It’s no secret that Nashville has been teeming with new country artists more than ever over the last few years. Throngs of people move miles away from their home to the bustling Music City in hopes of playing at Broadway and writer’s rounds, and eventually landing a publishing deal and recording contract. The competition to stand out gets steeper with each passing year, but those that possess an undeniable talent that shouts “superstar in the making” eventually do with the right songs and opportunities.
Sounds Like Nashville is committed to highlighting incredible up-and-comers in country music. Here is our list of 18 promising newcomers predicted to have a breakout year in 2022. Each of their unique artistry and sheer talent make them welcomed additions to the format, and ones we’ll be talking about for years to come.
Presenting to you: Sounds Like Nashville’s 2022 Artists to Watch (in alphabetical order):
After graduating from Belmont University and winning the school’s historic Country Showcase in 2019, Ashley Cooke was ready to hit the ground running with new music, tours and writing sessions. However, all that came to an abrupt halt when Covid-19 made a rude entrance in early 2020. Still determined to fan the flames of her emerging career, Cooke took a stab at the video-sharing social media app, TikTok — and a chance upload of her song “Jealous of the Sky” changed her life. Cooke now boasts a whopping 10.8 million likes and 843k followers on TikTok, and has amassed over 1.3 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, with rotation support from SiriusXM’s country station, The Highway. Following the success of her songs “Already Drank That Beer,” “Sunday Morning Kinda Saturday Night,” and “Jealous Of The Sky,” the up-and-comer released her Already Drank That Beer – Side A collection last year, which includes “Never Til Now” and the Jimmie Allen-assisted “Good Goodbye.” Cooke will join Travis Denning to open for multi-Platinum selling country star Cole Swindell on his Down to the Bar tour, kicking off in February.
Avery Anna may be one of the newest kids on the block, but her talent is not to be overlooked. Named as SiriusXM The Highway’s newest Highway Find artist, the 17-year-old isn’t unafraid to be vulnerable in her music. “I Love You More” is a soaring confessional ode to her significant other, “Narcissist” laments the hurtful ways of an ex, and “Just Cause I Love You” details the overwhelming ache before a breakup. Coupling her knack for honest songwriting with her current 1.3 million followers on TikTok and 89k followers on Instagram, it won’t be long till Anna establishes herself in country music.
Boy Named Banjo
Country music’s roots are synonymous with the banjo, and now, the genre has a five-men group named after the beloved instrument. Comprised of Barton Davies, William Reames, Willard Logan, Sam McCullough, and Ford Garrard, Boy Named Banjo released their UMG Nashville debut EP, Circles, in July 2021. The seven-track project prominently features their live show-ready sound, strong harmonies, virtuosic guitar licks, infectious banjo plucks, and undeniably anthemic energy. Putting punctuation on their momentous year, the band played their final show of 2021 at the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville just two days before Christmas. Serving as the Kings of Leon of country music, fans can expect Boy Named Banjo to continue bringing their energetic blend of country-rock and folk-pop to venues across the country in 2022 — and those shows are not to be missed.
In the age of ever-blurring genre lines, BRELAND is ready to bring his multi-genre influences into country music. Coming from a musical family, the newcomer grew up surrounded by gospel music, along with his gamut of influences such as Stevie Wonder, Rascal Flatts, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, and Drake. In 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, his country-trap song “My Truck” launched him into the country music spotlight. BRELAND has come a long way since then. Just over the span of the last year and a half, the 26-year-old has collaborated with a slew of stars including Keith Urban (“Throw It Back”), Sam Hunt (“My Truck”), Jimmie Allen (“Somebody”), Mickey Guyton (“Cross Country”), Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox (“All I See”), Nelly (“High Horse”), and most recently, Dierks Bentley, whose single “Beers On Me” features Hardy and the genre-blurring up-and-comer. In addition to headlining his Cross Country tour last year, BRELAND also opened for Bentley on his Beers On Me tour. “I want people to broaden their definition and understanding of country music because this is the time for exploration,” BRELAND told Sounds Like Nashville recently. Be on the lookout for a genre-bending debut full-length album from him this year.
For fans of: Country, pop, gospel and hip-hop music. BRELAND blurs genre lines so well that his music is accessible to the general music fan across the board.
