Country songs have been few and far between in the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 over the past decade. From 2013 to 2022, only 12 top 10 songs represented the genre.
However, during just the first quarter of this year, six top 10s were country songs.
Leading the way for the genre, Morgan Wallen made history as the first country act to score five Hot 100 top 10s in a single week, all from his new album One Thing at a Time (March 18), a feat previously achieved by only five other artists (Taylor Swift, Drake, 21 Savage, Juice WRLD and The Beatles). His “Last Night” first hit the top 10 on the chart dated Feb. 3 and soared to No. 1 a month later. (It returns to the top of the list, dated April 15, this week.)
Joining Wallen, Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” hit No. 10 on the Hot 100 in January. Together, the acts brought country’s prominence to just over a quarter of all Hot 100 top 10s in Q1 2023 (26%) – tying pop for first place among all genres in that span. In the last decade, country had never reached a double-digit share, previously peaking at 9% in Q4 2020, then powered by hits from Gabby Barrett (“I Hope”) and Luke Combs (“Forever After All”).
While country songs possess certain characteristics that are unique to the genre, such as lap steel guitars, when you look under the hood, they actually have a lot in common with what’s trending in today’s Hot 100 top 10 overall.
For starters, take sub-genres and influences. In the first quarter of 2023, pop, hip-hop and R&B/soul were the top three influences across the top 10, followed closely by rock. All six country top 10s feature a pop influence, 83% a rock influence and half a hip-hop influence. R&B/soul, however, was a no-show, and generally has been in country over the past decade save for Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” (2018) and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” (2017).
Another key commonality between Q1’s country hits and the overall Hot 100 top 10 is lyrical theme. The love/relationships theme rose to its highest quarterly level of prominence since way back in 2015, at 83% of songs, and is part of every Q1 country top 10.
Plus, each country Hot 100 top 10 in Q1 2023 kicks off with an intro that establishes the backing music of the section that directly follows and averages 15 seconds in length. Almost every Hot 100 top 10 in that span also begins with an intro, establishes the backing music of the ensuing section and averages 14 seconds long.
Lastly, in terms of structure, like hits overall in the Hot 100’s top 10 in Q1 2023, country favored shorter song lengths, with half landing in the under-three-minute range. All six country hits also possess two verses, three choruses and at least one post-chorus in their framework, characteristics that are also very much in line with the overall top 10.
So, while these hits stay true to their country roots, they are delicately balanced by qualities that are currently resonating with mainstream audiences, paced by Wallen (whose “Last Night,” in addition to its strong streaming, is both a pop and country radio hit).
Looking ahead, the genre could continue its newfound bigger presence, as country hits bookend the top 10 on the latest Hot 100: Bailey Zimmerman’s “Rock and a Hard Place” revisits its No. 10 high, joining Wallen’s “Last Night” at No. 1.
David and Yael Penn are the co-founders of Hit Songs Deconstructed, which provides compositional analytics for top 10 Hot 100 hits. In 2022, Hit Songs Deconstructed and fellow song analysis platform MyPart partnered to launch ChartCipher, a new platform analyzing hit songs, as defined by Billboard’s charts.