How 'Meant to Be,' 'The Middle' & More 2018 Country-Pop Hits May Have Kick-Started the Next Wave of Top 40


In a time when genres are traces have gotten extra blurred than ever, it’s not a shock to see a rustic singer to staff up with a pop artist. But with a combo of nation and pop touchdown two of the yr’s largest hits — Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be,” and Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey’s “The Middle” — 2018 might have drawn the roadmap for a dependable new path to crossover success.

“Meant to Be” and “The Middle” had been about as ubiquitous as hits come, which you’ll see within the chart stats: The former held the highest spot of Hot Country Songs for a record-smashing 50 weeks, and the latter spent 33 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs. What’s extra, each peaked within the prime 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, with “The Middle” reaching No. 5 and “Meant to Be” going all the way in which to No. 2. (They additionally each landed within the prime 10 of the year-end Hot 100, with “The Middle” at No. eight and “Meant to Be” at No. three.)

Though each primarily occurred by probability — Rexha didn’t know she was writing with FGL the day they wrote “Meant to Be,” and Zedd similar with Morris earlier than she was steered — their musical marriages clearly resonated with nation and pop followers alike. It makes some sense, as nation artists like Dan + Shay and Kelsea Ballerini have included extra pop-leaning manufacturing in recent times, but additionally due to in the present day’s streaming-based music local weather that provides artists freedom, and in flip, fosters natural team-ups.

“When there’s a pure tie musically or topically or an artist-to-artist connection, that creates a artistic win, but additionally a business win,” John Zarling, EVP of promoting & new enterprise for Sony Music Nashville, says. “If you got down to do these items only for business causes, that’s the place it might probably get questionable, particularly in nation, so far as the viewers goes. But so long as it’s creatively a match as nicely, the followers see it as actual, true genuine music that’s — pardon the pun — simply ‘meant to be.’”

For Kelsea Ballerini and The Chainsmokers — the most recent pair of country-pop collaborators, with their crossover hit “This Feeling” at present climbing the Hot 100 at No. 71 (chart dated Dec. 22) — a artistic match is precisely how the track occurred. The nation star has had a team-up with The Chainsmokers on her want listing for years, and since assembly on the Grammys in 2017 — once they had been each up for greatest new artist — they realized simply how appropriate they had been upon getting within the studio collectively. “They’re songwriters, which I relate to a lot,” Ballerini has said.

While the circumstances weren't fairly the identical for Morris — who had no half within the writing of “The Middle" — listening to the track that may ultimately turn into her largest Hot 100 hit immediately had an influence on her. The same state of affairs occurred when Niall Horan approached her for his Flicker observe “Seeing Blind” final yr. “Good music is nice music,” Morris explained of both collabs to Billboard on the CMA Awards in November. “I used to be simply actually reacting to the songs they despatched me.”

That type of mentality has been the important thing to success for “The Middle” and “Meant to Be.” Tom Poleman, president of nationwide programming for iHeartRadio, suggests that customers in all probability aren’t occupied with style boundaries the way in which these within the trade may: “People are a bit extra open than we historically give them credit score for,” he says. Moreover, he factors out that these songs are main a serious breakthrough of closely pop-leaning tunes within the present hip-hop dominated period.

“We’re at a degree in Top 40 the place we’re type of popping out of that excessive section the place hip-hop songs had been actually thriving,” Poleman says. “The nature of pop is for various sounds to emerge on a regular basis, so if it’s melodic, however it’s totally different on the similar time, that’s the candy spot of successful.”

Whether a collaboration or solo crossover, probably the most advantageous outcomes of a country-pop report is the viewers attain, principally due to pop’s widespread attraction. That attain was additionally exhibited within the touring sphere this yr, with Morris becoming a member of Horan on his Flicker World Tour, Cam opening for Sam Smith (with whom she co-wrote Thrill of It All observe “Palace”), and Kacey Musgraves spending the summer season on the street with Harry Styles.

Zarling additionally factors out pop’s world attain within the streaming world, which nation “nonetheless has an extended technique to develop to match.” At the identical time, he stresses that pop’s publicity to nation’s loyal and rising fan base is invaluable. And although “Meant to Be” was the one crossover collab to turn into a smash hit on each pop and nation charts this yr, with nation’s place because the No. 1 radio format (based on Nielsen's annual "Audio Today" report, launched in April), it’s doubtless extra pop artists will discover their manner into Nashville. “You see the nation artists benefitting [with streaming], similar to the pop artists are reaching a brand new viewers with the radio outreach that nation offers,” he provides. “You’re seeing extra [country-pop collaborations] occurring as a result of there’s a mutual profit.”

In truth, the following wave of those team-ups is seemingly already within the works. Marshmello just lately performed a observe for Poleman that was a collab with a rustic artist (“I feel it’s going to be one of many huge songs subsequent yr,” he asserts), and Diplo instructed Billboard final month on the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show that he has been working with the likes of Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown and Sam Hunt. As lengthy because the melodic manufacturing introduced on this yr’s batch of crossover hits continues to be nuanced, 2018 might simply be the cusp of the country-pop infusions to return.

“It’s nice songs that win in pop, and that’s the muse of all of this,” Poleman says. “Two sounds that you simply don’t suppose are going to go collectively blow your thoughts once they are available extremely pleasing methods. It can sound pure on a pop radio station in the event you’re not doing issues within the manufacturing that sound overtly nation. People are extremely conscious of [the opportunity for country artists on pop radio] and are benefiting from that chance. They’re seeing individuals have success with it, and sometimes that’s all you want — any individual to interrupt down the door and present it may be achieved.”