Country music will continue to be both genre-bending and loyal to its “three chords and the truth” roots. We will likely continue to see successful cross-genre collaborations, as the country audience has continued to diversify. However, the longstanding traditions of the classic, fiddle-and-steel-laced sound mixed with autobiographical and often cinematic storytelling are here to stay. Pandora’s 2020 Country Artists to Watch list is a unique blend of artists representing both of these styles…and so much more.
From an American Idol favorite to an indie songwriter moving from behind the scenes to center stage, our list not only runs the gamut in career resumes but also in melodic territory – with many dabbling in pop, soul, R&B and everything in between. We are eager to see how these 15 artists will make their marks on the country music genre, and continue to unleash Nashville’s sonic floodgates.
Check out the Country Artists to Watch 2020 playlist HERE.
Brandon Ratcliff: Brandon Ratcliff first made waves by re-writing the “Rules of Breaking Up,” his R&B-tinged debut single, and now the Louisiana native continues to ride his wave of eclectic musical influences and heartfelt lyrics with the moving “Slow Down Hometown.”
Caylee Hammack: Caylee Hammack was blessed with an otherworldly voice, incredible songwriting talent and clearly more energy than the average human being. Her caffeinated brand of country music merges authenticity with grit, and a whole lot of heart. She wears her family backstory on her sleeve on the infectious “Family Tree” while she dives in diverse sonic territory with the biting “Just Friends.”
ERNEST: ERNEST is the self-proclaimed “Tropical Cowboy” of country music, with influences as polar opposite as Eminem and George Strait. But it’s more of his Jimmy Buffett idolization that comes out in songs he’s written for Jake Owen, Chris Lane and Florida Georgia Line. Major songwriting success led to his own record deal, with his Locals Only LP highlighting his relatability, his laid back vibe, and his affinity for the banjo.
Gabby Barrett: Gabby Barrett first made a name for herself on “American Idol” but has since done what most contestants struggle to do: make a name for herself beyond the show. And she did it with a song she wrote on her own terms, the kiss-off to a cheating ex, “I Hope” – which showcases her killer voice and clever way with words.
Hailey Whitters: A country traditionalist with an ethereal voice, Hailey Whitters has been hitting the Music Row pavement for more than a decade as a songwriter who refuses to gloss up her act to make the airwaves. “I need longer lashes and a shorter dress to be that overnight success,” she sings of her country music journey on the autobiographical “Ten Year Town.” Her authenticity is finally paying off.
Ingrid Andress: Berklee-trained musician Ingrid Andress is the epitome of that old phrase “wise beyond her years” when it comes to writing lyrics that may be about her own experiences but are universally relatable. Multi-faceted in her talents and lyrical prowess, she shows her unapologetically rebellious side in the clever “Lady Like” and vulnerable side in the touching “More Hearts Than Mine” and exquisite “Both.”
John King: Georgia native John King celebrated a Number One hit as a songwriter (Randy Houser’s “We Went”) before seeing his own name on the charts with “Tonight Tonight” – also used as the NFL’s Thursday night football theme song. Current single “Close” fuses his Southern rock and country influences with an infectious melody and heartfelt lyrics that reflect his charming, southern gentleman personality.
King Calaway: King Calaway is far from a “boy band.” The six guys who make up this country-pop group are all multi-instrumentalists who trade lead vocals on every track of their excellent debut album, Rivers. With members from both sides of the pond – from Ohio and Tennessee to Gibraltar and Scotland – King Calaway brings a dynamic the country music world has never seen, along with a rush of adrenaline to their live performances.
Kylie Morgan: In the competitive country music landscape where it’s particularly crucial for female artists to carve their own paths, Kylie Morgan makes her mark as a “Boy’s Girl” with truly unique vocal and writing styles. “I’ll never be Miss Tennessee/More whiskey, less pearls,” she sings in her breakthrough hit. That sassy side is accompanied by a long catalog of self-penned, autobiographical tunes that tackle topics from breakups to bullies.
Lainey Wilson: Country-to-the-core singer/songwriter Lainey Wilson is carving her own path with what she calls “bell bottom country” – a kind of music that reflects everything from her Louisiana roots to her free spirit to her eclectic fashion choices. Her debut EP, Redneck Hollywood, offers a snapshot of her life – with its first single, “Dirty Looks” also showing her sultry side.
Larry Fleet: Larry Fleet got his start at the ripe old age of 6, performing in his family’s bluegrass band. The now 20-something singer stays true to his roots with cinematic storytelling and a show-stopping, soulful voice. The aptly-titled new album, Workin’ Hard, catalogs his rise to country success through relatable, toe-tapping tunes.
Madison Kozak: Madison Kozak’s father introduced her to country music, and she pays homage to him with her poignant debut single, “First Last Name” – which she wrote as a Father’s Day gift to her dad. The singer/songwriter/guitarist is the first artist signed to celebrated songwriter Nicolle Galyon’s female-focused Songs and Daughters record label, and Kozak follows in Galyon’s footsteps with introspective songwriting and similarly honeyed vocals.
Seaforth: Aussie musicians Tom Jordan and Mitch Thompson of Seaforth joke that Keith Urban is their uncle, but all humor aside, few come as close to the country icon’s stage presence and infectious fusion of country, pop and rock. Debut single “Love That” is a hook-filled tune that showcases their romantic side and unique vocal style.
Riley Green: Riley Green is the only artist on our list to already have a Number One song – his romantic, spirited earworm, “There Was This Girl.” The Alabama-bred songwriter is a seasoned performer who can rile up a crowd with a drinking song as well as he can hush them with a heartbreaker- such as his moving new tune, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.”
Tenille Townes: The U.S. is catching up to what Canada has known for years: Tenille Townes has the voice of an angel and a collection of songs that stand the test of time. The reigning CMA Female Artist of the Year idolized Shania Twain as a young aspiring singer – and you can see that influence in her dynamic live performances. But her introspective, emotional lyrics are more reflective of her affinity for legends like Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris and their emotive pens.