Nate Smith Has Entered The Breakup Ballad Chat
The entertainment industry loves a good story of survival. The more compelling, the better. Well, if emerging country singer-songwriter Nate Smith has anything going for him, it’s a really moving backstory — a phoenix-y one about endurance and optimism in the face of tragedy. I’m not even being hyperbolic: Across the last 15-ish years, Smith’s tried to make it in Nashville multiple times, experienced a divorce, and lost everything he owned in the 2018 Paradise, California Camp Fire, including his guitar. The bio practically writes itself.
But now? Smith is signed to Sony Music Nashville and is taking over both TikTok Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart with his breakup ballad “Whiskey On You” — an enormously satisfying country kiss-off anthem that sounds like it could’ve come from a Carrie Underwood-taught masterclass. Audiences are really responding to Smith, who hit #1 on the aforementioned Emerging Artists chart. “Whiskey On You” currently has more than 8 million streams on Spotify.
“Whiskey On You” IS a country-pop crossover banger. The production is tight and crisp, and Smith’s vocals have oomph but are audibly weathered. The lyrics aren’t complex, but they are universally appealing, with a post-romance Smith sounding fed up with himself: “To hell with the lonely, and the why-don’t-you-want-me/ Yeah, bartender pour me a farewell round.” The song’s composition, too, is traditionally compact but plays with the pop framework by looping in a shredding guitar solo.
It’s hard not to be compelled by Smith’s story. Originally from Paradise, he grew up listening to a range of artists, both country and not — Elvis, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson — and was active in his church, where he was a worship leader. In his early 20s, Smith moved to Nashville, got signed to a Christian music label, Word Records, and got a publishing deal with Centricity Music. Around this time, he opened for artists like Brett Eldredge, Eli Young Band, and X Ambassadors.
Nashville didn’t stick, though. As Smith told Entertainment Focus: “I had a publishing deal in Nashville, wrote songs for other people, you know, but then I went through a rough divorce, it was hard for both of us. We tried and tried and couldn’t make it work, and it left me not in a good place mentally and emotionally, and I just needed to be with my family again. I sort of left Nashville with my tail between my legs, and I lost my publishing deal because I left town too.
“I was never planning on being an artist again,” he continued. “I was going to be a nurse. I had been saying I was going to be a nurse for 13 years and never actually went to school to do it.” So Smith took a job at a hospital in his hometown, and then the Paradise fire happened. Smith lost everything. While his family picked up and moved to Idaho, Smith started writing music again.
“I started writing more music after that point and played shows,” he said. “My friends had all been encouraging me to make the move back to Nashville, so they started a GoFundMe for me to get back. I packed up my car and drove all around America for a month and a half, living out of my car. When I got to Nashville, I met some incredible people who were in a position to help me out, and I eventually landed management, booking, publishing and a record deal in just under a year.”
Together with his friend Miykael Goodwin, Smith wrote “One Of These Days” as a tribute to Paradise, and they released the hometown pride track under the moniker Cold Weather Sons. “One Of These Days” took off on social media after Smith performed it on a local news channel, singing, “I can still remember the first time that I fell in love with this town. The tall green trees, the mountain breeze, the girl that made me shake in my knees. I’m going to miss it. I already miss it.” Some positive press coverage encouraged Smith to head back to Nashville, and his next single, “Wildfire,” went viral on TikTok with 3 million views.
The combination of local press coverage and building an organic audience on the still-fledgling video platform no doubt helped Smith nab a record deal with Sony Music Nashville, who released his next single, “Raised Up,” last year. You can see the path to “Whiskey” on the piano-led “Raised Up,” which finds Smith leaning into that beaten-broken-down survivalist narrative. It’s clear how the industry’s selling Smith: He’s a homegrown guy, someone you’d have a beer with. He’s taken some knocks, but he’s so much stronger for it. He’s still devotional, but not isolating. Musically, he’s a vocal powerhouse, but his pitch has a gruff, ragged edge. I don’t mean to present any of this cynically — Smith’s output since signing with Sony went from “having potential” to “pristine.” Whatever producer/co-writer collaborations Sony’s bringing to the table look and sound great on him.
This past year, Smith teamed up with Tenille Townes on the wedding-ready “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven.” (He’d initially released “Heaven” last year, but it sounds way better as a duet.) That pretty much brings us up to “Whiskey On You,” which, compared to Smith’s earlier singles, is a delightful change of pace. Smith was already promising as an earnest albeit roughed-up balladeer with songs about love, hope, community, and just a sprinkle of worship-speak, but “Whiskey” is a unifying blast of fuck-you fun — you could hoedown to it at any bar, anywhere around the world. Hopefully more songs like it are on the way.
