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It's Luke Bryan's 'Party'
Country's breakout star on digging deep and making bold choices

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.

One Country blog: Luke Bryan and his baseball hat

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.

Bing: More on Luke Bryan

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 No. 1.

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 get ya.

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.

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