Amazon Launches Country Playlist Aimed At Foreign Fans: Exclusive

Russ Harrington
Keith Urban

Amazon is answering the country music industry’s prayers: it’s launching a country playlist targeted at the rest of the world.

Country Heat, its first global country playlist, launches today (Apr. 27) in 35 countries, showcasing new and established country acts with what Amazon’s curators see as potential worldwide appeal.

"Country Heat represents the biggest and best in country music right now and sharing this specific list around the globe provides a massive look for these artists that might not yet have a presence outside the US,” says Emily Cohen, who is leading the curation of the playlist out of Nashville as country music curator for Amazon Music. "The artists represented on Country Heat are defining modern country music, and have an impact on the genre worldwide via music streaming and international touring. We've also chosen to showcase developing country artists from around the world, such as The Shires from the UK and Morgan Evans from Australia, to begin to help them build a musical foundation both here in the States and territories around the world."

The move comes as record companies push to expand the genre abroad, encouraging Nashville acts to tour overseas and amass global fan bases while working to land them appearances in foreign TV shows.

While streaming has created more global opportunity for country, Spotify’s country playlists are still far less popular and break less music than its pop and hip-hop lists like Rap Caviar. But Amazon Music has gained more traction recently with country music fans, in part because of an early deal to be the exclusive streamer and retailer of Garth Brooks’ music, and in part because many rural Americans are short on retail options and increasingly rely on Amazon deliveries for all their shopping needs, with many enrolling in Amazon's Prime program that includes free shipping and Amazon’s Prime Music service.

Amazon’s Top Country station sits at #1 across both streaming services that Amazon operates (Prime Music and the subscription-based Amazon Music Unlimited), while helping Amazon Music capture a share of the country music streaming audience that is three times the industry average. 

For the 50-song playlist's launch, the ACM's recently-named New Male Vocalist of the Year Brett Young recorded a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," available exclusively on Country Heat. A longtime favorite of Young's, and frequently played as an encore during the country star's live performances, the song was recorded as an Amazon Original.

"'Hallelujah' is a song near and dear to me," Young tells Billboard. "Amazon Music came to me with the idea of recording it and sharing it with the world. I've been performing it live for many years, and I'm proud of how it came out."

The only catch for overseas smart-speaker listeners: they have to ask Alexa to play “Country Heat” in English, no matter what language they speak. “The name of the playlist is Country Heat everywhere,” a spokeswoman says.

Check out the playlist below.