They say Nashville is a "ten year town"; artists who may appear to have risen to stardom overnight via TikTok or a smash hit, have likely spent a decade or more paying their dues in dive bars. In Music City, there's no such thing as an overnight success. Artists such as Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll and Zach Bryan, who continued their stratospheric rise in 2023 after years of hard work and determination, are proof of that.
And while it may take years or even decades to reach what's considered to be an artist's "breakthrough moment" each performance, song and album is an important step on the journey.
In 2023, several artists saw their stars rise: Megan Moroney released her stellar album Lucky in May, husband and wife duo The War and Treaty took home the award for Vocal Duo/Group of the Year at the 2023 Americana Music Honors & Awards and Hailey Whitters built upon the success of her hit "Everything She Ain't" and won the Academy of Country Music award for New Female Artist of the Year.
We've rounded up eight of the most exciting breakout country artists of 2023 — all of whom are poised to continue their success in 2024.
In Dec. 2022, Megan Moroney entered the acts to watch conversation for 2023 with the viral success of her college football-themed love song "Tennessee Orange." A relative unknown at the time, Moroney's surprise Top 10 hit skillfully tapped into the sport's impact within Southern culture on family relations and romantic entanglements. Those of us closely watching her next step got more than a sufficient follow-up single. In May, Moroney delivered one of the year's most compelling country albums with Lucky. Like "Tennessee Orange" before them, "I'm Not Pretty," "Sleep on My Side" and other new tunes established the 26 year old as the best in the business at taking modern country music tropes and making them relatable to her fellow Gen Zers. Critics took note, with Rolling Stone naming Lucky its top country album of the year. Industry insiders also see a surefire megastar, with "Tennessee Orange" picking up a CMA award nomination for Song of the Year.
— Addie Moore
Charles Wesley Godwin
Following a 2022 collaboration with Zach Bryan on Summertime Blues' "Jamie," Charles Wesley Godwin built on the spotlight garnered from it with a year full of firsts in 2023. The West Virginian signed his first-ever publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music in August, appeared on a movie soundtrack for the first time in "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" and made his headlining debut at the Ryman Auditorium with two shows earlier this month. In the midst of all those firsts he also dropped Family Ties, a deeply personal 19-song epic that includes odes to his father ("Miner Imperfections") and daughter ("Dance In Rain") alongside fan-favorites like "Cue Country Roads" that together showcase his humility, fiery charisma and undeniable talent.
— Matt Wickstrom
Although she'd been steadily gaining momentum with 2020's Old Time Feeling and 2022's Teeth Marks, it was 2023 that truly marked S.G. Goodman's breakout. The Western Kentucky based artist's southern drawl and witty humor was thrust further into the spotlight when another Kentuckian, Tyler Childers, began to cover her song "Space And Time" in 2022, eventually culminating with him covering the song on his album Rustin' In The Rain this fall. Shortly after its release, Goodman would go on to perform the song for a packed house at the Ryman Auditorium during the 2023 Americana Music Honors & Awards after being given the award for Emerging Artist of the Year earlier in the night, cementing her breakout status.
After nearly giving up on his musical dreams at the start of the year, Nolan Taylor went on to become one of Americana music's most heartwarming success stories in 2023. A viral video of him performing "68" from RadioWV went viral, ultimately leading to a plug from another of the year's viral stars — Oliver Anthony — on "The Joe Rogan Experience," him signing with Atlantic Records and making his Grand Ole Opry debut on Nov. 25. That same month he also released the five-song Life & Love EP, which was preceded by three singles including "68," each more well received than the last.
The War and Treaty
The duo - comprised of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter - have been making music together since 2016. But something changed in 2023 with the release of Lover's Game, their debut for UMG Nashville. The stars aligned, as they say. It also helped that the 10-track album perfected their blend of blues, pop, and country into a hurricane-sized concoction that assaults the senses in a way that makes legendary careers. Michael and Tanya's voices work well on their own, but together they can climb the highest mountain and travel down to the recesses of the deepest ocean. Songs like "Dumb Luck" and "That's How Love is Made" are prime vocal showcases and among their best works to date. It's not surprising then that the duo has earned a CMA Award nomination for Duo/Group of the Year and scooped up the Vocal Duo/Group of the Year award at the 2023 Americana Music Honors & Awards. Their star shines brightly these days, and they're just getting started.
— Bee Delores
Hailey Whitters has been hard at work forging her career in Nashville for about 15 years, and while she's earned a loyal fanbase through the years, she undoubtedly broke through to the masses within the past two years. She released her breakout single, "Everything She Ain't" in 2022, and it burned up the charts for months before becoming a hit in 2023. With its undeniably catchy melody and humorous songwriting, "Everything She Ain't" captivated country fans and brought Whitters' a whole new audience. And it's not just Whitters' music that fans love; it's her vintage country style, her relatability and her spunk that makes her an artist you can't help but cheer for. In addition to earning her first Top 20 hit, Whitters set out on tour with the likes of Shania Twain, Eric Church and Luke Bryan this year. She also won the New Female Artist of the Year trophy at the ACM Awards and was nominated for the same award at the CMAs. With all these accolades, it's safe to say Whitters' star will only continue to rise in 2024.
— Grace Vaughn
This talent from Hope, Arkansas has been pursuing her music career since she was 9-years old. In March of 2023, she reached her life-long goal of debuting at the Grand Ole Opry and is set to wrap up the year with a Dec. 30th performance there as well. She was signed to Big Machine Records in November, the same label representing names like Carly Pearce. Estes has since been releasing new versions of her previous recordings and has made a name for herself on music's current biggest platform - TikTok. Her ability to capture new fans through use of social media trends is an unmatched talent and not an easy feat. She is currently on tour on the east coast and will be joining Jackson Dean on tour in the new year.
— Ariel Garcia
Raised in the small town of Cleburne, Texas, Dallas-based artist Angel White is a singer-songwriter that should be on the radar of any country music lover. He's been compared to artists like Blood Orange and Steve Lacy, influenced by a blending of music genres that include R&B, rock & roll, pop, and traditional country.
Finding inspiration from his upbringing in Cleburne, White's upcoming debut album Ghost of the West explores themes of love and relationships, as well as his experience growing up in a predominantly white town. It's a collection that shows his personal journey in Texas as a person of color. It's unknown when the album is set to be released, but the anticipation behind it continues to grow.
Like others that got their start in Dallas, busking in Deep Ellum, a hub for live music and a robust nightlife, White followed what is almost a right of passage and one that helped him become known by the locals. He quickly caught mainstream attention with his latest single "Red Blanket" - a soulful tune that highlights the importance of staying true to your roots and honoring the past. He debuted at Austin City Limits in 2023 and is currently on a countrywide tour with Shane Smith & the Saints. We can expect to see more of him in 2024.
READ MORE: 20 Best Country Songs of 2023
Enjoy Country Music?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.