Thomas Rhett: Country music's brightest new star?
- 15 March 2016
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Thomas Rhett already has two successful albums under his belt in America, but he remains less well-known in the UK. Could that be about to change thanks to a renewed interest in country music, coupled with some shrewd use of social media?
Ask the average Brit whether they've heard of Thomas Rhett and they could be forgiven for responding with a blank stare.
Cross the Atlantic, however, and it's a different story.
Four of Rhett's singles have in excess of 35 million YouTube views each and he's a firm staple of the country music radio stations, with five number one airplay hits.
Now, three years after his debut album first charted in US Billboard top 10, the singer is understandably starting to capture some international attention.
"Knowing that we have one or two fans over here blows my mind, I'm just like, 'how do you know me?' It's surreal," he says during his first visit to London.
He's in the UK for the Country To Country music festival, joining a bill that also includes Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt and Miranda Lambert.
The 25-year-old is having to adjust quickly to British celebrity culture as he undergoes a whirlwind promotional tour in support of his latest album, Tangled Up.
"Of my five years touring in America, I've never walked out of a building and had five cameras in my face before, so it's been very different for sure," he says.
But it's not just the paparazzi he's receiving attention from, he's already built up a loyal fanbase in the UK - thanks in no small part to his increasing social media profile.
Rhett is an active user of Twitter and Instagram, regularly posting pictures of himself and his wife - childhood sweetheart Lauren Gregory - who often travels with him.
His online accounts are made up largely of images from his personal life, often spontaneous moments with Gregory captured while he tours the world, as opposed to the polished and carefully staged publicity shots that often dominate pop stars' Instagrams.
"What I've done on social media is not some strategy we came up with at the beginning to really indulge in my personal life, it just kind of happened," Rhett explains.
"My wife is such a big part of my life and career and when you think of me you think of her. A lot of my fans actually love my wife more than they love me," he adds jokingly.
"I'm the guy you can have a beer with and she's the girl you can talk about your problems with, we don't consider ourselves on a different pedestal to anyone else and I think that's what my Instagram portrays to our fans. I think when they look at us they see genuineness."
A good social media profile is one thing - but nice-looking photos don't, of course, automatically result in significant record sales.
That's where the heavy support Rhett has been enjoying from country music radio stations comes in.
Rhett's debut, It Goes Like This, and his recent follow-up, Tangled Up, both reached the US top 10 after he topped the country music airplay charts.
Both his albums also peaked at number two on the country sales chart, making Rhett the latest in a long line of country music acts - including Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum - to find chart success.
"I think a lot of the younger kids really like country because what we're infusing into our music is stuff we grew up listening to in fifth and sixth grade, so it's very relatable," Rhett says.
"I think the stories have always been what's made country music what it is. The melodies and the heartache or joy of where the song was written from will always remain in country."
But are these younger country fans Rhett speaks of actually the kind of audience that buy records?
In an age of streaming services, today's music fans often cherry pick their favourite songs from an album, rather than listening to it from start to finish as a single body of work.
Rhett, however, is keen to produce a more traditional album that flows naturally from one track to the next, encouraging the listener to play the songs in order, something he says he's done with Tangled Up.
"I think a lot of people make albums with this pressure of 'Oh my gosh, we don't have four ballads on our album, we've got to write four ballads', or 'We don't have an uptempo song to open the album'. Whereas, we just wrote and tried to pick the best songs that represented who I am as an artist right now.
He goes on: "I hated listening to records growing up and feeling like I loved track one and seven, but didn't love the rest of it.
"I've always wanted to make albums that you can listen to all the way through, something you can put on while on an aeroplane and just let the flow of those songs take you on a journey."
Thomas Rhett's own journey, meanwhile, has clearly only just begun.