2022 Stats for Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers Validate Headliner Status

2022 may still have a few more weeks left, but the music calendar officially ends at the end of November. That means we already have the end-of-year numbers in country music that we can peruse and attempt to glean some insight from. As you can probably imagine, Morgan Wallen basically dominates every single category in country no matter the metric: songs, albums, streams, and everything in between.

But what we’re concerned with here is digging through the raw data to determine if our hypothesis that non radio-supported artists such as Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan really are as big as we think they are, and if a country music revolution is underway. As big festivals continue to book these two as headliners, do the numbers verify that Bryan and Childers are two of the most popular artists in country music, despite radio and awards shows continuing to mostly ignore them? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

According to Billboard’s year-end numbers that factor in overall sales, streams, and downloads of recorded music, Zach Bryan was the 5th most popular artist in 2022 in all of country music, only bested by Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, and Walker Hayes. That’s quite astounding for an artist outside of the Music Row system.

Let’s also point out that Zach Bryan’s monster release American Heartbreak has been dominating Billboard’s country albums chart ever since the album was released and stuck at #2 right behind Morgan Wallen, but it wasn’t released until May 20th. That puts Bryan at a disadvantage compared to competition whose album or albums came out earlier than his.

According to Billboard, Zach Bryan also earned these distinctions in 2022:

#1 Top New Country Artist
#2 Country Songwriter considering Billboard’s “Hot Country Songs” chart.
#5 Overall Country Streaming Song – “Something in the Orange”
#6 Overall Hot Country Song – “Something in the Orange”
#8 Overall Album – American Heartbreak

You can see why some were bellyaching when neither the CMAs, nor the Grammy Awards nominated Zach Bryan for Best New Artist. Statistically, Zach Bryan was the best new artist in 2022, even though he didn’t really get started until May. This is also the reason any festival with Zach Bryan on the lineup is selling out immediately.

Bryan was even so successful as a solo songwriter, his own publishing designation, a.k.a. “Zach Lane Bryan Publishing Designee, BMI” was the 8th most successful publishing concern in country music in 2022, beating out entire publishing houses, and putting him in competition individually with the major publishing houses of Sony, Universal, and Morgan Wallen’s Big Loud.

Simply put, Zach Bryan is one of the most popular artists in all of country music, beating out Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Kane Brown, Sam Hunt, and so on, and so forth when it comes to recorded music. And again, a good case could be made he’s currently #2 or #3, just behind Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs.

What about Tyler Childers? He also continues to be wildly successful, and almost singularly off the continued popularity of his 2017 album Purgatory. Five years after the album was released, Purgatory was the 11th most popular album in all of country music in 2022. New albums from Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, even Growin’ Up by Luke Combs released this year, they were all bested by Purgatory, so was Tyler’s own new album Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven, which despite being a triple album, has been hovering in the 40s on the albums chart while Purgatory remains perennially in the Top 20.

Only albums from Morgan Wallen, Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, Zach Bryan, and Walker Hayes could beat out Tyler’s Purgatory for the year. Not only that, but the cumulative success of all of Tyler’s music (though mostly built off of Purgatory) marked him as the 24th most successful artist in all of country music in 2022 according to recorded music consuption, ahead of artists such as Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, and even Eric Church, who came in at a surprisingly low #40.

Chris Stapleton comes in as the 3rd most popular country artist when considering recorded music consumption, but what continues to be astounding about Stapleton’s success is how it continues to be predicated off the song “Tennessee Whiskey,” written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove. You think it’s crazy Tyler Childers can still have a hit record five years later? A full seven years after “Tennessee Whiskey” was released, and it was the #2 streaming song in all of country music in 2022 right behind Morgan Wallen’s “Wasted On You.” It was also the 8th most downloaded song, and its parent album, 2015’s Traveller, was the 6th most popular album in 2022.

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These numbers validate many hypotheses, including that radio’s iron grip on the country genre continues to slip, that authentic and independently-minded artists continue to find traction, and that independent artists are becoming the mainstream based off of their popularity.

Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers are just the spearhead to this movement though. Billy Strings, the Turnpike Troubadours, Cody Jinks, Sierra Ferrell, Molly Tuttle, Hailey Whitters, and even mainstream artists such as Lainey Wilson, Jon Pardi, and Carly Pearce are upsetting the apple cart in country music like never before, and it’s opening up the music to more authentic, and more country songs, not just through these artists, but as major labels react to these shifting trends, and try to promote more authentic voices themselves.

“This is my 5th or 6th year being at this awards show, and country sounded more country than it has in a long time, and I think we all wanted that,” Luke Combs said while accepting his Entertainer of the Year trophy at the 2022 CMA Awards. Now if we can just get entities like the CMAs to start accepting and acknowledging the success of artists like Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers, another important Rubicon could be crossed.

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