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2013 in Country Music: Tragedy, Bro-Country, a Nub + Luke Bryan’s Hip-Shakin’

Luke Bryan, Randy Travis, Jake Owen
Isaac Brekken / Frederick M. Brown / Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line dominated country radio in 2013. Both were showered with awards and (deservedly) given prime slots on major awards broadcasts.

Just a year ago, FGL was an eager opening act, and now they’re selling out arenas and bristling because they didn’t get a Grammy nomination. Conversely, Bryan seemed to be on the brink of superstardom when the year began, and it found him on April 7 when he accepted the ACM award for Entertainer of the Year.

In many ways, 2013 was a sad year. The deaths of George Jones, Mindy McCready and others overshadowed more celebratory events like George Strait‘s final tour and the birth of Baby Antebellum, Hillary Scott’s daughter Eisele. Randy Travis‘ heart troubles piled on to the heartache for longtime country fans. Along the way, legends like Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn and Ray Price also showed their mortality, as well.

How do you remember 2013 in country music? It was the year Keith Urban joined ‘American Idol’ and the year Kellie Pickler won ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ Billy Currington danced around some serious charges, while Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton dodged rumors about their marriage. Below is a recap of the highlights and lowlights of 2013, in addition to what you can look forward to in 2014.

It Was a Year to Remember for:

Everything Florida Georgia Line touched turned gold in 2013, but some other stars had great years in more subtle ways. Kellie Pickler released a fine album after winning ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ Keith Urban reestablished himself as one of the top acts in country music, while earning rave reviews on ‘American Idol.’ Obviously, Luke Bryan had the year of his life, but a few newcomers did, as well. Thomas Rhett became a star with three great radio releases and a number of songwriting credits. Cole Swindell got hot — he’s gone from selling merchandise for Bryan to having a catchy hit on country radio. Finally, we’ll add Jake Owen to this list, despite a gruesome hand injury. He seems to be enjoying life like never before now that he’s a husband and father, and it’s reflected in his new music.

It Was a Year to Forget for:

Randy Travis certainly leads this collection, and he’s still deserving of prayers. The sad part about his stroke was it came just as his life and career seemed to be finding the right path once again. Jo Dee Messina also had a difficult year, as her mother’s health has been up and down. Additionally, she had family in Boston during the marathon bombings, and she began the year grieving her murdered stage manager. Jason Aldean didn’t have a bad year necessarily, but it was certainly challenging, as he had to dodge questions about his marriage and divorce while accepting some very high-profile gigs. In the end, he did as well as one could expect. He’s maintained his privacy without telling a nosy reporter where to shove his pencil. Finally, add Loretta Lynn, but not because of any health troubles. She lost a daughter in July, watched a fire destroy a building on her Tennessee property in February and saw storms cause more damage in January. Fortunately, she stayed safe.

The 2013 Trend to Remember:

Bro-country. The term refers to the multitude of songs that featured tailgates, trucks with big tires and a bottle of booze beneath the driver’s seat, girls with painted-on jeans and moonlit kisses that may lead to something more. You couldn’t get away from it in 2013, and some of the songs of the year came from founding artists like FGL, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen.

The 2013 Trend to Forget:

Bro-country. By year’s end, the sub-genre had begun to exhaust itself, leading to multiple parodies or explanations, plus the slightly backhanded phrase “bro-country.”

The Debate of the Year:

Where have all the women gone? The “who’s country, who’s not” debate slogs along every year, but in 2013, fans and the industry began to notice females were missing from the country charts. Artists like Bryan, Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow weighed in, agreeing that the lack of female voices is alarming. However, no one seems to know what’s causing this extinction, or how to fix it. This debate should rage on into 2014.

Artists to Watch in 2014:

The previously mentioned Rhett is poised to have another great year. Kip Moore‘s sophomore album should also cement him as one of country’s great singer-songwriters. Hunter Hayes was relatively quiet in 2013 after a banner 2012. A new album should thrust him back into conversations about who will lead the next generation of stars. Missing is the next female superstar. Kacey Musgraves doesn’t quite seem ready to embrace the spotlight, and after her, there aren’t many new females who’ve distinguished themselves beyond one hit song. But remember the name Lindsay Ell. She could be a star in the making.

Next: Best Country Albums of 2013

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