Lainey Wilson
Country

Chartbreaker: How Lainey Wilson Went From Living In a Trailer to Climbing Country Charts

The rising artist spent seven years hustling in Nashville before landing a publishing deal -- and her breakout hit shares all she’s learned along the way.

Lainey Wilson’s dad was recently having a day like any other: listening to the radio on his tractor while planting corn. But then, something different happened. He heard his daughter’s breakout hit begin to play. “When he heard my song, he called me,” recalls Wilson, tearing up. “He’s a good ol’ country boy and a man of few words. He reminded me that we used to listen to country music on the radio on the tractor together when I was a child. It was a full-circle moment.”

Wilson’s “Things A Man Oughta Know” — about learning what it means to be prepared for whatever life throws your way, from doubt to heartbreak — has spent 18 weeks on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, recently surging into the top 20.

Diana King
Jon Loba and Lainey Wilson photographed on April 21, 2021 at Red Light Management in Nashville.

Wilson — who was born and raised in Baskin, La., “a hard-working, blue-collar town of 300 people who love country music” — says mining her upbringing was a natural process while writing alongside Jason Nix and Jonathan Singleton. She started talking about her childhood and soon relayed what her parents taught her early on, from catching a fish to hitching a trailer to starting a fire.

Wilson moved to Nashville in 2011, at the age of 19, arriving with a Flagstaff trailer full of her belongings attached to a pickup truck. She parked outside a family friend’s recording studio and lived in it for three years. “I was known as that crazy girl with the trailer back then,” she recalls. By 2016, she independently released her debut album, Tougher, which hit No. 44 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and followed it up with a self-titled EP.

All the while, she was determined to “meet the right people who could help connect the dots on the way to success. I changed management a few times and made a few mistakes while figuring out exactly what the formula was that would work for me.” By March 2018, she scored a publishing deal with Sony/ATV, and by that August a contract with indie label Broken Bow Records. The label released her four-track EP, Redneck Hollywood, the following year, which included “Things A Man Oughta Know.”

But as the label was gearing up to release her major-label debut full-length — Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ arrived this February — much of the world was in lockdown due to COVID-19. Thanks to her grassroots start in Nashville, though, Wilson was familiar with navigating uncertain times.

“Lainey didn’t let the pandemic stop her from engaging with fans on social media and industry professionals in the Nashville and country communities,” says Jon Loba, president of BMG Nashville. “She’s that rare artist who is [simultaneously] respected by consumers, industry gatekeepers, and other artists.”

It helped that, prior to the pandemic, the label arranged for Wilson to meet with key radio and DSP players. Loba says iHeartradio, for example, met Wilson over a year ago and because she remained visible throughout 2020, was eager to work together, naming her a 2021 “On The Verge” act. Spotify followed a similar path, adding Wilson its its inaugural Hot Country Artists to Watch list.

Diana King
Lainey Wilson photographed on April 21, 2021 at Red Light Management in Nashville.

Loba predicts Wilson will be a future “stadium-touring act.” Even with concerts on hold, she has improved her live vocal skills, mostly through intimate online performances. As for Wilson, she’s hoping to one day play Saturday Night Live.

She shares her other desire with the frankness befitting her small-town roots: “I want to keep my head screwed on straight, and then get to the point where I’m traveling on a bus, because boys stink and I don’t want to be around stinking boys anymore!”

 A version of this article will appear in the May 15, 2021, issue of Billboard.