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, Kane Brown talks about his 2017 single, “What Ifs.” CMT Hot 20 Countdown airs at 9/8c Saturday and Sunday mornings.
CMT: You were a co-writer on “What Ifs.” Where did that idea for the song come from?
KB: It was me, Matt [McGinn] and Jordan [Schmidt]. I believe Jordan came up with the title, “What If?” and we just started talking about everything that could happen in a relationship. Everybody has their “what ifs.” I think it took us an hour and a half to write it. I didn’t love the song when it first came out. …
Why didn’t you love it at first?
I don’t know, I do this thing where I have to listen to it 20-25 times to actually get a story as I’m listening to it. That’s how I usually tell if I’m gonna put a song on a record.
What was the initial plan for that song?
The initial plan was to write me a song that I could have as a single. Before we left the studio Jordan was saying we needed background vocals, preferably a female, and I said I have a friend – I didn’t tell him who it was – who can come over and sing, and she can sing her tail off. He goes, “OK, have her come over.” Then Lauren walks in the room and he’s like, “Your friend’s Lauren Alaina?” I was like, “Yeah.” So she got in there and just killed it. He’s never heard her sing live before, so when she started singing, he turned around and looked at me like, “Whoa.”
You and Lauren have known each other for a long time, right?
Yeah, me and Lauren have known each other since 7th grade and we’ve been good friends ever since. She was a cheerleader, I played basketball and football and baseball, and we hung out in the same clique.
Talk about a “What If” moment. Could you all have ever imagined back then that this would happen?
I always knew she was gonna do something because she could always belt any note that she wanted to, even from 7th grade. I was always the shy kid in class that didn’t really talk. I went and skipped and played in PE or something like that. So she really encouraged me when she went off to American Idol. They brought her back to the hometown for a big parade and after that is when I started singing and followed her career. Once I got to Nashville, I hit her up and we went to dinner and talked about having a song together.
Explain to me how cool it has been to have your first No. 1, and for it to be with Lauren.
It’s a huge deal for me. It’s amazing that I have someone to share that with from my hometown. If we ever have anything to talk about, we can relate to each other so much. And I don’t know anybody else that, as solo acts, had a song together that was as big of a song as it was for us. It’s just amazing.
Here’s what you’ve dreamed about. When you get into this, this is what you want. Then it starts happening. What was that like for those of us who will never experience it?
It was an amazing feeling. When I was on social media doing my thing, I was really excited then. But to have my first number one, and for it to be with her and as big as it was, like, I’m just excited to be here. God had a plan and he made it happen. There’s nothing I can really say that shows my excitement for that. I’m such a laid-back guy. But I was happy on the inside.
What did that song mean for your career and for where you stand right now?
Back then I didn’t know where my career was gonna go after that song. It is a big song for anybody, for their first No. 1. To have to come back with another song and hope that it reaches that point, it was kind of scary. But now looking back, it’s like that started my career. … “What Ifs” was the one that pushed me over the top and gave me a name in country music.
Why do you think that song that clicked with people? Why do you think that’s the one that took off?
I think it’s because everybody, every relationship, has their “What if” moments and a lot of people related to the song. The more relatable the song, the bigger it’ll be.
That’s what everybody tries to do, but it doesn’t always work that way, right?
Yeah, I still have songs that I think are gonna be really relatable and they just don’t take off the way “What Ifs” did. So I don’t know what it was. It could have been the fact that mine and Lauren’s voices blend together. It could have just been Lauren’s powerhouse voice. I don’t know. I’m just glad it did.