Country radio, perhaps more than any other medium, loves its self-referential lyrics: this week, Kane Brown’s latest single “Like I Love Country Music” topped the Country Airplay chart, and in the process became the 16th song with the word “country” in its title to claim the No. 1 spot on the chart since 1990. But for Brown, the track — which name checks country legends like Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and Willie Nelson, among others — also carries some additional milestones: it’s his eighth Country Airplay No. 1, and third in a row, and rose to the summit in the fastest period in his career, reaching the top in its 15th week after release.
That’s impressive for the slow-churning chart, and is the fastest ascent in almost a year, since Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood’s “If I Didn’t Love You” last October. But it’s also a recommitment to the genre for Brown, who has dabbled outside the core country world with collaborations with artists like Marshmello, Khalid, Swae Lee, H.E.R. and Becky G in recent years on records that have been worked by both Sony Nashville and RCA Records, who joined forces to collaborate and push the artist in different realms for different tracks. And helping to balance all of that while also breaking new ground this month — Brown will become the first male country artist to perform at the VMAs on Aug. 28 — earns his manager, Neon Coast founder Martha Earls, the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Earls discusses the success of “Like I Love Country Music,” straddling the line between top 40 and country, the pressures of social media on the modern artist and where Brown goes next. “Continued global exposure, a world tour — the sky’s the limit,” she says about the future. “For Kane the most important thing is getting him and his music in front of people and they become instant fans.”
This week, Kane Brown’s “Like I Love Country Music” hit No. 1 on Country Airplay, his eighth time topping the chart. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?
This song was definitely one where we exercised tremendous patience. Kane first recorded it in 2019 and when he was putting together the Different Man album he brought it back up and re-recorded it with producer Dann Huff. It still wasn’t right and he actually recorded it a third time before feeling confident that it was ready to be released. The patience on Kane’s part to get it right obviously paid off.
The song also became his fastest hit to reach the top of that chart. What strategies did you use to make sure it resonated with country programmers?
I think the song and the energy of the song really did all the hard work. I’m proud of the video that Alex Alvga directed, I think that added a great visual component to the track. I also think that showcasing Kane’s incredible country vocal made it easy for programmers to play it.
After collaborating with the likes of Marshmello, Khalid, Swae Lee, H.E.R. and Becky G, this song is a celebration of the country genre. How have you guys worked to move more into the mainstream while staying connected to his country roots?
I think that the modern fan isn’t really concerned with genres as much as we think they are. There is always a common thread with Kane, which is honesty and authenticity in his lyric. This is the foundation of all great songs and really is the core of Kane’s music.
Sony Music Nashville and RCA have a deal to help promote Kane in both country and pop realms. What does that deal entail and how have you been able to take advantage of the structure?
It’s been really nice to work with both teams because they each offer a different perspective of the market. Top 40 moves quicker than country and I like that sense of urgency being infused now into our country releases as well. Both radio teams are absolutely amazing and the same for A&R. I think that this structure really reflects the way a modern deal should work.
Kane Brown will also be the first male country artist to perform at the VMAs later this month. What can a look like that do for his career?
It’s going to be an incredible performance and I’m grateful to the VMAs not just for the opportunity but also for their really positive energy surrounding Kane’s involvement. I think that MTV has always been progressive in its mindset and them realizing that genres are really irrelevant just demonstrates that.
How has management changed during your time in the music business?
There is so much more pressure on artists and managers to carry the heavy weight of marketing music than there was in the past. Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting directly with fans, but the amount of asks and opinions on what the artist should do with that social media borders on overwhelming. When 25 people are weighing in on what the artist’s “voice” should be, it’s no longer the artist’s voice. There is an element of trust that needs to happen that the artist knows how he or she can best speak to their fans. Kane still handles his own socials and I think that’s a big reason he has so many followers because he maintains his authenticity. My job sometimes is to just deflect all the outside pressures and opinions, which isn’t always easy.