Chris Stapleton just had a Taylor Swift moment.
Allow us to explain. Because Swift brings ratings to any award ceremony, sometimes, shows will invent awards to make sure she attends. CMT pulled a similar stunt for the country network’s annual “Artist of the Year” telecast. During Wednesday night’s show, they honored Stapleton –the buzziest country star of the moment — with the first-ever Breakout Award.
Though the 37-year-old Stapleton has been working in Nashville as an acclaimed bluegrass musician and songwriter for the last 15 years, the rest of the nation got quite an introduction last month at the Country Music Association Awards. Stapleton stunned the crowd by sweeping up three major trophies including album and male vocalist of the year, and he performed an electric duet with Justin Timberlake.
By the end of the CMAs, Stapleton’s album “Traveller” was No. 1 on iTunes. The next day, the singer’s name topped Google trends as word spread about the performance, and the industry tried to explain the sudden phenomenon of a singer generally ignored by mainstream country music. “Traveller” flew to the top of the Billboard chart for the next two weeks, selling a whopping 250,000 albums.
Anyway, if you’re a country music network right now, you really want a Stapleton appearance. So Stapleton was given the Breakout Artist trophy during the show, which honors the top country performers of the year (2015 recipients were Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt).
“I have to make more speeches and I’m terrible at it,” Stapleton joked of all the time he’s suddenly spent on award show stages.
He went on thank Music City (“Nashville, Tennessee’s been so good to me”) and CMT. “Thank you for everybody that has supported me up to the [CMAs] and all the new folks that are doing it now,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable thing. I don’t know what else to say.”
Stapleton also played “Nobody to Blame,” his new single that was immediately sent to radio after the CMAs and currently sits at No. 29. Until now, country radio didn’t play any of Stapleton’s more traditional music, which sounds much different than the pop and rock-tinged “bro-country” tunes that have taken over in recent years. Stapleton’s emergence comes on the heels of many listeners growing tired of the party-song trend.
Surprisingly, this was addressed — although somewhat vaguely — on the “Artists of the Year” broadcast. Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line, one of the genre’s most popular acts that has seen the brunt of the bro-country backlash, gave Stapleton a shout-out. More tellingly, he urged the audience to let various types of country music co-exist, not-so-subtly implying he’s tired of criticism.
“It’s cool what’s going on in the music industry,” Kelley said, according to CMT. “Chris Stapleton, props to you, brother. Got to shout you out, man. Love what’s going on. Love that we can all have a chance to have a say, have a voice…Let’s be positive. Good vibes only.”