In 2014 Thomas Rhett was a scruffy, up-and-coming singer-songwriter with a few decent songwriting credits– Jason Aldean’s “1994,” Lee Brice’s “Parking Lot Party,” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here.” His debut album, It Goes Like This, was starting to pick up steam after its first two singles didn’t chart on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart and barely reached the Top 20.
By the time 2015 rolled around he dropped the boots and backwards ball cap, had three No. 1 hits from It Goes Like This and debuted his cleaned up, slicked up look at the 50th Annual ACM Awards. For 90 seconds, TR danced around on stage like Justin Timberlake and sang a song he wrote. And he did it very well.
Some would say that was a major turning point in his career, as he carefully released “Crash and Burn” a week after that performance. It was a funky R&B track that sounded like it was from the 1950s. It introduced the world to TR’s musical influences, which were varied, and his sound, which was eclectic. After “Crash and Burn” went to No. 1 and his second album, Tangled Up, was released, “Die A Happy Man” came barrelling down the pipes. It was at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart for 17 weeks. The song won ACM and CMA Single of the Year and was nominated for a GRAMMY. (He also won ACM Male Vocalist of the Year.)
Yes, the critical and commercial success of “Die A Happy Man” was definitely a defining moment in Rhett’s career. He was here to stay with his own sound and influences, but still, I thought Tangled Up was just that– a tangled up country album caught somewhere in trying to be unique and advance the genre, but also make money and only contribute to the “that’s not country debate.”
“T-Shirt” went to No. 1, but “Vacation” was an absolute disaster. The song was such a flop that Rhett’s record label seems to forget about it in press releases. And instead of releasing another single from the album, they took a previously written love song, “Star of the Show” turned it into a single and re-released a deluxe version of Tangled Up. Watching from the outside, I was worried that Rhett couldn’t carry the momentum on and that his label wasn’t confident in any new music he was recording. (Why else would you re-release an album that had only been out a year?)
I was wrong because Life Changes is absolute gold. It’s one of those albums that you don’t have to skip around on to find the songs you like. A real album, some would say.
And to me, what’s strikingly different about Life Changes than his previous work is that this no-genre, record what you’re influenced by approach seems much more authentic. You can hear it in his voice and read it in the lyrics.
Take “T-Shirt” and “Unforgettable” for example– both about margarita-influenced evenings, but very different. One’s about hooking up and making out. The other is about hooking up forever and settling down.
For TR, 2015 brought him to the big leagues, 2016 made him an all-star, but 2017 is going to be the year he becomes a hall of fame player in this country music game.
The Evolution of Thomas Rhett From Team Player to Hall of Famer
Thomas Rhett in 2014 at CMA Fest.
Thomas Rhett in 2014 at the ACM Awards.
Thomas Rhett’s first big-time TV appearance in 2015.
In 2015, Thomas Rhett introduced us a sleeker, cooler vibe.
Basically, in 2015, Thomas Rhett became the Justin Timberlake of country music.
“Die A Happy Man” spent 17 weeks at No. 1, won ACM and CMA Single of the Year, was nominated for a GRAMMY and went double-Platinum.
“Vacation” flopped in 2016, but Rhett carried on the momentum.
The 2017 Thomas Rhett is a confident singer-songwriter with his own style, sound and story.