Impressively, seven years after graduating high school in tiny Ada, Oklahoma, Blake Shelton’s “Austin” was a platinum-selling number one country hit that reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts. Shelton’s out-of-the-gate success underlined country music’s incredible appeal and marketability at the turn of the 21st century.
Just one year prior, “Austin,” country music had achieved then-unparalleled success as a juggernaut pop music crossover sound. Faith Hill’s “Breathe” was the number-one Billboard Hot 100 pop song of the year, while Lonestar’s “Amazed” both finished at number eight and reached the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 charts for two weeks in March 2000. Thus, the market was well-primed for yearning, earnest, heart-string tugging singles blessed with similar production styles to radio rock hits like Aerosmith’s 1998 Armageddon soundtrack single “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
Regarding the song, in a 2001 interview, Shelton noted, “I’ve had girlfriends I’ve gotten back together with after we’d broken up, and it never worked out. But ‘Austin’ relates to all of those situations, whether it works out or not. It’s really about second chances.”
Kirsti Manna and David Kent wrote the song after Manna heard about how a fellow Nashville songwriter broke up with his girlfriend. She subsequently moved to Austin, Texas. Realizing the error of his ways, he changed the outgoing message on his answering machine to say: “By the way – if this is Austin, I still love you.” The passionate ballad that emerged gave then 25-year-old newcomer Shelton a Billboard smash debut.
The song initially underwhelmed Shelton, but as the song’s producer Bobby Braddock noted to CMT in a 2020 interview relating to the song’s hit potential, “I prioritize what a female thinks over a male with a record, because of the demographic and because there are more females who listen to the radio and buy records,” noting that the song’s demo gaining significant support from female listeners spurred Shelton to record the single as his own.
Regarding the release, upon its 20th anniversary, Shelton noted, “I remember the first time I heard ‘Austin’ on the radio. I was driving on [Nashville’s Interstate] 440, and I kept looking to both sides, trying to see if other drivers were singing along!” He continued, “At that time, the station had a slogan about how they played new artists and legends, and the DJ said something like, ‘Who knows…maybe this artist will become one of the legends.’ This song started it all for me. I couldn’t be prouder to celebrate its 20th anniversary.”