Chris DeVille here with your weekly chart update. Due to today’s holiday, the Hot 100 will not be revealed until Tuesday. However, there’s some big news on the album front thanks to Mr. Harry Styles, whose Harry’s House posted the biggest week of any album in 2022 so far, the biggest sales week of any album in 2022 so far, and the biggest vinyl sales figure of the modern era. Here’s how I summed it up in a post earlier today:
Harry Styles just scored the biggest album debut of 2022 so far, and in the process he set the record for the biggest vinyl sales week of the modern era. According to Billboard, Harry’s House tallied 521,500 equivalent album units in its first week — the biggest debut since Adele’s 30 racked up 839,000 units last November. It’s the fourth week in a row a new album has posted the best one-week total of the year following big turns from Future, Bad Bunny, and Kendrick Lamar.
The big haul for Harry’s House includes 330,000 in sales — also the best pure sales week of the year, and a big enough figure that Styles would have posted 2022’s biggest debut based on sales alone, without streaming and individual track sales factored in. His sales total includes 182,000 in vinyl sales, the most in a week since the inception of Luminate (then called Nielsen SoundScan) in 1991. The number by far surpasses the previous one-week vinyl sales record of 114,000 set by Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) in November. Harry’s House also put up 189,000 streaming equivalent units, equalling 246.96 million on-demand track streams.
Former leaders Bad Bunny, Future, and Kendrick Lamar are at #2, #3, and #4 respectively. Country singer Zach Bryan debuts at #5 with 71,500 units of American Heartbreak including 6,000 in sales. The bottom half of the top 10 comprises Morgan Wallen at #6, Jack Harlow at #7, Olivia Rodrigo at #8, TOMORROW X TOGETHER at #9, and Lil Durk at #10. And with that, I’ll hand the keyboard back to Rachel.
blackbear & Machine Gun Kelly – “gfy”
It seems the breakup banger algorithm has inspired blackbear and MGK to do their own take on GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” and theirs involves references to Euphoria and an ex who tried “to fuck all my friends.” The music video’s better than the song.
Calvin Harris, Dua Lipa, & Young Thug – “Potion”
This kind of sounds like Calvin Harris doing “The Tide Is High”? I think my “Potion” has been spiked with a downer.
SEVENTEEN – “Hot”
This just woke me up from my “Potion” haze. Thank you, SEVENTEEN.
Ed Sheeran – “Welcome To The World”
“Butterfly Kisses” 2.0.
Tate McRae – “Don’t Come Back”
The rhythm of Tate’s delivery is so reminiscent of Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” here — it works!
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Harry Styles read a bedtime story for BBC’s CBeebies. [YouTube]
- “Skin Of My Teeth” will be the first single from Demi Lovato’s upcoming punk album. [Billboard]
- Time‘s 100 most influential people list for 2022 includes Adele, Mary J. Blige, Jon Batiste, Questlove, Miranda Lambert, and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. [TIME]
- “I’m loving Kendrick,” Lorde wrote in her latest email to fans. “I cannot get over the most popular and influential artist in modern music displaying a working nervous system, admitting mistakes, trying to process intergenerational trauma and prejudice.” [Yahoo]
- Britney Spears shared a photo with the Weeknd and Sam Levinson, leading to speculation she’s involved in the duo’s upcoming HBO series The Idol. [PopBase]
- Becky G did “Bailé Con Mi Ex” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. [YouTube]
- Megan Thee Stallion will give her first performances in Australia as part of Festival X this fall. [Instagram]
- Halsey shared a message on Instagram in response to last week’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: “It is so futile and revolting that lawmakers protect guns over our youth. It’s despicable.” [Billboard]
- Lorde sang “Tennis Court” in concert for the first time in 3½ years. [Twitter]
- BTS will meet with President Biden tomorrow to discuss Asian inclusion and raise awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes. [The Hill]
- McDonald announced a signature The Kid LAROI Meal in the pop-rapper’s native Australia. [YouTube]
- Shakira lost the appeal in her Spanish tax fraud case, paving the way for a trial. [Reuters]
- Billie Eilish appeared on the series finale of The Ellen Degeneres Show. [Twitter]
- Harry Styles and Live Nation are donating $1M+ of his North American tour proceeds to Everytown For Gun Safety. [Twitter]