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Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan

With his easygoing, guy-next-door charm, Luke Bryan became one of the defining figures of bro-country, the strand of party-hearty music that dominated mainstream country in the 2010s. Bryan embodied the sweeter, friendlier side of bro-country. He still sang about trucks, country girls, beer, and the outdoors -- the prevalent themes of his subgenre -- and he did it to a big, bright beat that borrowed from pop and rock but conveyed 21st country: music made for suburbs and sports bars, not backwoods honk tonks. All these elements were in place on Bryan's earliest hits "All My Friends Say," "Rain Is a Good Thing," and "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)," but as he began to have a steady string of Billboard Country Airplay hits in the early 2010s, he emphasized his sentimental side, evident on such slow-burners as "Drink a Beer" and "Play It Again," while underscoring his inviting nature with such songs as "Most People Are Good." Bryan's good nature helped ease him into the pop mainstream, appearing as an advisor on The Voice during a mid-2010s run, followed by a role as a judge on American Idol. His presence on television helped keep him at the top of the country charts into the 2020s, with his Born Here Live Here Die Here generating no less than five number one Billboard Country Airplay hits. Led by its title track, he issued the compilation album Prayin' in a Deer Stand, at the end of 2022. He then began ramping up to his next LP with singles like "But I Got a Beer in My Hand" and 2024's "Love You, Miss You, Mean It."

Luke Bryan grew up in Leesburg, Georgia, a small town 100 miles from the Alabama border where his father grew peanuts and sold fertilizer for a living. Bryan helped his family work the farm when he was young, but in his early teens he developed a passion for country music, picking up his influences from his parents' record collection, listening to the likes of George Strait, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Alan Jackson, and Merle Haggard. When he was 14, his folks bought him his first guitar, and a year later, his playing and singing were strong enough that he started sitting in with local bands at a club featuring live country music. At 16, Bryan started writing songs with the help of a pair of local tunesmiths who had enjoyed some success in Nashville; he planned to head to Music City to try his luck after graduating from high school until his brother died in an auto accident. Wanting to offer emotional support to his family, Bryan opted to attend Georgia Southern University instead, though he didn't give up music. He continued writing songs, formed a band, and was playing gigs on campus or at nearby watering holes most weekends while pursuing his studies. He recorded a self-released album, which he sold at shows during this period, but was reluctant to take the plunge and devote himself to music full-time until he returned home to work in the family business after receiving his degree. Bryan's dad, confident of his son's talent, made him an offer: he could either move to Nashville or be fired.

In the early fall of 2001, Bryan pulled up stakes and relocated to Nashville, where his heartfelt songs of country life earned him a contract with one of the city's many publishing houses. In his free time, Bryan continued to perform at local clubs, and after an A&R man from Capitol Records saw him perform a set of his original material, he was given a record deal. Capitol released Bryan's first widely distributed album, I'll Stay Me, in the summer of 2007, followed by Doin' My Thing in 2009. Doin' My Thing peaked at number two on the country charts -- and at number six on the Top 200 -- and it spawned two number one singles, "Rain Is a Good Thing" and "Someone Else Calling You Baby" ("Do I" hit number two). Bryan returned with his third album, Tailgates & Tanlines, in the summer of 2011, its release preceded by the single "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)." That song was the first of four Top Five country singles pulled from the album: "I Don't Want This Night to End" and "Drunk on You" both hit number one, while "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" peaked at number three. This success kept Tailgates & Tanlines in the charts well into 2012, and Bryan supported the record with steady touring.

Early in 2013, Bryan compiled his four Spring Break-themed EPs as the album Spring Break...Here to Party; it promptly became his first number one album on the pop charts. Bryan solidified his standing in country music by winning ACM's prestigious Entertainer of the Year award in June. That August, he released his fourth studio album, Crash My Party, which hit number one on the country charts and the pop charts. Each of the first four singles from the album -- the title track, "That's My Kind of Night," "Drink a Beer," and "Play It Again" -- steadily climbed to number one on the country charts during 2013 and 2014. Bryan chose to close out his series of Spring Break EPs in 2015 with the release of the aptly titled Spring Break...Checkin' Out; the collection went to number one on the Billboard country charts and three on the Billboard 200. Next up was Bryan's fifth full-length album, Kill the Lights, which appeared in 2015 as well. Another number one hit on the Billboard 200; it saw Bryan once again working with producer Jeff Stevens (Jody Stevens was also brought aboard as a co-producer), but unlike Crash My Party, the record had a heavy dose of originals from Luke: he received writing credits on roughly half of the album's 13 songs. Kill the Lights debuted at number one and was eventually certified platinum, partially on the strength of the hit singles "Kick the Dust Up," "Strip It Down," "Home Alone," "Huntin', Lovin' and Fishin' Every Day," and "Move." In the autumn of 2016, Bryan embarked on his third Farm Tour and released the EP Farm Tour: Here's to the Farmer to commemorate the occasion. The following February, he sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and was announced as the newest judge on American Idol. Later that year, Bryan released the single "Light It Up," which peaked at number one on Billboard's Country Airplay charts. It was the first single from What Makes You Country, which arrived in December. In 2019, Bryan resumed his seat as an American Idol judge, while releasing the singles "Knockin' Boots" and "What She Wants Tonight." Both songs hit number one on the Country Airplay chart and were featured on his next album, Born Here Live Here Die Here, which arrived in August 2020 and debuted at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number one on the U.S. Top Country Albums charts. The album generated two additional Billboard Country Airplay number ones in "One Margarita" and "Down to One" before it was reissued as a deluxe edition in 2021 with "Waves," which also topped the Country Airplay charts.

Bryan's first single of 2022 was "Country On," a first-pumping anthem celebrating blue-collar country music fans. He followed it with the heartfelt "Prayin' in a Deer Stand," the title track of a compilation album released at the end of the year. In 2023, he released the Top 20 country hit "But I Got a Beer in My Hand," and its follow-up, "Southern and Slow," as well as a feature on Jon Pardi's "Cowboys and Plowboys." Bryan kicked off 2024 with "Love You, Miss You, Mean It." ~ Mark Deming & Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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