Editor’s Note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown takes a look back on 10 years of incredible music with Decade, a weekly segment that features a modern country classic that made its greatest impact between 2010 and 2019. This week, Dan + Shay talk about their 2018 single, “Tequila.” Here are Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney, in their own words:
Dan: People try to justify why they think a song is gonna be a hit, or why they think it might not be a hit, and a couple of people said, “You know, ballads will never work on radio.” “You need something uptempo, uptempo, uptempo.” “They want pace.” “They want something fast, because all of our hits are ballads.” All the biggest country songs of all time are ballads, if you look back in history.
But I feel like that’s a tendency — everybody chases that and chases seasons and says, “Well, if it does do its thing and takes x amount of time to get up the charts, it’ll peak in July and you don’t want to be out there on the road playing a ballad.” And I mean, if you watch our Instagram videos, our fans, they don’t care if it’s a ballad. They just want to sing it. They react to the song.
We also heard some arguments that no one drinks tequila, which we drink tequila. All of our friends do, so I don’t know if that was valid. We shot that one out the door really quickly. But yeah, apparently a lot of people like drinking tequila and a lot of people ended up liking listening to the song, too.
Shay: There are so many milestones that you can look back on. You put all this work into the writing of the song, the production of the song, and doing all these things that get it to radio, and then radio gets it to the people, and then you’re there on stage and you’re hearing them sing back the words. That all happens so fast and then you see those little moments like, “All right, it went double-platinum.” All these things are happening. …
Going double-platinum was really cool because that means people are actually consuming the song and you can have a hit on the radio that is what we call a turntable hit, that people hear and they like the song. But people were actually consuming the song and they were listening and buying the song. That was a really cool thing — making that song a part of their story, if you will.
It was cool seeing a lot of people tweet out “We’ve never listened to country music before but we heard this on a pop station, or a hot AC station.” Or, “We never listened to country but we love you guys.” And now they’re discovering other acts, which is a real cool thing for us. That to me is a cool milestone of having people discover this amazing little thing that we got going over here in country music of people pushing boundaries in such a cool way.
Dan: Performing at the Grammys and winning a Grammy was an insane thing. You dream of it your whole life. It still doesn’t feel real. That day was such a blur. That whole week was such a blur, a lot of nerves, a lot of emotion, because we had never been there before. People from all genres of music, some of the most talented people in the entire world, some of the most famous people in the entire world — and then there’s us. We’re those other guys who everyone’s like, “Did they sneak in? Why are they here?”
We got to perform and it was crazy. Cardi B performed, Alicia Keys performed, and then we’re sitting there waiting to perform. Like, two of the most famous people on planet Earth. Then we got up there, we could hear our hearts — at least I could, I’m probably speaking for Shay, too. We could hear our hearts beating through the microphones in our in-ears before they called our name.
But we’d sung this song a million times. We’d rehearsed it a lot and we were ready for it. It was a big moment for us, a breakthrough moment in our career. I think the fact that we had won a Grammy earlier that day gave us a little boost of confidence to get up there and be like, “We can do this! We belong here!” And it was awesome. I mean, it was one of the coolest moments, something we’ll never forget. I’m still getting emotional thinking about that day. It was such a blur, so now to have the award and have the videos and photos to look back on — it was career-changing for us.
Shay: [Hitting that note] was all I could think about for about a month. When we found out we were gonna be performing, that was a huge moment for us and I started mentally preparing. I always get a little bit of anxiety about stuff like that, when I know in my mind, “All right, we have to do something that’s gonna set us apart.” We could go there and play it safe and just do this, because with great risk, it could go one way or the other. You could really nail it, or you could really not nail it at all, and people will talk about it either way.
We really love the pressure. That’s something I think every artist thrives on, at one point or the other. We started thinking about that moment of, “Man, I cannot wait to nail this on TV.” There’s not an option, that reckless abandon of, “This is gonna be the beginning to something else, to another step of our career.” Or, “This could be the end of our career if I really screw this up.”
It was a really exciting moment. I think it spoke to our artist career. I think whenever you’re going after an artist career, you have to go for it, with everything you have, and that moment for me was like, “I’m gonna give it everything I have, and it’s gonna go one way or the other. And nailing that note for however long, I felt like I was gonna pass out afterwards, but it ended up being a really cool moment. I thought about it for a long time before, and when it was over, it was like, “Holy crap! That just happened!”