The hit-ready song: “Cross-Country”
Carter Faith is a burgeoning country star that fuses passionate lyricism with pointed truths over a unique country-pop sound. In 2020, the Davidson, N.C. native signed an artist development deal with Altadena, a music company founded by the late busbee. Since then, she has been playing countless writer’s rounds in Nashville and was lauded as the “future of the next 10 years of Nashville” by Apple Music host and Whiskey Jam founder, Ward Guenther. Last year, the recent Belmont University graduate also released her debut EP, Let Love Be Love, which includes the gently electrifying “Buzzkilla” and “Joyride,” an enthralling love song perfect for those roll-your-windows-down drives. Balancing poetic and personal songwriting (“Leaving Nashville”) with mainstream accessibility, Faith is destined for a meteoric year in 2022.
Chapel Hart is a rising trio that blends country, soul, gospel and a throwback pop sound like you’ve never heard before. Comprising two sisters, Danica and Devynn Hart, and their first cousin Trea Swindle, the three-piece group grew up in Hart’s Chapel, Miss. surrounded by music at home and in church. With tight family harmonies, a soulful grit, and an unabashedly country delivery, Chapel Hart offer a fresh yet familiar sound to the storytelling format. Their sophomore LP, The Girls Are Back in Town, showcases all of that richness. “You Can Have Him Jolene” is the ladies’ sassy twist on Dolly Parton’s 1973 hit, “Jacqui’s Song” displays their tender and rootsy side, “I Will Follow” is an empowering life anthem, and the tongue-in-cheek “Tailgate Trophy” takes a jab at Florida Georgia Line’s ‘This Is How We Roll” and the notoriously sexist bro-country era. Chapel Hart are also part of the CMT Next Women of Country class of 2021, alongside Tenille Arts, Priscila Block, Brittney Spencer, and more.
Not many can say their life is a country song, but Chayce Beckham certainly can. Beckham led a tumultuous life prior to competing American Idol, battling addiction, substance abuse and other demons of his own. After hitting rock bottom, and with the enduring encouragement from his family, the former heavy machinery operator auditioned for Season 19 of American Idol, won judges over, and eventually captured the nation’s hearts with his performances all the way up to the finale, where he was crowned as the winner with an original song, “23.” The hit-ready autobiographical single, written entirely by Beckham, describes his roller-coaster life experience with unabashed honesty. Almost immediately after its release, the song shot to the top of the country and all-genre iTunes charts. It’s Beckham’s real-life journey that he draws from when songwriting, covering his heroes and singing with his signature rasp and gravel. Beckham recently teamed up with his BBR Music Group labelmate Lindsay Ell for his debut country radio single “Can’t Do Without Me.” Later in March, he’ll head to Canada to support Luke Combs’ seven-date Canadian tour.
Conner Smith is a naturally-gifted singer/songwriter. Smith began writing songs at the only 6 years old, inked a writer’s deal with BMI at 9 — the second youngest to Michael Jackson — and signed his first publishing deal at the age of 16. In 2021, the Valory Music Co. recording artist launched into the scene with his debut single, “Learn From It.” The uptempo, feel-good song is pure country-pop perfection that’s reminiscent of the sonic elements of early Keith Urban music and Sam Hunt’s debut single, “Raised On It.” While he had gained considerable momentum, it was his viral breakout song “I Hate Alabam,” that turned heads in the country music world and beyond. After teasing a clip of it on social media, Smith realized it had “five times more shares on Instagram than any other video [he’s] ever don’t,” and knew he had to release it. He did so on Friday (Oct. 9) and on the next day (Saturday, Oct. 10), Alabama Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M. A case of pure coincidence and impeccable timing? Perhaps. An unfortunate event for Bama fans turned into a career-propelling one for Smith. The 21-year old is set to kick off his tour with Ryan Hurd this Thursday (Jan. 13) before dropping his highly anticipated debut EP on Friday (Jan. 14). As Smith continues to solidify his burgeoning superstar status, watch for “Learn From It” to ascend up the country charts.
