HITS Daily Double


When Thomas Rhett took the stage on 10/20 at the CMT Artist of the Year event, he made tangible what Nashville has been sensing for over a year: Rhett is a breakout star.

As CMT SVP of Artist Relations + Music Strategy Leslie Fram says, the first-time AOTY “exemplifies the modern-day country star: a tremendous writer, performer and so damn likeable! His charisma rolls off that stage, through TV screens and right out of the radio. Starpower can’t be taught. Thomas has ‘it’—and then some.”

Fram isn’t the only person singing the praises of the globally emerging star. Spotify’s Head of U.K., Australia and New Zealand Programming George Ergatoudis is quick to concur. “From the very beginning, we could tell Thomas had great potential,” he says. “And frankly, he just keeps getting better.”

With 66% of Rhett’s audience on Spotify under age 27—and in the U.K., that is without airplay on the appropriate terrestrial radio station—it’s safe to say his music is connecting beyond traditional delivery systems. Ergatoudis sees this as the power of Rhett’s music. “We know [listeners] love his music, so I’m hoping it’s just a matter of time before they join the party. The appetite is definitely there… And of course Thomas is a star—he looks and sounds great, and exudes personality.”

For Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Label Group A&R head Allison Jones, Rhett was a volcano of potential from the first time they saw him. The son of ’90s recording artist Rhett Atkins (“That Ain’t My Truck”), Thomas showed an insight and songwriting ability that pointed in all the right directions.

As Borchetta recalls, “He was still very young, but he just oozes songs. It’s in his DNA. When he came into our office and played ‘Have a Beer With Jesus,’ we knew immediately. Thomas was someone special.”

Special doesn’t begin to cover it. He’s written hits for Jason Aldean (“1994,” with its stutter-rap invocation of “Joe, Joe Diffie”), Florida Georgia Line (“Round Here”), Lee Brice (“Parking Lot Party”) and Luke Bryan (“Mama Should’ve Named You Whiskey”). While many of his own #1s mine that youth-on-fire feel-good notion—“It Goes Like This,” “Make Me Wanna,” “Something to Do With My Hands” and “Crash and Burn” —his career record was the multiple week #1 “Die a Happy Man.”

“Thomas isn’t about crossing over, but spilling over,” says Borchetta. “What doesn’t come naturally to most artists, he has a natural compass for. He doesn’t try to aim; he creates songs and has a sense of himself that lends to these larger rooms and places.”

Troy Tomlinson, Nashville head of Sony/ATV Publishing, marvels at the breakout’s artistry and passion for growth. “He has definite ideas about every element of his career. When you have a constantly evolving artist like this, part of our job is simply to give him opportunities to broaden his co-writer base and maybe find lifelong relationships along the way. He’s constantly pushing the envelope of this genre with interesting music, and other genres with his songwriting abilities. Plus, he’s a true entertainer. The only person I could think to compare him to is Bruno Mars.”

Ben Vaughn, now head of Warner/Chappell Nashville, had originally signed Rhett, whom he’d first met as a student who’d interviewed him for a college paper. Seeing him at a songwriters’ night a few months later, he was struck by the same things.

“Thomas is the most genuine person,” Vaughn says. “Anytime anyone discovers him, they love him—no matter what kind of music they like, because his voice sounds like no one else, he’s 100% real and he has something. It’s why I took him straight to Scott and Allison, because they understand building that kind of talent.”

Build it they did. Rhett is up for Song and Single of the Year at the 50th Annual Country Music Association Awards for “Die a Happy Man.” He also received American Music Awards nods for Favorite Male Country Artist and Favorite Country Song.

And that’s just the beginning. After recently selling out Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater, he’s embarking on his first arena tour—and continuing to put out singles from a Deluxe Edition of Tangled Up, which drops 10/28.

“These are his first real dates,” Borchetta says, “and they’re having a strong percentage of upfront sales. Now that he’s truly identified what his career can be, he’s focused and driven. Thomas may be an artist firmly rooted in the South, but he has a global perspective and a universal sense of music. I think once you’re showing up on those international Spotify charts, you know it’s something much larger with an artist than just having hits on country radio.”