Chris Young teamed up with Gavin DeGraw for a new episode of CMT Crossroads, airing this Friday (Dec. 13) on CMT. The country singer joined forces with the pop star for the popular CMT series, where the pair traded verses on many of their hits as well as poked fun at each other throughout the taping.
During a powerful performance of Young’s latest single “Drowning,” which Billboard is premiering the video for today (Dec. 11), the show took an emotional turn as Young sang of the death of his friend. Accompanied by DeGraw on piano, the stripped down collaboration gave the song new meaning to Young as well as many of his fans in the audience who could be seen wiping away tears throughout the clip.
“To see other people put people that they’ve lost into that and make that song theirs and make that something that means the world to them because they’re thinking about someone that they knew, I think it is the highest compliment you can get when you write a song like that,” Young tells Billboard. “Being able to pull that emotion out of people on a live TV taping when it’s you and a friend sitting down on piano and the two of us trading back and forth on that song to still carry that weight for people is a huge compliment. It was just a very, very magical point of that night for me.”
Young appreciated DeGraw’s own take on “Drowning” and says he and the singer workshopped the song’s arrangement with DeGraw slipping some quarter notes into the track to allow space. DeGraw also suggested adding an extra rest between the bridge and the top of the song’s last chorus that gives the song added weight.
“He took some note choices that I never would have picked that I really, really love,” Young says. “I think the emotion of that song comes across really, really well in that moment. The fact that he took [‘Drowning’] and made it his own, makes that version of it something special that you won’t see anywhere else.”
While Young says each time he performs “Drowning” the song’s lyrics hit him differently, it’s the hook that has changed in meaning since he first penned the song with frequent collaborators Josh Hoge (“Losing Sleep,” “Used to Love You Sober”) and Corey Crowder (“Raised on Country,” “Famous”).
“The thing that’s meant the most to me is actually that ‘missing you comes in waves’ line, because other people have come up to me and said, ‘I lost my dad 10 years ago and still every now and then, out of nowhere, it’ll hit me,’” he says. “That’s really this feeling of that and what that is supposed to portray in that song. And for that to impact people like that, [I’m] humbled by it.”
Young says he’ll be tuning in to watch the Crossroads episode when it airs on Friday. Citing the performance as “one of the coolest things I’ve gotten the chance to do,” Young admits he’s been waiting years for an invitation to perform on the CMT franchise.
“I really don’t know that I’ve ever been this excited for something that’s going to be on TV that I’ve done because I loved doing it so much. I really, really do feel lucky that I got to do this,” Young concedes. “It felt really special watching [the edits] back. It got me excited. So if it does that [for me], I hope it does that for other people.”
Past episodes of the long-running series have featured Shawn Mendes and Zac Brown Band, John Mayer and Keith Urban, Stevie Nicks and Lady Antebellum, and Katy Perry with Kacey Musgraves. The Young/DeGraw episode premieres Dec. 13 at 10 p.m. on CMT. Their collaboration of “Drowning” is below.