Country music is a far cry from the days of steel guitars and twangy voices. The evolution of country music is perhaps more significant than of any other genre– if nothing else, because it is one of the few that hasn’t experienced a significant split. Pop music split into classic rock, rap, and hip-hop. And though there are the fringe genres in country (bluegrass, Americana), country music remains a united and significant force in music. And it’s largely due to the influence of the artists who both propelled the sound forward while still grounding it in its roots. These are the 7 most influential country music artists of the past two decades and why they are the most relevant artists of today.
1) George Strait
Encapsulating a career as long and distinguished as that of George Strait is no small undertaking. George Strait isn’t just one of the most influential artists in country music. For much of the past three decades, George Strait simply was country music.
What’s most interesting about that is that he was such an unlikely candidate.
Despite his crooked smile and neatly pressed jeans, at first blush, he might not be the guy one would project to become the biggest music superstar of all time. Sure, he’s good looking (Reba McEntire once called him a “sexy little rascal,” and who can argue with that?). But he’s low-key. He isn’t the smoke-on-stage superstar performer that Garth Brooks is. He isn’t the gritty, all-American patriot who is Toby Keith. Nor is he the skintight jeans, shaking his ass superstar that is Luke Bryan.
George Strait isn’t the darling of the press, either. He rarely gives interviews, even when he was in his prime. And he’s all the quieter now that he’s semi-retired. So he didn’t become huge by being a publicity hound.
And he didn’t write his own songs. Artists like Chris Stapleton became well-known as writers first, creating No. 1 hits for other artists before putting their own voice to their words. But that wasn’t George Strait. He has a team of veteran songwriters.
Nor is he the most incredible vocalist in Nashville. He does have has his own distinct sound (we’ll get to that in a minute). But speaking of Chris Stapleton, he can sing Strait under the table.
So what is it?