Zach Bryan was a notable snub at last year’s CMA Awards, but that isn’t the case for 2023. The rising country music star is one of the five nominees for New Artist of the Year announced Thursday, along with Jelly Roll, Parker McCollum, Megan Moroney, and Hailey Whitters.
The 27-year-old will find out if he’s a winner during the ceremony on November 8. He currently holds the No. 1 song and album on the Billboard charts.
Bryan was dismissive of the Country Music Association and its annual awards show following his omission in 2022, saying, “I don’t and will never want to be considered at the CMAs.” However, the panel couldn’t overlook the U.S. Navy veteran’s rapid ascent through the genre.
Bryan followed in the footsteps of legendary country artists like Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and Brad Paisley with a breakthrough ACM Award for New Male Artist of the Year in May. He burst onto the scene with his 2022 triple album American Heartbreak, which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
Best known for his single “Something in the Orange,” Bryan released a self-titled album in August featuring collaborations with Kacey Musgraves, The Lumineers, The War and Treaty, and more. He’s also preparing for an extensive 10-month tour starting in March 2024 with guests such as Jason Isbell and Sheryl Crow.
Although he’s now a force in the genre, Bryan has had an unusual path to stardom. Read on to learn more about the Oklahoman’s musical journey.
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Zach Bryan is from Oklahoma but was born in Japan
Bryan grew up in Oologah, Oklahoma, but was actually born in Okinawa, Japan, on April 2, 1996, while his parents where stationed there.
According to The Oklahoman, both of Bryan’s parents, his grandfather, his uncles, and his great-grandfather all served in the U.S. Navy. Bryan continued the family legacy when he enlisted in the Navy at age 17.
He was honorably discharged to pursue his music career
Bryan was an active member of the Navy when he signed his breakthrough contract with Warner Records in 2021. That October, he announced on Instagram he had received an honorable discharge after eight years of service so that he could pursue his career in music.
“If it was my decision, I would never get out of the world’s greatest Navy,” Bryan wrote, “but here I am and they kindly honorably discharged me to go play some music.”
Bryan’s first album was dedicated to his late mother
Bryan’s 2019 debut album DeAnn was named after his mother, Annette DeAnn Bryan, who died on August 3, 2016. Bryan told Stony Jammer the album was written over the course of two months, and he and his friends recorded it in only 48 hours at an Airbnb in Florida. “To be honest, we thought it was going to be a huge flop,” he said.
Jason Isbell and Evan Felker are among his influences
Bryan told Saving Country Music in 2019 he classifies himself as a songwriter as opposed to just a singer, so it’s no surprise some of his musical inspirations include other songwriters. Three he cited are Jason Isbell (left); Evan Felker and his band, the Turnpike Troubadours; and Tyler Childers. “They really spoke to me,” Bryan said. “That’s where I got my country longing to tell stories in songs.”
Bryan appeared on the TV show Yellowstone
In 2022, Bryan made a cameo appearance during the fifth season of Paramount’s hit drama Yellowstone, created by Taylor Sheridan and starring Kevin Costner (both at left). In the season’s seventh episode, Bryan is seen performing three of his songs at a country fair. “Humbled and honored and don’t know what I did to deserve it,” Bryan tweeted about the appearance.
The show has also featured a number of Bryan’s songs, including “Whiskey Fever” and “Condemned.”
His biggest hit has topped a pair of charts
Bryan’s song “Something in the Orange” reached No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts. The song spent 40 weeks on the Hot Rock chart before finally taking the lead position on February 4, 2023.
Only three other songs—“Let Her Go” by Passenger, “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots, and “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals—had lengthier climbs to the top spot.
Bryan’s songs are immensely popular on streaming services
As of September 7, Bryan’s top five songs on Spotify have been streamed more than 1 billion times combined. Not surprisingly, “Something in the Orange” is the runaway leader with more than 504 million streams. The video for the song has more than 69 million views on YouTube, as well.
The numbers are impressive given “Orange” wasn’t even submitted to mainstream country radio until October 2022, months after its April release. Bryan has tried to establish himself as an alternative to modern country, tweeting in September 2022 that the mainstream “is where artists go to die. I haven’t forgot that and I hope you all know that.”
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