Not all young country artists hold a profound love and reverence for country music’s elder statesmen and the classic sound, but Drake Milligan does. Dropping one of the best (and most underrated) EPs of 2021, the 23-year-old BBR Music Group signee is ready to make his mark as a modern-day traditionalist. Trafficking heavily in the neo-traditional country sound, “Don’t Look Down” is a tender Dwight Yoakam-esque love song, ‘Sounds Like Something I’d Do” showcases some Elvis Presley chops, while “Over Drinkin’ Under Thinkin’” is a bonafide hit-ready throwback honky-tonk tune. Possessing George Strait’s storytelling prowess, Elvis Presley’s charm, and an undeniably rich baritone, this Texas native is poised to become a favorite among both traditionalists and mainstream country fans.
Gabe Lee got critics buzzing since 2020 with his excellent sophomore album, Honky Tonk Hell, which blends Bob Dylan’s storytelling with deeply traditional country elements. One of very few artists of Asian heritage in Music City, Lee’s parents immigrated from Taiwan in the early ‘80s to further their education, before moving to Nashville for work. The city is where he was raised and grew into his own as a musician. Lee has no intention to conform to the cookie-cutter country music that sometimes comes out of Music Row. Instead, he forges his own musical path with a fresh yet familiar sound of country and Americana. On Honky Tonk Hell, Lee boasts top-notched songwriting, meticulous lyricism, and an organic fusion of folk, southern rock, Americana, blues, and southern rock that’s accessible to the multi-genre demographic. For traditionalists who love their steel guitar, yes, there’s plenty of it on Lee’s latest LP. Over the last year or so, the singer has headlined his own shows and opened for the likes of Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, and more. Catch the Nashville native supporting Brent Cobb on the latter’s When It’s My Time tour kicking off in February.
If there was an EP that flew under the radar in 2021, it would be Jonathan Hutcherson’s self-titled project. Following four years after his time on Season 10 of NBC’s The Voice and two years of honing his craft as a Creative Nation-signed songwriter, Hutcherson released his autobiographical debut EP last August. The five-track set includes the hit-ready singalong “Young,” the banjo-driven feel-good “Kentucky Blues,” and his inspirational ode to lasting romance, “Love Takes Time.” Anchored by his authentic songwriting and a love for the bluegrass-inflected vibrant country-pop sound, Hutcherson is headed straight into the buzz-worthy newcomer spotlight with a record deal in the foreseeable future.
Kat & Alex
The Latin community hasn’t been represented much in country music, but 2021 saw the start of a promising new change led in part by up-and-coming duo, Kat & Alex. After wowing judges on Season 18 of American Idol, the husband and wife inked a record deal with Sony Music Nashville last year and released their debut track, “How Many Times.” The song, which showcases their signature spell-binding harmonies, has received playlisting support from SiriusXM The Highway, Spotify, and more. Their versatility is also displayed on “You and the Radio,” a feel-good summertime road trip jam. To top it all, the duo made their long-awaited Grand Ole Opry debut in October of last year. If the stars continue to align, Kat & Alex will be a household name in the mainstream country world in no time.
Laci Kaye Booth
After finishing Top 5 on Season 17 of American Idol in 2019, country newcomer Laci Kaye Booth released her long-awaited self-titled debut collection last year. Proving herself a unique and essential addition to the format, the Texas native anchored her project on two things: authenticity and “dreamy country.” The latter, which Booth affectionately coined, is an eclectic blend of her cornerstone influences: Lee Ann Womack, Stevie Nicks, George Strait, Norah Jones, Merle Haggard and Lana Del Rey. Despite being a relatively new kid on the block, the BMLG Records/19 Entertainment artist wrote with songwriting heavyweights Liz Rose, Laura Veltz, Nathan Chapman, Jimmy Robbins, James Slater, Sam Ellis, and Lady A’s Charles Kelley for her collection. Kelley also joined her on their soaring track, “Broken Heart Still Beats.”
