Is Thomas Rhett the first country star in history to use the word “Instagram” in a song?
Rhett, 28, leans forward on a couch in a recording studio as he considers this. The social media reference is in “Life Changes,” the autobiographical title track of his third album, and his 11th No. 1 hit, which blared out of car windows this summer as it blew up on country radio.
“Well, FGL just did it,” Rhett pointed out. And it’s true, duo Florida Georgia Line name-checked the app in their recent single. However, Rhett smiled as he realized something else. “I’m for sure the only person to say ‘Uganda’ in a song, I would think, at least in this genre.”
When he launched his career as a college student in 2010, Rhett dutifully navigated Nashville’s traditional road to mainstream success: Earn credibility by writing songs for other artists, get a record deal and pay respects to radio.
But Rhett, who hit it big with his third single after a couple of false starts, was determined to stand out from the pack of fledgling acts. In 2014, he released “Make Me Wanna,” which he called a “countrified Bee Gees” song. It went No. 1. Then he debuted “Crash and Burn,” an offbeat cut that had a 1950s doo-wop vibe. It rocketed up the charts. A few months later, when there weren’t a lot of love songs on country radio, the ballad “Die a Happy Man” — inspired by his wife, Lauren, who starred in the music video — became a six-week No. 1 and eventual triple-platinum crossover pop hit.
Rhett learned a lot in that unusual succession of events. Namely that despite what industry gatekeepers might advise, taking risks could pay off big-time. And you can never underestimate fans’ interest in songs about your personal life, from your wife’s newfound social media popularity (“Now she’s got her own set of fans, got a blue check mark by her Instagram”) to your adoption of a baby girl (“I remember the day I told my daddy and mama, ‘You’re gonna have a grandkid, yep, from Uganda.’ ”)