Scroll through this batch of up-and-coming country artists and it's clear that Gen Z and millennials are making their presence known in this ever-evolving genre.
This month, CMT Next Women of Country class of 2020 inductees Avenue Beat make the cut, along with the son of Backstreet Boys member Brian Littrell. Also find Emily Weisband, a striking songwriter who, before branching out on her own, lent her pen to Hillary Scott's Grammy Award-winning Christian song and a Camilla Cabello hit that was given the Best Lyrics award at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards.
Rounding out this month's group is Hannah Dasher, a bold new star who's not afraid to share her opinions on the state of modern country music, and Angie K, a compelling songwriter who helps represent the LGBTQ voice in the genre.
Here are five artists to watch in December 2019.
One of Nashville’s most gripping songwriters is stepping out on her own as an artist. Weisband, the co-writer behind Hillary Scott’s Grammy-winning “Thy Will” and Camilla Cabello’s haunting piano breakup ballad “Consequences" has proven to be a powerhouse act in her own right. Unflinchingly raw, honest and real are qualities that show themselves immediately when you press play on one of her tracks, whether conveying the agony of comparison culture in “Naked,” or proclaiming “I’m proud to say that I’m in an identity crisis” in the title track on her debut EP. A fearless songwriter with the vulnerability to match, watch for Weisband to be one of Nashville’s next big breakout stars.
With a gritty voice and bluesy sound, Dasher is the country-rock goddess country music needs. Her power is obvious in “The Tree,” a pointed response to the nature of modern country music that's wrapped around a swampy blues melody. “ It’s all about the branches / Everybody been branching out / Pulling up what’s in the ground / Deep down in Tennessee / We’re gettin’ a little too far / From the three chords and the truth part of it / Forgetting where the roots are / Is gonna kill the tree,” she sings, making a statement with her strong, rugged voice. Making a statement is a core part of her brand, like on “Stoned Age,” a bluesy tribute to an era of the Allman Brothers Band, tye dye and hippies, when “the world felt like freedom” and "had more soul in the speakers.” Expect Dasher to continue to make her presence known when her debut album Heavy arrives.
Though merely a teen, Littrell already has years of experience in the music industry. At 17, the son of a Backstreet Boys star has toured with one of the most popular bands of all time — BSB — and released a debut album that positions him directly in the center of the modern country music movement in the form of 770-Country.The effort finds Littrell basking in pop-country bops, with lyrics written by modern country giants Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line and songwriter Corey Crowder. Littrell’s voice is crisp, and he takes material beyond his 17 years, shining on the ear-catching “Easily” and “Boxes.” Look for Littrell to keep making his way into the country mainstream.
Sami Bearden, Savana Santos and Sam Backoff: The three voices who make up the new act representing Gen Z in country music, Avenue Beat. The trio dazzle with shimmering harmonies and the most millennial lyrics country music has ever heard, with nods to Taco Bell, “meet-cutes” and knocking the unrealistic standards of rom-coms. The trio delivers these bops with sass, shining harmonies and plenty of attitude. You hear this on “Delight,” the infectious pop-country tune that has them accepting all their flaws, and the charmingly feminist “Be a Bro” that shares with the world the unoffical “girl code,” wrapping their arms around their female friends singing “If you hold a sister down / It’ll all come back around / So be a bro / Know the girl code.” They're bringing a fresh sound to country music.
Once you hear the gorgeous voice of Angie K, you're an instant fan. The bilingual singer who wears her heart on her sleeve combines the carefree attitude of Kenny Chesney with that signature beachy vibe, but her sincere songwriting is akin to Colbie Caillat. With a voice that fits as naturally on Disney’s “Happily Ever After" (her duet with Jordan Fisher that plays during the fireworks display of the same name at Magic Kingdom) as it does on such self-reflective originals as “Am I Crazy,” Angie K truly shows off her songwriting gift on “Leaving California.”