the heartfelt quality of a Patty Loveless, while he borrows from the Haggard / Jones school with an emotional subtlety that earns them a spot on this list. Check out their current single “Before You,” and see if you don’t agree!

Lewis Brice

Yes, we know. He has a famous last name. But, the brother of one of country music’s most expressive vocalists (Lee Brice) proves that he is also deserving of his own corner of the spotlight. He puts his South Carolina soul on the line on performances like the blues-laden “Messin’ With My Mind,” and if he can get a fair shot…..he can go the distance!

Taylor Acorn

With long blonde hair, pretty blue eyes and a stellar voice, Acorn has what some people would call “the complete package." While her appearance may fit the mold, Acorn’s sweet, yet powerful voice is really what stands out. Her debut EP Put It in a Song — especially the titular track — has the same kind of charm that Taylor Swift’s songs did when she was starting out, except Acorn’s voice has a maturity to it that draws fans young and old. With one Taylor officially gone from the genre, it’s about time to have another take it by storm.

Ben Gallaher

One of the top new artists at Sony, Gallaher’s music reflects the hard-working ethic of his native Pennsylvania. There’s a raw grittiness to his EP on showcase moments such as “Against The World” and the nostalgic feel of “You Can’t Do That Anymore” that seem sure to set him apart from the musical pack.

Jessie Chris

Introduced to a nationwide audience through outlets such as Radio Disney and the Today show, there’s an undeniable bounce and vitality to the music of this rising artist that we feel will keep her star on the “Burn” for some time. Between her vocal range, dynamo stage presence, and depth as a songwriter, she’s got the goods to deliver in 2018.