We are starring straight at the future of mainstream country music ladies and gentlemen, and it’s fuzzy-faced, overweight, wearing duds acquired at a Bass Pro Shop, and possibly holding a red solo cup in its right hand. That’s right, we’re talking about Luke Combs, and after the release of his latest single, there’s no mistaking it now. He is the biggest thing in all of country music at the moment, one of the biggest phenomenons to hit the genre definitely since Florida Georgia Line, and maybe even since Taylor Swift, and when all of this is said and done, we may even be comparing him to Garth Brooks in the way his career has been shot out of a country music cannon.
What all this means for country music is an important discussion to have, but first it can’t be emphasized and underscored enough just what Luke Combs is accomplishing at the moment. After all five of his first singles went #1, including two Triple-Platinum singles, one Double-Platinum single, and two Single Platinum singles that will likely be certified Double and Triple Platinum soon, Luke’s brand new single “Beer Never Broke My Heart” broke singles records this week when it received an incredible amount of adds on country radio, debuting at #15.
Where most artists are having to sit on singles for 9 to 15 months before they reach their peak, the problem for Luke Combs is trying to slow radio down as singles keep shooting up to #1 and staying there. His last single, and final single from his debut album This Ones For You was “Beautiful Crazy,” and it spent an unprecedented seven weeks at #1, which is unheard of in country radio these days. It also entered the Top 10 at country radio when his previous single “She Got The Best of Me” was still in the Top 10 because radio wasn’t ready to give up on it, which is another unheard of anomaly in the modern country radio era. In no uncertain terms, Luke Combs has been the most successful debut artist in country since the beginning of the SoundScan records in 1990, if not ever.
And speaking of his debut album This One’s For You, it is a perennial at the top of the country albums charts nearly every single week. The now 2x Platinum record is at #1 again here in mid May, even though it was released all the way back in June of 2017. How about Luke Combs’ current arena tour? It basically sold out as soon as the dates were posted, and will be going strong into December.
What Luke Combs is doing is unprecedented. What Luke Combs is doing is historic. And what Luke Combs is doing is also pretty generic. That is the reason his incredible ascension hasn’t been met with reams of think pieces about the cultural impact of his music like we saw with Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, or Chris Stapleton. Luke Combs is one of the biggest things ever in country music, yet it’s almost like nobody’s paying attention to him. He’s not a sexy story for country music like Kane Brown or Lil Nas X. He’s just an everyday Joe who happens to be killing it by connecting with audiences in ways other artists fail at. He may be generic, but he’s real, and country, and he carries the appeal of a massive superstar without the self-absorbed baggage that makes so many of country music’s superstars such polarizing characters.
Take Luke’s current single, “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” From a critics standpoint, this song doesn’t have much at all. It’s paint-by-the-numbers, safe, buzzword-laden songwriting is nothing to praise, the guitar is more akin to rock than country, and some may even want to call it a Bro-Country selection. But the important thing about “Beer Never Broke My Heart” is that it isn’t Bro. There’s no rapping. There’s no electronic drum beats. It’s pretty boring for those that know what good songwriting is about, but it’s also nothing to get your druthers up for being offensive. If it comes on the radio, you just sort of nod along, unless you really like it, which a lot of people do. Love ballads and stereotypical beer drinking songs are the bread and butter of Luke Combs, and he’s buttering a lot of bread these days.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Is Luke Combs the traditional country savior we’ve been waiting for to finally deliver the mainstream from the tyranny of Music Row? No, he’s not. Not even close. However his success is overshadowing a whole host of bad country artists who Combs is a much better alternative to. This was supposed to be the era of Kane Brown, who released his sophomore album in late 2018. Instead, Luke Combs is running laps around Kane. Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, even Entertainer of the Year Keith Urban? The success these artists are experiencing feels like an afterthought compared to Combs at the moment. Luke Combs is like Chris Stapleton in 2016 after his big breakout CMA Awards, but with radio actually playing him and the kids getting into it along with the adults. Luke Combs is country music’s mainstream cash cow. Women love him. Men love him. Young and old love him. And maybe most important and what separates him from country music’s other superstars is few really really hate him.
What this all means for country music will not be determined in the near term, aside from being a positive sign for the genre moving forward. And even though Combs won’t get any love from the “diversity” crowd as a white dude, it can’t hurt that a guy that isn’t a fashion plate is proving people will still pay attention to his music. Luke Combs will continue to release singles from his upcoming sophomore record, and they will continue to shoot straight to #1 for the foreseeable future. The press will continue to ignore this phenomenon, because there’s not juicy political tie-ins, and he doesn’t make for good click bait. Perhaps his reign will not have the same cultural impact of other past country music superstars simply because he doesn’t have a clearly-defined style, and doesn’t offer something wholly unique in the country space, and least not yet. But who knows, with the creative freedom that will come from all of this success, perhaps Combs will choose to return back to his more rootsy, twangy style from earlier in his career. He’s also not afraid to speak his mind about what is happening in country.
We don’t know where Luke Combs will eventually go. But we know where he is right now, which is country music’s next massive superstar who will likely be making waves and setting records for years to come.