Tenille Arts Scores Her First Top 10, and It Only Took 61 Weeks

Tenille Arts
Rachel Deeb

Tenille Arts

The Canada native had to overcome multiple challenges -- including a label shakeup and a pandemic -- en route to an unlikely radio hit.

Tenille Arts won't be taking home any trophies from the 56th annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards on April 18 — competitor Gabby Barrett received the new female artist honor in advance — but Arts has already won big by overcoming an extraordinary hurdle to claim a precedent-setting top 10 single with her first bona fide hit.

Arts, who was named a finalist for new female when nominations were unveiled Feb. 26, moves to No. 9 on the Country Airplay chart dated April 17 in her 61st week on the list. Co-written with producer Alex Kline (Terri Clark, Erin Enderlin) and Allison Veltz Cruz ("Prayed for You"), "Somebody Like That" is the first title by a female artist to reach country's top 10 that was entirely produced and authored by women.

"When we got to the top 10 and started breaking that record, I couldn't believe it," says Arts during a layover at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. "And actually, Alex did an interview lately where she mentioned that she didn't have a female producer that she looked up to growing up because there really weren't any. Here she is breaking these records and setting these new bars for female producers, but also being such a role model to the younger, new female producers out there."

The success of "Somebody Like That" is particularly impressive, given the challenges it faced. Released by 19th & Grand/Reviver to AM/FM country stations via PlayMPE on Dec. 3, 2019, it entered the chart dated Feb. 15, 2020, at No. 59, just weeks before COVID-19 threw businesses around the world into chaos. Shortly afterward, Reviver was out of the picture. Effective with the chart dated May 2, 19th & Grand — headed by CEO Hal Oven — was officially listed as the lone associated label. Reviver executive vp/GM Gator Michaels left to form a consultancy in April 2020 and tagged Arts and 19th & Grand as his initial clients. Former Reviver vp promotion Jim Malito likewise shifted to 19th & Grand, using the same title. Four of the five current 19th & Grand regionals are also working the same territory they worked at Reviver.

On April 9, Reviver founder/president David Ross cited "a combination of lots of different factors that led to us not being in business with Tenille anymore." He said, "Most of them are obvious," though the only one he would specify is the pandemic. Ross and executives with 19th & Grand all declined to discuss the break, acknowledging that it is the subject of litigation. Arts is not being blamed for any of the rancor. "She's talented as hell," said Ross.

The split barely caused a ripple publicly. Even Arts was uncertain about the circumstances, other than knowing that her original promotion team remained intact.

"It was really interesting when things started to unravel with Reviver," she says. "Hal just stepped up, and we continued on the best that we could. I'm so thankful that the promotion staff was so willing, and they were so invested with this song that they really wanted to continue working it and to make it happen."

Arts was willing to work, too, and she was uniquely positioned to do it. Many of the genre's biggest acts took the pandemic-related opportunity to spend time with their families. Having established relationships with programmers through several rounds of radio promotion tours, Arts accepted scads of offers to do social media takeovers and other online events at radio, performing five different shows on a single day in one instance.

"Everybody wanted to do virtual shows, and I was just ready and willing, so they constantly were reaching out," she says. "That was so great because I really got exposed to their audience. I couldn't have done five shows in one day had I been actually out on the road."

The Saskatchewan-born Arts has diligently pursued America's country market for more than a decade, traveling back and forth regularly from Canada to Nashville from 2009 until 2015, when she moved to Music City after graduating from high school. She developed her songwriting skills at 19th & Grand and built confidence along the way in her clear, clean timbre.

"She's an amazing vocalist," says producer Kline, noting that little coaching is required when they record Arts' studio performances. "There's not a whole lot to ask for."

A Jan. 29, 2018, appearance on ABC's The Bachelor led Michaels to sign her at Reviver, and she performed "Somebody Like That" on national TV for the first time during a return visit on Jan. 6, 2020. Several previous singles — 2017's "Cold Feet," 2018's "I Hate This" and 2019's "Call You Names" — all earned critical attention, but "Somebody Like That" seems to have benefitted from her teaming with Kline and Veltz Cruz. It's one of four songs that trio wrote on the 2020 album Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between, and those four tracks are arguably her most forceful.

"It's easy to talk about young women having confidence and a voice in a room with a male producer," says Michaels. "I think it's much less realistic than we think it is. I think they get squashed far too often. Tenille has a sense of herself as an artist. It's on [a level] I really haven't seen very often. And I think that Alex really nurtured that and helped Tenille be able to express that."

Arts agrees that working with her female compadres makes it easier to access some of the most sensitive parts of her creativity.

"We are such good friends now that nothing's off the table when we go into a writing room," she says. "That's so exciting because we can be vulnerable with each other and really get down to the heart of everything."

Thus, Barrett may be the woman who gets the ACM new female trophy this year, but Arts has one of the most improbable impact stories of the year: overcoming label drama and a 60-week journey at radio during a pandemic to earn her first hit with an all-female creative team.

"Normally I'm not a patient person," she concedes, "but with this song, every week has been something new and exciting. You never know how many times you're going to get a top 10 single or anything like that. So I'm just here for the ride."

This article first appeared in the weekly Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to subscribe for free.