For fans of: Lee Ann Womack, Olivia Rodrigo, Norah Jones
The hit-ready song: “Shuffle”
Morgan Wade had a phenomenal breakout year in 2021. Her first full-length album Reckless dropped in March 2021 to massive acclaim, she signed a recording contract with Arista Nashville/Sony in August, and now, she’s climbing up the country charts with her debut single, “Wilder Days.” Drawing on her own wisdom from life lessons learned, Wade has an ability to palpably convey vulnerability in her delivery, especially on tracks like her single, “Don’t Cry” and “Take Me Away.” With a fresh blend of country and alternative rock, Wade’s music was brought to life by producers Paul Ebersold and Sadler Vaden, longtime guitarist for Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. With no signs of slowing down, Wade will open for Luke Combs on his three-date stadium tour this year. It’s safe to say that in 2022, her career is primed for an upward trajectory to soon-to-be stardom.
Neon Union is a brand-new country duo that launched into the scene mid-2021. Comprised of Leo Brooks and Andrew Millsaps, the pair are signed to JAB Records, a recently-launched full-service management and production company founded by Jimmie Allen, Aaron Benward, and former Spotify Global Head of Country, John Marks. Telling Billboard in a recent interview, Marks shared, “It wasn’t long ago that Jimmie and Aaron invited me to see their new duo Neon Union in Nashville. I watched their set, saw their on-stage chemistry and knew I needed to be a part of this history-making duo. It’s an honor to […] to bring Neon Union’s message of great music, BIG fun and unity to the world.” Just last month, Neon Union unveiled their introductory single, “Beer Up.” With its infectiously catchy chorus and undeniable commercial appeal the upbeat track fits right into country radio’s summertime landscape and will be a home run for mainstream country fans. Prior to this, Neon Union also collaborated with Allen on “Livin’ Man,” a cut off his Bettie James Gold Edition LP.
For fans of: Florida Georgia Line, Big & Rich, LOCASH
The hit-ready song: “Beer Up”
Sacha has been making waves in country music across the pond over the last few years. Winning the title of “The Next Country Music Star” at the 2016 Havelock Jamboree, the Ontario, Canada native has since opened for Canadian country stars Terri Clark, Brett Kissel, Madeline Merlo, Jess Moskaluke and The Abrahams, amongst others. In 2020, she released her The Best Thing EP, which features the self-empowering anthem, “Standards.” The song broke the Top 50 on the Canadian charts, and has accumulated close to half a million streams on Spotify alone. Most recently, she was also inducted into the CMT Next Women of Country class of 2021. Sacha is set to join Maddie & Tae on their upcoming All Song No Static tour later this year.
When it comes to Spencer Crandall, it’s all about the right time and the right song. While the assiduous singer has been establishing himself in Nashville for the last five years, it wasn’t until he harnessed the power of social media that he found the key to success: genuinely connecting with fans. When everyone was stuck at home last year, the emerging singer/songwriter turned to TikTok and Instagram to share new music and painstakingly build a dedicated fan base from the ground up. All the hard work paid off with two of his albums debuting at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, “My Person” surpassing 31 million streams on Spotify alone, and now, racking up over 2.2 million followers on TikTok. Most recently, “My Person” also claimed the top spot on SiriusXM The Highway’s Hot 30 Weekend Countdown. Catch Crandall performing his new single “Made,” “My Person” and more on the road with Lauren Alaina on her Top of the World tour, kicking off next month.
In the mainstream country world, Zach Bryan may be a relatively unfamiliar name. But, outside of that stratosphere, he is a wildly successful underground artist who boasts millions of on-demand streams, a rabid fan base, and the ability to sell out concerts across the country. The Oklahoma native rose to fame in 2019 with his breakout country folk-leaning song, “Heading South.” The track, which now has a whopping 66 million streams on Spotify alone, tells the earnest story of a guy chasing his dream despite others’ disapproval – a storyline that’s synonymous with a typical country song. Other songs that follow a similar acoustic vein include “November Air” and “Condemned” and the gut-wrenching “Leaving.” With two albums under his belt, including 2020’s Elizabeth, he made his Grand Ole Opry debut last April and was recently honorably discharged by the U.S. Navy to pursue his music career full-time after eight years of service. Signed with WME for representation, Bryan will join Wade and Cody Johnson as openers on Comb’s highly anticipated three-date stadium tour this year.
For fans of: Colter Wall, Koe Wetzell, American Aquarium
The hit-ready song: “Heading South”
Listen to all 18 of these promising country newcomers on the Sounds Like Nashville’s 2022 Artists to Watch playlist below!