Are the 1990s Back in Country Music? Or Did They Never Leave?
By Kurt Wolff
The notice first came last month (Oct. 18) via a cryptic email. “The sevens have aligned. It has begun… Thank you for believing . . . love, g.” Soon after, the news was out: One of the biggest superstars in country music, Garth Brooks, was making big new moves to re-enter the public spotlight. Specifically, he was appearing in a television special and, as fans learned shortly after, he was going to release a new box set.
Brooks may have been in “retirement” for the last decade or so, but it quickly became apparent that — nearly a quarter-century after he debuted and then dominated the country world with songs like “The Dance,” “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends in Low Places” — he was still among of the hottest properties in country music.
In a curious coincidence, the very same week that Brooks announced his television special, another country star who came to prominence in the 1990s, Tim McGraw, was racking up serious airplay for his then-current single “Southern Girl.” So much airplay, in fact, that the song wound up hitting No. 1 the following week.
And McGraw and Brooks weren’t the only veteran ’90s-era artists continuing to build new audiences and/or find newfound attention in 2013.
Joe Diffie, one of the biggest hitmakers of the ’90s, had his name chanted over and over again this year, in arenas and stadiums across the U.S., thanks to the Jason Aldean‘s “1994″ and its famous ‘Joe Diffie chorus.’ Aldean, a huge Diffie fan, said he fell “out of his chair laughing” when he first heard the song as a demo.
Marty Brown, who released three critically acclaimed country albums during the early 1990s, re-emerged from obscurity to win national attention (and a whole new generation of fans) on the NBC reality competition America’s Got Talent.
Another ’90s superstar who recently re-entered the public spotlight is Shania Twain. Like Brooks before her, she chose to do so via a splashy big-budget Las Vegas show, Still the One, that is currently scheduled through early 2014. She’s also said she is planning a new album, which would be her first in a decade.
And let’s not forget Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney. Like McGraw, both are veteran artists who got their start in the 1990s (Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” hit No. 1 way back in ’93, whereas Chesney began charting heavily later in the decade, though he’s more closely associated with the ’00s), and both are as active today as ever. Like McGraw, both also draw huge crowds to their live shows and have plenty of songs in rotation on country radio — witness Chesney’s recent singles “Pirate Flag” and “When I See This Bar” and Keith’s “Drinks After Work” and of course “Red Solo Cup.”
In addition, onetime stadium headliner Travis Tritt this year released his first new album in six years, The Calm After…, while other of the era’s biggest hitmakers including Mark Chesnutt, Lonestar and Clint Black also released new music–the latter with his album When I Said I Do. George Strait is still going strong, earning his 60th No. 1 single this year. And Dwight Yoakam – arguably an ’80s artist but one who peaked in popularity during the ’90s — has been back on tour supporting last year’s 3 Pears.
And of course there’s Diffie who, capitalizing on his moment in the spotlight thanks to “1994,” released a single of his own, “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun.”
So with Tim McGraw still topping the charts (“Southern Girl” was his second No. 1 this year and his 35th overall), Garth Brooks about to release new music, and all these other veteran artists returning to the spotlight, we have to wonder: Are the 1990s in the midst of a comeback? Or did they never leave?