Thirty No. 1 songs, a hit television show, five Entertainer of the Year wins, a sold-out record-breaking Las Vegas residency, more than 14 million concert tickets sold and 22 billion streams are impressive drops in the deep ocean of accolades Luke Bryan has worked decades to accomplish.
Bryan, an affable, tender-hearted, devoted father and husband, moved to Nashville from his native Georgia to chase his country music dreams. Within six years, he co-wrote his first country chart-topper – "Good Directions" for Billy Currington. His debut album, "I'll Stay Me," was released in 2007, but he didn't nab his first No. 1 as an artist until "Do I" in 2009.
"When I moved to Nashville, I moved for all the right reasons -- just because I loved country music and I loved being on stage," Bryan said. "From the second I got here … it just felt like I'd finally found the place for me to be. I never really looked back. Then to kickstart the whole process and to have dreams of writing number ones and performing number ones and being an artist to present day, you look at that, and it's kind of hard to wrap your head around."
Bryan, who recently wrapped his two-year Las Vegas residency at Resorts World in Las Vegas, will return as a judge alongside Lionel Richie and Katy Perry to "American Idol" on February 18.
Being on television is something Bryan admits he's had to get used to.
"I'm comfortable with all of that now," he said. "I think my first year at 'American Idol,' there was a lot of things I need to get comfortable with. Now I'm comfortable with 'Idol' and doing the TV spots and the commercials and some of the fun acting bits, and I'm comfortable letting my emotions out on TV. I keep having anxiety about the crowds not showing up at the concerts, but all of our numbers (in 2023) touring-wise have been 20 – 30 percent better than ever."
While Bryan is among the most successful artists in country music history, his ride to the top wasn't smooth or a sure thing. His debut single, "All My Friends Say," made it to the Top 5 on country radio. He followed it up with "We Rode In Trucks" in 2007, and he was convinced the song was a hit. "We Rode In Trucks" collapsed at No. 35.
"It was probably the darkest artist headspace I've ever been in because I thought 'We Rode In Trucks' was going to propel my career onto a fast track," he said. "I was pretty upset about it."
His third single, "Country Man," was a Top 10 hit, but when he turned the next batch of songs into the record label, they were rejected.
"I had a lot of bad news," Bryan said, remembering he was on his tour bus in a sour mood. "At some point, I just kind of told myself, 'Don't be like that.' I have my down days, and sometimes I get a little mad … but that's neither here nor there. For the most part, I think I just love doing this. I didn't ask to be born to do it, but I think I was born to do it."
Bryan's first No. 1 song, "Do I," launched his years-long chain of hit songs. Nashville's country music community recently gathered to celebrate the singer's 30 chart-toppers, and the evening included Bryan's idols and friends performing some of his hits for him. Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott of Lady A were there, as were Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Shenandoah's Marty Raybon and more.
Bryan wrote "Do I" with Haywood and Charles Kelley of Lady A, and Scott sang background vocals on the song.
"Luke, we love you," Scott said. "Thank you for years of friendship and letting me sing harmony on your first No. 1 song."
Bentley, tongue-in-cheek, wasn't as kind to Bryan – but had the room rolling in laughter with a comedic roast. Bentley insinuated Bryan was old because the other artists in the genre who have also garnered 30 No. 1 songs include George Strait, Ronnie Milsap and Conway Twitty.
"I only got 22 No. 1 songs, I'm young," Bentley quipped. "Luke can say (stuff) that if I said, I'd get arrested on the spot. If I said some of the stuff he said, I'd probably lose my record deal. Based on how slow my current single is going, maybe I already have. That was funny."
Then Bentley said he would sing "Play It Again" in "a man's key" in G because he can't sing as high as Bryan. Bentley comedically forgot many of the song's lyrics.
Bryan's other chart-toppers include "Drunk On You," "Crash My Party," "Drink A Beer," "Most People Are Good," "Down To One" and more.
"It's an astounding accomplishment to record 30 No. 1 songs; few artists will ever accomplish that," said Cindy Mabe, Chair and CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville. "But the truth is that beyond hitting the top of the charts, Luke Bryan … changed the course of country music. He gave his heart, his lifestyle, his musical infusion, powerful charisma, and Elvis-like moves, and he forever changed the sound and reached for a new era in country music. Luke has always known who he was and who he represented, and you can find that in each of these No. 1 songs. Perhaps Luke's biggest gift of all is to teach us that even through trauma and heartbreak, we have to remember to enjoy life and each moment because you never know when it will be your last."
Bryan called his latest Top 5 hit "But I Got A Beer In My Hand" fun, an adjective he hadn't used to describe one of his cuts recently.
"I felt like I hadn't done a fun Luke Bryan song in a minute," he said. "This was just fun, and it was summertime. There's been a lot of beer songs out lately, and I'm sure people want to critique that. But it just felt like a song that really said what I wanted to say this summer. It's been fun watching it catch fire and grow legs live and watching people hold their beer up when they're singing."
The singer's sons are 13 and 15, and his nephew is 22. Bryan wants to balance his songs between light-hearted and mature to ensure they have depth but still appeal to younger audiences.
"I'm grounded more than ever in what I need to say as an artist, certainly for the rest of my career," Bryan said. "I really feel blessed that I can still, after all this time, have a tangible role as being somebody high up in the business. At the end of the day … when I'm on stage, I love every second of it. I still love connecting with the fans, and I still love hearing great songs."
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