In the country music industry, there’s a saying that Nashville is a 10-year town — meaning it usually takes artists a decade to achieve success. Lainey Wilson, Billboard‘s top new country artist of 2021, hit that date almost on the nose. “It’s crazy — when I first got here, everyone was saying, ‘It’s a 10-year town, it’s a 10-year town,’ and I thought, ‘I’m going to do this in less time,'” she says. “But you know what? It’s like 10 years and one month later [that] I get my first No. 1.”
Wilson, originally from Baskin, La., scored her first No. 1 when her first charting single, “Things a Man Oughta Know,” rose 2-1 on the Country Airplay list dated Sept. 19. Concurrently, it peaked at No. 3 on the airplay-, streaming and sales based Hot Country Songs list. Wilson, who co-wrote “Things” with Jason Nix and Jonathan Singleton, became the first woman to lead the list with a freshman entry since Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” in April 2020.
Wilson’s chart-topper is from her freshman Broken Bow LP, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, which arrived at No. 40 on Top Country Albums in October. Her current single is a duet with Cole Swindell, “Never Say Never,” which has climbed into the Country Airplay top 30 after three weeks.
As we put a wrap on 2021 and another year of dealing with a pandemic, Wilson sat down with Billboard to share her story.
Where were you when you heard that “Things” hit No. 1?
I was on the road with Jason Aldean on the “Back in the Saddle Tour.” I’ve got to tell you, for two weeks solid I celebrated. I had way too many drinks and great meals. As for that new artist of the year thing, that just sounds very fancy. [Laughs.]
Since you’ve been in Nashville working at your craft for 10 years, how does that connect with you personally when you hear “new artist?”
Yeah, insane. I moved here 10 years ago, and when I reached year seven of living in my camper-trailer, I finally signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV. But I knew it would take a long time, and never thought about quitting. This accomplishment of a No. 1 song just validates my move here. I’ve been fighting and clawing to get here, and I wouldn’t change a thing, really. Those 10 years shaped who I am as a person and an artist. I feel like I earned my spot.
Next year you’re on the Dierks Bentley tour. Musically, he seems like a great match for you.
I’ve not met Dierks yet, but everyone says he’s such a cool guy, loves to prank — and I’m like, “Bring it on, man.” We’re gonna have some fun out there. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, so I can’t wait to get out there and learn from the big dogs.
You achieved the first Country Airplay No. 1 on a first entry by a woman since Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope.” Each year, we talk about the problems that women face getting airplay. I don’t expect you to have a quick solution, but what do you think?
I know, it’s crazy — and, believe me, even I have thought sometimes, “If I was a guy with a ballcap and some skinny jeans, I’d be a lot further along.” [Laughs.] Honestly, I hope it gets easier, but I don’t have high expectations that it will, since it’s been a problem for years. But I’ve accepted that it’s a big challenge — and I just tell all my guy friends that are artists, “You better watch out, I’m comin’ to get you!” I’m just messing when I say that, but seriously, there are lots of women listening to the radio who want to hear what we’ve got to say.
What’s your relationship with radio programmers like?
It’s good. I did a big radio tour in 2019 that was grueling, I’m not gonna lie — but I feel like I met a good many programmers who really get my music.
Are you putting pressure on yourself to get that second No. 1 now?
Absolutely, I definitely feel the pressure to get another No. 1 under my belt. If I told you “no,” I’d be lying. I’ve always heard the second one is harder than the first — but I’m not a one-and-done kind of girl.
How did the duet with Cole Swindell come about?
When Cole asked me to do the song, I had already picked out my next single, but I feel like things work out for a reason. Radio is already loving the song and this just lays another brick to my foundation.
Any big holiday plans?
[I’m] headed home to Baskin to see my crazy family and have some fantastic Louisiana food like my granny’s chicken and dumplings, jambalaya, chicken etouffee…that’s how we do it up in Louisiana.