Luke Bryan Talks Evolving Business and COVID-19 Comeback at CRS

"I never thought I would be selling underwear on the Super Bowl," the superstar joked.

Written by Chris Parton
Luke Bryan Talks Evolving Business and COVID-19 Comeback at CRS

Luke Bryan discussed his evolving business plan and the impact of COVID-19 in a one-on-one interview Friday (February 19), wrapping up the 2021 Country Radio Seminar with Country Radio Broadcasters President, Kurt Johnson.

Speaking with one of radio’s top executives in person, the country superstar admitted that 2020 had upended his career, and that like some of his peers at the top of the genre, he’d long wished for a year without the stress and travel of touring — but not like this.

“It blew our business plan out of water, for sure,” Bryan said, looking relaxed in jeans, a black T shirt and navy jacket as he spoke from a Nashville studio. “But I think about all the artists who were just starting out their career, and it’s idiotic to complain.”

Bryan was the capstone speaker at three days of panels and performances which discuss issues in the country radio industry each year — an industry which still drives country artist’s careers, despite the arrival of on-demand streaming and other technologies. This year’s CRS was held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, and Bryan went on later to note that he expects stadium-level concerts to be one of the last pieces of everyday life to resume — just before “cruise ships leave port,” he said. But luckily, he’s been hard at work diversifying his brand.

Johnson noted that Bryan is something like the gold standard in country artist brand development, going all the way back to his days hosting Spring Break concerts in Florida. He’d create music specifically for those 20-something crowds that wasn’t part of his main, radio-focused approach. And although he called it “naive” in hindsight, it sparked whole new segments of his career.

The Spring Break concerts led to a successful string of EPs, and now Bryan has moved on to the long running Farm Tour and farm-community scholarship, stadium concerts and hosting his own luxury music festivals in Mexico, the annual Crash My Playa events. But even though he now hopes to continue doing those beachy shows until he’s a “95-year-old dude,” the past year has shown the need to branch out. His role on the rebooted American Idol has helped.

Bryan’s been co-starring on the popular show alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie since it moved from FOX to ABC, but says he was at first concerned about how the country industry would react — and especially worried that country radio would think he’d gotten above his raising. But as the show’s fourth season began earlier this month, those fears were long gone.

“I watched that premiere with more pride [than ever],” Luke Bryan admitted. “It ain’t like they just passed baton and it was up to us to not screw it up. We got a great brand handed to us, but still, you gotta deliver a great show that’ll work.” 

With his TV career established, Bryan has now even become the target of a few big-name advertising campaigns — most notably joining his wife Caroline in a Super Bowl commercial for Jockey. And now he has the confidence to speak into terms of his deals.

“I never thought I would be selling underwear on the Super Bowl,” the good-natured star said. “I feel like I can enter into partnerships [and steer the plan]. Like ‘Hey, see if they would be into letting my wife be a part of it.’ … she became an actress on the spot.”

Still, Luke Bryan sees himself as a songwriter at his core, and expects the thrill of creating and sharing music with fans will always be his biggest focus. He calls the process of booking shows and restarting his massive touring empire a living breathing leviathan, and says things like infection rates and vaccinations will drive his decision to return to the road. But it’s coming.

“You gotta trust the science that you’re trusting,” Bryan explained. “When I start, it will be thought out to every i-dotted and t-crossed, because we’re partnered with huge companies and they need that. You can’t fire up 14 tractor trailers and put 20,000 people in an arena, we gotta figure out how to renter the atmosphere on this thing. … But when we do, no one will be more emotional in the room than me.”