CMT Rewind: Blake Shelton's 'Red River Blue' Reveals His Breakout Superstardom
A decade into his 20-year-old country career, 2011 found Blake Shelton on the cusp of an elevated level of unprecedented stardom, highlighted by the release of his sixth studio album Red River Blue. Marking the first time that the performer both reached double-platinum selling Billboard success and a full slate of Billboard Hot Country chart number-one singles with all tracks released, it set the course for the second 10-year run of his career, which finds him a tabloid, television, and musical icon, and inarguably a quintessential part of what defines excellence in the genre. However, the acceptance of his superstar evolution initially troubled the Tishomingo, Oklahoma native.
In a July 2011 Us Weekly interview, Shelton reflected on how the impact of being a guest on the then relatively new TV program The Voice -- as well as a run of singles including a Trace Adkins collaboration for all-genre Hot 100 crossover top-40 hit "Hillbilly Bone," plus another top-40 smash with "All About Tonight" -- had begun to change his self-admitted "drunk or lying or just full of crap all the time" ways. "It's really polarizing all of a sudden," he offered. "If I get on Twitter and say, 'I just pissed my pants!' the world goes, 'What the hell is wrong with this guy?' It's a quick learning curve, and I have to watch myself more these days."
At the time of Red River Blue's release in July 2011, he was at the start of his marriage to fellow country star Miranda Lambert. The album's lead single "Honey Bee" and follow-up "God Gave Me You" reflect the importance of his marriage at that moment. "'You be my honeysuckle, and I'll be your honey bee' is a different way for the guy to say, 'We should date, I love you,'" noted songwriter (and modern superstar Thomas Rhett's father) Rhett Akins to Taste of Country. The lead single was nominated for a Grammy for Best Solo Country Performance at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
Regarding "God Gave Me You," the song was originally recorded by Christian artist Dave Barnes a year earlier, achieving top-20 status. However, when recontextualized by Shelton's voice and the nature of his extremely high-profile career and marriage at the moment, it became Shelton's fifth consecutive Billboard Hot Country charts number-one single and his 10th overall on October 29, 2011. Famously -- in what is now an oft-repeated trope in other male newlywed country artists' videos -- the clip included footage from Lambert the night before she wedded Shelton.
Red River Blue's success yielded not only a Grammy nomination for Best Solo Country Performance for "Honey Bee." As well, the album itself was nominated for Best Country Album. Regarding his success, the humility that Shelton previously noted when interviewed for the album's July debut is present in a December reflection to The Tennessean:
"It's one thing to be acknowledged by the Grammy voters for one of your songs, but to have two songs nominated, and the album that they're both off of, is an emotional experience. I may never have something like this in my career again and I'm darn well going to enjoy it."
2021 marked Shelton's 10th anniversary as the host of The Voice. As well, he achieved an incredible run of five consecutive years of number-one singles on Billboard's Hot Country singles chart through 2016. When Entertainment Weekly noted -- maybe with a cynical, bittersweet edge -- in 2011, that "the rebel-flag-flyin’, moonshine-spittin’, yee-haw-shoutin’ Okie from 2010’s "Hillbilly Bone" and "All About Tonight" has settled down," the idea that the artist was on a fast track to astounding acclaim, seemed unlikely, yet possible. In short, Blake Shelton's concern about his career's sustainability at the superstar level was unwarranted. Shelton, rather impressively -- and largely as a result of Red River Blue -- has had "[success] like this" in his career.