Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift tackled 2011 with strong record sales, top tours and memorable music videos. Leading up to the CMT Artists of the Year special, which airs Tuesday night (Dec. 13) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, all five artists chatted about their exceptional year.
"I think 2011 was a huge year for us just simply for the fact that our album, the My Kind of Party album, became our first double platinum album," Aldean said. "One of the biggest songs of my career was "Dirt Road Anthem" this year, which I think just blew all of our minds at how big that song became. We had the duet with Kelly [Clarkson, "Don't You Wanna Stay"], which was a monster song -- the first song that we ever had really to cross over and become a hit also in the pop world a little bit. So from that aspect of it, it was a huge year."
He continued, "And also really going out and headlining our first major tour this year, and to not only have that do well, but to go in and sell out places two weeks in advance. ... I'm talking 20,000 seat amphitheaters. I think it just blew all of our minds. And so just from every aspect of this year, I think it was just all the way around a huge breakout year for us."
Chesney believed 2011 had "a different energy." He added, "I had taken the whole previous year off to get away from that environment, and it was scary for me because it was an environment that I had been in my whole adult life basically. ... But backing away a little bit made me miss it more than ever. I had missed the energy exchange from the guys in the band and myself and the energy that the fans bring to us. And there's an incredible anticipation on both sides of the stage, from us all day walking around backstage, to doing sound check, going to catering, whatever it is -- we anticipate the first note of every night."
He also noted, "It's the same way with the audience because they know you're coming to town months before you get to town, months before the first note of that night. And I had missed that feeling. And so 2011 was just a reminder of how lucky we are and how much people really care about the music and how much the fans not just listen to your songs but that they've lived with them and that they've had it as a fabric of their life. I was reminded of that in 2011, and it was an amazing, amazing trip around the sun. I promise you."
Asked why 2011 was such a monumental year, Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood stated that the band has grown closer than ever.
"We've seen so many stories of bands that with any success that comes, they keep going separate ways," he said. "I truly feel like we are closer than we were a year ago. I think the name for the game for us now is to find a good way to be here for a while, and longevity is kind of the word for us that we always bring up. Following up 'Need You Now,' following up that album and what that song did and all the doors that song opened for us is what we're trying to do."
Charles Kelley added, "We weren't really able to process so much of the success last year because we were so busy and we were in it. ... We probably didn't really appreciate what it was and what it meant to be having all those things happen to us. It was our dream coming true, and it wasn't until going in and recording the third record and having the Grammys, where we were in the studio and we're like, 'What an amazing blessing to already be on our third record and have people patting us on the back and encouraging us to keep moving forward.' We just want to try to be one of those bands that sticks around for a long time."
Hillary Scott emphasized that the band is extremely goal-oriented: "We want to be able to go and sell out arenas all over the country and in Canada and take our music across the globe. That's one thing that the last year has opened for us, more than we ever would have imagined, is the ability for not only our music to travel across the world but for us to go as well. We went and played in Australia earlier this year and then went back to London and then on to Germany and France. Wanting to build that solid touring career is one of the things that is a huge goal of ours."
Meanwhile, Paisley was asked what he learned in 2011. After pondering the question for a moment, he replied, "I probably learned the value of sleep. ... This was the first year essentially of my life, out of the last five, that my wife wasn't either pregnant or we had a brand new baby. So I've settled into this groove with two little boys now that are no longer babies. They're boys and I'm learning about life through them right now. That's really a great vantage point."
He continued, "I'm starting to sense in my heart that they're a little more important than me, even though when they are born, you feel that. It's not the same thing as when they get interests and do things -- one of them is a yellow belt already in Taekwondo -- and you start to see who they are. And so I think my main lesson I learned this year is that, as well as a little bit of patience. This year was just one of those years where it seemed like I was all over the place. I had to learn a little bit of patience, even though I don't know that I did. But the universe is pointing me in a patience direction and I just keep fighting it."
Reflecting on her whirlwind career, Swift said, "This year 2011 has been absolutely magical. With this tour that we did this year, the Speak Now tour, we went all over the world. I got to go to places and play sold-out arena shows in countries I've never even been to before. Going to Asia, to Europe, and then the North American tour, I don't think I've ever seen crowds that big or crowds that insane. I'm just really, really proud of that tour."
Asked about her proudest moment, though, Swift gives a surprising answer.
"I think my proudest moment of the year was ... the moment for me that all kind of happened around the song, 'Mean.' That song was really special to me," she said. "Having the video turn out to be something I'm so proud of, and to have the song and video be nominated for CMA awards, to write such a personal song, and to have people connect with it, and to hear it on the radio and to have it go No. 1, that was the proudest moment for me because I don't think I've ever written a song that was so personal."
See complete coverage of the 2011 CMT Artists of the Year special.