Old Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton Albums on New Year-End Charts

Billboard has published their year-end wrap on country music for 2020 (the music year ends in November), and as you can imagine, it’s a healthy dose of Luke Combs leading many of the metrics. Whether it’s the top overall country artist, the top male artist, the top Hot Country Songs chart artist, the top Country Airplay chart artist, the top Country Albums chart artist, top Digital Song Sales, top overall album (What You See Is What You Get), it’s all Luke, all the time. Unquestionably, he is the most dominant artist of the current era.

But there are also a few surprises deeper in the data. Who would have guessed that two women in Gabby Barrett and Maren Morris would come in at #1 and #2 respectively on the year-end Hot Country Songs chart with their songs “I Hope” and “The Bones”? In a genre where it’s supposed to be especially hard from women, consumers sure appreciated these two songs, with both spending multiple weeks on top of the chart. Granted, they were bolstered by pop radio spins, and a pop-oriented audience. But it does show how consumers are still drawn to women, even if country radio still isn’t.

But surprisingly on the radio side, when it comes to the top songs played on country radio in 2020, Maddie & Tae come in at #5 with “Die From a Broken Heart.” The little-song-that-could from the duo just couldn’t be denied, even though it took forever to get to #1. Nonetheless, programmers found enough favor with it that even after it crested the chart, “Die From A Broken Heart” continued to see love in recurrent playlists.

Morgan Wallen was also big player in the end-of-year metrics. He was right behind Luke Combs in most categories, while his song “Chasin’ You” was the #1 song played on country radio in 2020.

But the most surprising story of the 2020 end-of-year charts might be the continued performance of two back list albums from performers who don’t really fit in the mainstream country mold.

Chris Stapleton’s album Traveller was released now over 5 1/2 years ago, in May of 2015. It may sound like a broken record to keep bringing the album and its continued success up in conversation, but it’s remarkable run continues, and remains unprecedented. In 2020, Traveller was the 5th-most successful record in country music when factoring sales, downloads, and streams, rounding out the Top 5 on the Billboard year-end Country Albums chart. It was right behind the two juggernaut Luke Combs records, Morgan Wallen’s If I Know Me, and Blake Shelton’s Fully Loaded.

Furthermore, Chris Stapleton’s take on “Tennessee Whiskey” was the 6th most streamed song in all of country music in 2020 (and the 9th most downloaded), beating all of the biggest songs by even Luke Combs, and again, nearly six years after the song was originally released. Only songs with major pop appeal like the aforementioned “I Hope” and “The Bones” by Gabby Barrett and Maren Morris, the Dan + Shay collaboration with Justin Bieber “10,000 Hours,” as well as a Diplo track featuring Morgan Wallen received more streaming activity, while these songs are very questionable if they should even be considered in the country category.

And possibly even most surprising is that within the mix of all these mainstream artists and radio-supported songs and albums, there is Tyler Childers and his 2017 record Purgatory acting like a fly in the pop country ointment. We’ve been charting the record’s curious staying power throughout 2020, to where it’s now launched two Certified Gold singles in “Lady May” and “Whitehouse Road,” and a Platinum single in “Feathered Indians.” To commemorate the achievement, Childers recently unveiled a gold edition of Purgatory that sold out within an hour. Purgatory remains one of the hottest titles in all of country music, even though it’s 3 1/2 years old.

In 2020, Purgatory by Tyler Childers came in at #19 in all of country. To put that in perspective, Luke Bryan’s new album released in 2020, Born Here Live Here Die Here, came in at #39. Florida Georgia Line’s latest album, 2019’s Can’t Say I Ain’t Country ended up at #43. Even a more traditional country-oriented title with fans more likely to buy physical product like Jon Pardi’s Heartache Medication came in at #29. With absolutely no mainstream radio support, Tyler Childers disrupted the end-of-year charts with the album he released now two albums ago.

Quality country music still has a long way to go before it upends the system that helps keep it buried in obscurity. But the continued success of Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and Purgatory by Tyler Childers proves there are avenues for artists and albums to reach the top tiers of country music without succumbing to pop sensibilities. Furthermore, it means those albums can stay there for an extended period, like so many of the albums and artists of country music from yesteryear, which weren’t abandoned quickly for the next hot thing in previous eras. They stuck around for years due to the quality of the work.

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