Country's breakout star on digging deep and making
By Phyllis Stark Special to MSN Music
If you looked away for even a minute in the last two years, you might have
missed that moment when Luke Bryan transitioned from
consistent country hit maker to bona fide superstar. It's a ranking Bryan
cemented this past spring when he won the fan-voted Entertainer of the Year
trophy at the Academy of Country Music Awards, a show he also co-hosted (with Blake Shelton) for the first time.
Even country music insiders who had been tracking his progress all along were
caught off guard by that ACM win, which offered tangible proof of Bryan's
massive — and growing — popularity.
But any such rise to fame usually comes as a package deal with detractors.
Fellow superstars like Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift have battled them their
entire careers. So, it seems, will Bryan, who emerged on the country music scene
with his debut single in 2007, six years after moving to Nashville.
Yet the Georgia-bred singer-songwriter keeps a healthy perspective on those
detractors, something that's easy enough to do when his last album, "Spring
Break . . . Here to Party," debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200
chart earlier this year, right around the time he was selling out every date on
the first leg of his first headlining tour, Dirt Road Diaries, which has since
been extended into late October.
"I don't care, really, at this point," the multiplatinum star says of his
critics. "I read stuff [about myself] online and roll my eyes about it because
it's really the same old bulls**t that everybody's been saying for years. I used
to read iTunes comments and get all mad, but at this point, I know my fans,
[who] have been so amazing to me. At the end of the day, I'm making the music I
want to make and having fun with it. There is going to be a percentage of people
that just cannot handle that. I'm not going to let 3 percent of the jaded
bloggers [affect me]."
Noting that he'd read something recently from a critic who apparently felt
Bryan's music wasn't country enough, he says with exasperation, "I have one or
two songs on my [new] album that would even remotely go the path of potentially
a rap-like beat. I guess [critics] want us to play twin fiddle swings for the
next millennium. It's just funny to me."
That new album, "Crash My Party," (released August 13) may not appeal to
every critic, but it's guaranteed to be a slam-dunk with Bryan's fans. The
project's first single, also titled "Crash My Party," has already hit the top of
the country singles charts, becoming his fastest-rising No. 1 to date. Bryan
co-wrote two of the album's 13 tracks, plus two of the four bonus tracks
included on a Target exclusive version of the set.
In a recent chat with MSN Music, the 37-year-old star talked about digging
deeper on this album, making "bold" song choices and remaining grounded in spite
of his fame.
MSN Music: You have a song on this album called "We Run This Town."
It's about the teenage years, but taking the title into present day, it must
really feel sometimes like you do run this town of Nashville, particularly after
your ACM Entertainer of the Year win.
Luke Bryan: It's certainly fun being where I'm at. I obviously know that
everything's pretty much going my way these days, and I'm cherishing that. I'm
trying to take the moments to pinch myself and truly understand how good it is
right now. I always want to make sure I enjoy this time and not, 20 years from
now, think about these days and go "Gosh, what was I doing? I didn't even really
enjoy it." I'm enjoying it, and it's amazing.
Your new single, "That's My Kind of Night," was kind of a bold choice
for a radio single, and not just because it references a rapper (T-Pain).
I think you have to be bold. You have to have your songs that you know
radio's going to eat up, but I still think you have to be bold in your choices
to go to radio. If you get to the point [of picking songs just] for radio
success, then you're homogenized and generic at that point.
Honestly, there's some risk to that song because it's going to be somewhat
polarizing just like "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" was. You've got to step
out there from time to time and not be scared to try something new. I feel like
my fans understand that that's how I roll, and they'll forgive me if I make a
boo-boo. But I certainly don't feel like this one is.
If "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" was a risk, it also had a big
payoff as a career changer for you.
But it didn't go No. 1. [The song peaked at No. 4 in 2011.] That would
surprise a lot of people, but the impact was, in my opinion, [that of] a 10-week
You've said this album represents "a little bit deeper, different
side to me musically." How so?
"Drink a Beer" is my first really deep, sad song that has a legitimate
shot at being a really amazing single. "Goodbye Girl" is a [kind of vocal] that
nobody's ever heard me do. There's just a lot of differences on this album,
little nuances and things that I did to make it a little bit different. I'm
happy and excited about that, and I'm glad we changed it up a little bit.
Despite your success, you seem to have pretty much stayed the same
guy you were when you were first launching your national recording career six
years ago. Has it been hard to stay so grounded?
I don't really have any people that come into my life that make it weird or
make me feel like I'm different or I've changed. I'm so blessed because my whole
path in this business has been very, very gradual. Nothing has jumped out at me
to the point that I was shell-shocked or couldn't handle it. It's been a very
nice pace, a nice even keel thing for me.
I don't want to get out there in fairy-tale land too far. I've seen it
[happen] so many times where people get kind of crazy and weird. I'm not saying
I've never had my moments. I've had my "check myself" moments to where I'm like
"All right, you're being a prima donna." But my main thing is just to go out and
enjoy doing things and don't live in a cave thinking that people are trying to
So you can actually take your two sons to Wal-Mart without things
getting too crazy?
People think that there's a mob of people that starts following me around.
Yeah, I'll sign some autographs and take some pictures, and then get to doing
whatever I need to do. That's kind of how we roll with it.
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting
extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her
work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was
Nashville bureau chief at Billboard magazine.