Chris Stapleton is Billboard’s Top Country Artist of 2018, claiming the honor that he also took home in 2016. Last year, Stapleton finished second behind Sam Hunt, who cruised to the finish line mainly on the strength of his 34-week ruler on Hot Country Songs, “Body Like a Back Road.”
Billboard’s year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during the charts dated Dec. 2, 2017, to Nov. 17, 2018. Data registered before or after a title’s chart run is not considered in these standings. That methodology detail, and the December-to-November time period, account for some of the differences between these lists and the calendar-year recaps that are independently compiled by Nielsen Music.
Stapleton’s Top Country Artist triumph in 2018 is driven largely by the success of three albums — all of which rank in the top 10 of the year-end Top Country Albums tally. His first major-label set, 2015's Traveller, ranks at No. 4, while From a Room: Volume 2 (No. 7) and From a Room: Volume 1 (No. 9), both from 2017, also make the cut.
All three titles have spent multiple weeks on the weekly Top Country Albums chart. Traveller, released in 2015, has spent 29 weeks at No. 1 on Top Country Albums and has been in the top 10 for all of 2018.
Nashville still hangs a lot of its hats (even though many of them are no longer the 10-gallon variety), on radio. Although radio success for Stapleton has been a bit late in coming, during 2018, he rang up his first No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
The singer-songwriter’s sixth appearance on Country Airplay, “Broken Halos,” topped the March 24-dated list. “Halos” follows 2016’s No. 10-peaking “Nobody to Blame” as his second top 10 and his latest, “Millionaire,” has already cracked the Country Airplay top 15.
Rhett Rules Radio: The top Country Airplay Artist of the year is Thomas Rhett. Rhett scored two Country Airplay No. 1s in 2018: “Marry Me” (two weeks) and “Life Changes” (one). On the year-end Country Airplay chart, “Marry” finishes at No. 24 while “Life” sits at No. 15.
In 2017, Rhett ranked as the No. 2 Country Airplay Artist behind Blake Shelton; the latter is No. 5 in 2018. Rounding out the top four on the 2018 Country Airplay Artists tally are Luke Bryan (No. 2), Luke Combs (No. 3) and Kane Brown (No. 4).
Combs ‘One’ Is No. 1: Meanwhile, Combs’ This One’s for You rules as the year’s Top Country Album. The singer’s debut full-length effort bowed at No. 1 on the June 24, 2017-dated chart and has since been a constant presence on the list. The hits-filled album produced the No. 6 title on the year-end Hot Country Songs list: “One Number Away.” The tune also sits at No. 3 on the year-end Country Airplay tally.
Carrie Underwood Is Country’s Leading Lady: Billboard’s top female country artist for 2018 is Carrie Underwood.
Underwood, who will launch a worldwide tour in early 2019, changed record labels in early 2017. After spending 12 years with Sony’s Arista Nashville, the artist signed with Universal’s Capitol Nashville.
Her latest studio album, Cry Pretty, debuted atop Top Country Albums and the Billboard 200 on the chart dated Sept. 29, 2018, with 266,000 equivalent album units earned in its first week, according to Nielsen Music. Of that sum, 251,000 were from traditional album sales.
She also made history. On Top Country Albums, her six studio projects and a hits package make Underwood the first artist in the survey's 52-year history to post seven consecutive career-opening No. 1s. Miranda Lambert is right behind her with six career-opening No. 1s in a row.
On the year-end Top Country Albums tally, Cry Pretty ranks as the No. 10 title of the year — and the only album by a woman in the top 20. The next highest-ranked album by a woman is Faith Hill’s collaborative set with Tim McGraw, The Rest of Our Life, at No. 24. After that, the next album by a woman is Underwood’s own Greatest Hits: Decade #1 at No. 26.
On the overall Top Country Artists ranking, Underwood is the only woman in the top 20, finishing at No. 13, with Maren Morris next on the list at No. 24.
Florida Georgia Line Leads Duo/Groups, ‘Meant’ Is Year’s Top Country Song: In the Top Country Artists – Duo/Group category, it’s Florida Georgia Line, consisting of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, on top. This is the third year in-a-row FGL has finished as country’s top duo/group.
FGL, with the help of pop-star collaboration partner, Bebe Rexha, ran the table on the airplay, streaming and sales-based Hot Country Songs chart this year.
Their country and pop crossover smash, “Meant to Be,” which was penned by Rexha and Hubbard along with David Garcia and Josh Miller, arrived atop Hot Country Songs on Dec. 16, 2017 — shortly after the 2018 chart year began on Dec. 2. It held in the penthouse for its first 50 frames, through the Nov. 17, 2018-dated list (the final week of the 2018 chart year).
“Meant” became the longest-running No. 1 in the history of Hot Country Songs, which was started in 1958. It passed the former title holder for longest chart rule, Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road,” in its 35th week.
No surprise then that “Meant” is No. 1 on the year-end Hot Country Songs tally. It also sits at No. 26 on the Country Airplay Songs recap.
“Simple,” FGL’s follow-up to “Meant,” marked a sonic 180 turn for the duo, with its more organic production. “Simple” crowned Country Airplay on the Oct. 20-dated tally, becoming the pair’s 14th Country Airplay No. 1. The song peaked at No. 2 on Hot Country Songs as the duo’s own “Meant to Be,” became a brick wall of sorts for other songs this year.
FGL also scored on the weekly Country Airplay chart during 2018 with another collaboration: Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down” featuring FGL, which led Country Airplay on June 30 for one frame.
“Simple” and “Up Down” join “Meant to Be” in the top 10 on the year-end Hot Country Songs roundup, as “Simple” and “Up” rank at Nos. 7 and 10, respectively.
Jordan Davis Is Year’s Top New Country Artist: Singer-songwriter Jordan Davis is Billboard’s Top New Artist for 2018. Davis’ launch single “Singles You Up” topped Country Airplay on April 21 for one week and peaked at No. 4 on Hot Country Songs the same week.
“Singles” ranks at No. 19 on the year-end Hot Country Songs chart and No. 28 on the Country Airplay Songs recap.
Davis’ first studio LP, Home State, started and peaked at No. 6 on Top Country Albums with 11,000 units on April 7. It closes the year at No. 49 on the year-end Top Country Albums chart.
A “Heaven”-ly No. 1 for Kane Brown: Kane Brown also turned in a very notable performance in 2018. Brown finishes with the No. 1 Country Airplay song of 2018, with “Heaven,” and also closes out the year as the No. 2 Top Country Artist and the No. 2 male country artist.
The 25-year-old is heading into the 2019 chart year in a big way, as his latest album, Experiment, bowed at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart dated Nov. 24 (the first week of the 2019 chart year).
Experiment is the follow-up to his self-titled first LP debuted atop the Dec. 24, 2016-dated Top Country Albums chart, adding 11 more weeks at the summit, beginning Oct. 28, 2017, following its reissue with bonus tracks. The self-titled album closes out 2018 as the No. 2 title on the Top Country Albums recap.