Now three albums into his career, Thomas Rhett has not-so-quietly emerged as one of country music’s biggest names. And a lot of that has to do with his 2015 single, “Die A Happy Man.”
The Perfect Storm
Every now and then, an artist creates a perfect storm for success. On his debut album, Rhett capitalized on the sentiment of the times by sliding into the bro country world perfectly.
And that makes sense, since his first cuts as a songwriter went to artists like Jason Aldean (“I Ain’t Ready To Quit,” “1994”) and Florida Georgia Line (“Round Here”). So when his debut album It Goes Like This churned out catchy cliché ditties like “Get Me Some Of That,” well, most people figure they had Rhett pegged.
But most of those songs came from a recent college dropout living in a country world that increasingly inspired uninspiring, formulaic songs. Rhett had a lot of living to do before his next record, Tangled Up.
He still notched three No. 1 singles on his debut record, earning him a score of nominations for Best New Artist. Rhett had the radio’s ear, hungry fans and relatively low “sonic expectations” from critics expected more of the same on Rhett’s next record.
Real Life Inspiration
One of the biggest things to happen between writing for his first record and his second was getting married to longtime friend Lauren Gregory, who was a major catalyst for “Die A Happy Man.”
“I’ve never just written a song about my wife or for my wife,” Rhett told The Boot.
So, with half of Tangled Up already recorded and Rhett on the road, he sat down on the bus with co-writers Sean Douglas and Joe Spargur and chatted about people they loved. Douglas pretty much said it best when he acknowledged both the fleeting nature of bro country and the desire to write something lasting.
“Three guys, having coffee, essentially still in our underwear, talking about how we had written these frivolous but fun tunes before, and talking about our beautiful wives,” Douglas says. “And talking about wanting to write something that might last for a minute, that might make an emotional impact on somebody, that might become something they might want to play at their wedding someday.”
Each and every line on “Die A Happy Man” came from a personal place. “I think my fans looked at that and saw it as very genuine, which it was,” Rhett says.
When Thomas Rhett released his first single off Tangled Up, and it both surprised and excited a lot of folks. Rhett was worried the obvious change in sonic direction would confuse his fans, but the Chris Stapleton/Jesse Frasure-penned “Crash And Burn” was an instant success. And it got journalists talking, calling it a countrified “Uptown Funk” (which was a lazy way to point out Rhett really likes Bruno Mars).
He’s got four straight singles, a new crossover sound and everybody talking. Then, he released the brilliant and perfectly timed “Die A Happy Man.” Despite the rogue critic here and there, “Die A Happy Man” screamed “song of the year” almost instantly. We’re talking “Humble and Kind” levels of response.
The song only took six weeks to hit No. 1 on the radio, where it spent six consecutive weeks. The last single to do that at the time? Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” in 2007. But “Die A Happy Man” also struck a huge chord with the crossover crowd, earning a pop cover from Nelly and pop remix featuring Tori Kelly on the deluxe version of Tangled Up. That deluxe record also featured “Star Of The Show,” a spiritual sequel to “Die A Happy Man” that also found lots of love.
Rhett is now a prime example of a country crossover success. Along with Sam Hunt, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, Rhett is drawing more folks into country music by essentially abandoning the sound of his debut record and embracing his own multi-genre influences.
To date, “Die A Happy Man” is Rhett’s most-streamed song on Spotify. The track is approaching 150 million streams, almost twice as much as the second closest song “T-Shirt.” It also notched him his only Grammy nomination, won him “Song of the Year” honors from the ACM and CMA and established Rhett as mid-size arena headliner on only his second album.
Perhaps most importantly, it established Rhett’s wife Lauren as a bona fide hit consultant. Just look at Rhett using her feedback to know “Unforgettable” was a great song to release off third album Life Changes. That record, by the way, went No. 1 overall, a feat few country artists ever achieve.
But if you really need to know how much “Die A Happy Man” changed his career, just listen to the title track off that most recent record. In it, he sings, “I wrote a little song about holding her hand and now everybody wanna die happy man.”