Parker McCollum Has a #1. But What Happens Next is Most Important

Congratulations are due to Texas born and raised performer and songwriter Parker McCollum, who just put the first #1 on his resume with his debut major label single “Pretty Heart.” Parker is the first of the latest crop of Texas artists recently signed to major labels to reach #1, with close friend Koe Wetzel also now working with a major label, as is more traditionally-oriented artists who formed strong fan bases in Texas such as Cody Johnson and Randall King.

“We did it y’all! Just a kid from Conroe, TX who dreamed about playing country music now has the #1 song in the country this week!” Parker tweeted out when the accomplishment became official on December 20th. “No beer songs or dirt roads or trucks or nothin. Just honest songwriting. We did it our way! Best fans in the world made it happen! THANK YOU!”

To his fans back in Texas, Parker hitting #1 is a major accomplishment and a long time coming. It’s the hometown boy done good and hard work paying off. But to many not familiar with McCollum, he’s likely just the latest unknown male to mint a #1 on country radio with a fairly safe song, similar to names like Russell Dickerson, Matt Stell, Jamerson Rodgers, Travis Denning, or Jordan Davis, who all also hit #1 in 2020. Brett Young notched his fifth #1 song in country in 2020, and still the vast majority of Americans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, and he’s still stuck mostly playing large clubs and opening slots.

At this point, hitting a #1 on radio is more a reflection of the will and buy-in of the label behind the artist than it is the infectiousness or overall appeal of the track found by the public. None of this is to diminish Parker McCollum’s accomplishment here in any way. He’s worked hard for years to get here, and the pragmatism he showed with his lead single was smart and savvy. “Pretty Heart” is not a bad song. It’s still fairly well-written, and the steel guitar is prominent. And Parker’s right, he did do it without pandering to the popular country tropes. But he also knew what he was doing with it, which was warming himself up to radio.

“‘Pretty Heart’ is the closest thing on the album to commercial,” Parker said back in May. “The rest of the album I’ve written pretty much on my own. The album just sounds like the guy who wrote the other two [previous] records got better.”

But the real question and intrigue is in what is what happens next with this 28-year-old. Now that McCollum has earned the attention of radio and the greater country music listening public, will he get the opportunity to show off a bit more of his more traditional sound, and the top shelf songwriting chops that put him at the top of the crop of young performers in Texas before his big Warner Bros. deal?

“I’m trying to make Luke Bryan money singing Chris Knight-caliber songs,” McCollum also said back in May, and that’s the promise a successful mainstream career by Parker could hold, and why he’s such an important artist to watch. When you hear the songs he built his career in Texas off of like “I Can’t Breathe” and “Meet You in the Middle,” you see the possibilities if he was able to infiltrate the ranks of popular country performers.

It’s also important to underscore that Parker McCollum doesn’t need radio like so many of the other generic male #1 names that were listed above. He built a big fan base behind himself in Texas before he even trekked to Nashville, which puts artists at an advantage. Look at fellow Texas artist Cody Jinks, who now has a Platinum single and two Gold ones without any mainstream radio play, or Whiskey Myers who has two Gold singles of their own. “Pretty Heart” went Gold in October in part to its mainstream radio support.

But if Parker could go Gold and get #1’s on country radio with some of those songs that made him so popular in Texas, it would be a significant step forward for the mainstream format. A #1 for “Pretty Heart” is an important first step, and a major accomplishment for Parker. It’s the proof of concept any artist needs to build trust with country radio. But what happens next is the most important if he’s to accomplish his ultimate goal of returning quality songs to popular country.

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