On Sunday (Feb. 10), Kacey Musgraves stood on the Grammys stage, looking confident, even regal, offering an elegant rendition of “Rainbow,” an uplifting song from her genre-bending fourth studio album Golden Hour.
By the time she took the stage, Musgraves had earned two honors already that day, with “Space Cowboy” being named Best Country Song, and “Butterflies” earning the Best Country Solo Performance.
By the end of the night, Musgraves had earned not only Best Country Album, but the coveted, overall Album of the Year honor for Golden Hour.
It was a stunning victory for an album that, to date, hasn’t had a single reach the Top 50 on the country radio charts.
Beverly Keel—MTSU’s Recording Industry department chair, Change the Conversation co-founder, and esteemed music journalist—notes the similarities between Musgraves’ album sweep and the success of one of Musgraves’ UMG Nashville labelmates.
“It reminds me of when Chris Stapleton swept the CMA Awards a few years ago. Then he started getting some radio airplay, and then he became far more mainstream to the casual listener. I want Kacey’s music to get heard on every possible platform. This is the last and biggest platform so I am ever hopeful.”
The disparity between accolades, album sales and radio airplay has been a constant since Musgraves released her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park, which earned Musgraves her first—and so far, only—Top 10 single on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
The album went Platinum and earned Musgraves her first Grammy for Best Country Album in 2014, as well as her first Best Country Song honor for “Merry Go ‘Round.” That year, she also earned Song of the Year at the CMAs for “Follow Your Arrow.” Though an award winner, “Arrow” peaked at No. 43 on the Country Airplay chart.
Similarly, Golden Hour had previously been named Album of the Year at the CMA Awards in November, with little support from country radio.
Immediately following Musgraves’ Album of the Year crowning, MCA Nashville released the soothing “Rainbow” to country radio.
“We timed the release of “Rainbow” following the Grammy performance for immediate airplay because we felt the performance would be a moment for both Kacey and this amazing album, and it was,” says MCA Nashville VP, Promotion Katie Dean.
The timing is unique, as Musgraves’ Grammy wins kicked off the week leading into the annual Country Radio Seminar—the place where Musgraves first made a stir among country programmers with a debut performance of “Merry Go ‘Round” back in 2012.
According to Mediabase, the song had 37 adds in its first week as a single at country radio. A recent ad for “Rainbow” touted the song as the third most-added track at country radio this week, with 54 stations adding the song to their rotation. “Rainbow” entered at No. 58 on the Billboard Country Airplay Chart dated Feb. 16.
On the MusicRow CountryBreakout Chart, “Rainbow” is the second most-added song for the week and has the second-highest spin increase, behind George Strait’s “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar.”
Dean notes that 16 stations began playing the song early, though she says Musgraves’ Grammy sweep “absolutely” affected the number of first-week adds the single earned on country radio.
“We are very optimistic about the strong start at country radio. Many stations are playing ‘Rainbow’ in all dayparts, while other stations have additional songs from the album in rotation as well,” Dean adds. “Ultimately, listener reaction is key for any single to climb the chart, but radio definitely understands that Kacey is poised for global superstardom.”
Even after earning the Grammy’s top album honor—an achievement very few country artists have done (the short list including names like Taylor Swift, Glen Campbell and the Dixie Chicks)—Musgraves has a fight on her hands in getting “Rainbow” to become a country radio hit, given the dearth of female artists having country radio hits in recent years.
After 22 weeks on the Country Airplay chart, Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins” is at No. 13. Other females in the Top 50 this week include Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More” (No. 18), Maren Morris’ “Girl” (No. 27), Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” (No. 31), Lindsay Ell with Brantley Gilbert on “What Happens In A Small Town” (No. 32), Maddie & Tae’s “Friends Don’t” (No. 33), Carly Pearce’s “Closer To You” (No. 39) and Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies In The ‘90s” (No. 48).
Keel is cautiously optimistic about the chances for radio success for “Rainbow,” and says, “Country needs to embrace it and promote it. Country music is at its most successful when it embraces a big-tent philosophy, like in the ‘90s when we had every sound and every look.
“This is an album that will stand the test of time,” Keel says. “It will be just as beautiful and important 10 years from now as it is now. And it had critical acclaim, national TV exposure—everything but the radio component. Kacey will bring more fans to country music so I think it’s a boost for country music, and I’m glad Kacey’s album is getting another listen at country radio.”
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