Baby You a Song: Big Machine’s Biggest Hits
Details are still emerging about what precisely went down between Taylor Swift and Big Machine president/CEO Scott Borchetta prior to news of the label group’s sale to manager Scooter Braun going public on June 30th, but the ownership of Swift’s master recordings is a crucial component. The superstar entertainer’s catalog, six multi-platinum albums packed to the gills with hit singles spanning country and pop, is clearly a huge asset that helped the label’s valuation.
But Big Machine Label Group did not rise on Swift alone (mostly, sure, but not totally). The label has had incredible country and crossover successes thanks to artists like Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and, most recently, Brett Young. Here are 10 artists and songs that contributed to BMLG’s net worth.
Jack Ingram, “Wherever You Are”
This is the one that started it all. Before Taylor Swift was releasing music and charting her course to superstardom, the earliest incarnation of Big Machine was betting on the success of Texas favorite Jack Ingram, who’d already released a string of albums by the time he joined the fledgling label’s roster. In 2005, Ingram’s recording of “Wherever You Are” (written by Jeremy Stover and Steve Bogard) became his first country radio Number One as well as the label’s first chart-topping hit. Ingram never reached the top of the national country charts again, but his Big Machine period yielded some fun recordings like the almost-profane “Love You” and an update of his Todd Snider co-write “Barbie Doll” that features Dierks Bentley, Randy Houser, and Little Big Town.
Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise”
In the two years following its release in 2012, there was no bigger country song than “Cruise.” Selling 11 million units and earning the distinction of the bestselling digital country song in history, the Florida Georgia Line mega-banger remains a gem in the crown of Big Machine Label Group. And the rest of FGL’s catalog is nearly as valuable: “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here,” “Anything Goes,” “Dirt” and “Simple” are a few of their chart-topping singles, with all four of their studio albums debuting at Number One (FGL’s debut Here’s to the Good Times has sold more than 2 million so far.) And for better or worse, “Cruise” also launched the bro-country era, along with a thousand imitators.
Justin Moore, “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”
The Arkansas cowboy is one of country music’s ninjas, those nimble artists who quietly slip onto the charts and, before you know it, have racked up a string of hits. Moore’s first biggie was the Platinum-certified “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” paving the way for radio staples like “Bait a Hook,” “Til My Last Day” and “Lettin’ the Night Roll.” He’s also a Big Machine lifer, releasing all four of his studio albums via the Valory Music Group imprint. His fifth, Late Nights and Longnecks, arrives later this month on the strength of its already Top 15 single, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home.”
Brett Young, “In Case You Didn’t Know”
California native Brett Young had a strong start with his emotional-dude hit “Sleep Without You,” then cranked the sensitivity to 11 with a whole barrage of hits that followed. The biggest among them, one that was truly inescapable for a large stretch of 2017, was “In Case You Didn’t Know” from Young’s self-titled 2017 debut album. It became his first Number One in June and, in April 2019, it was certified quadruple Platinum. To date, it has tallied an incredible 188 million streams, with Young continuing to bank Number One hits for BMLG including “Mercy,” “Like I Loved You,” and, from his second album Ticket to L.A., “Here Tonight.”
Eli Young Band, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”
The Denton, Texas-based Eli Young Band made the leap from the fertile Texas-Oklahoma scene to Nashville, where they released Jet Black & Jealous on Universal South before landing at Republic Nashville. There they struck big, hitting Number One in 2011 with the ballad “Crazy Girl” and following it up the next year with “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” both from their album Life at Best. A hopeful slice of heartland rock written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” is an ode to all the dreamers and a plea to keep on going that’s now certified Double Platinum. Eli Young Band’s radio success trailed off a touch after “Drunk Last Night,” but they recently tallied their first Number One since 2013 with “Love Ain’t,” off their 2018 This Is Eli Young Band: Greatest Hits — another Big Machine release.
Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man”
On his second album Tangled Up, Thomas Rhett shed some of the harder-edged bro-country trappings that had characterized It Goes Like This, his debut album for Valory Records (which produced hits like “Make Me Wanna”), and leaned into a more sleek, modern pop sound for his next recordings, led by the soulful “Crash and Burn.” Rhett also figured out that fans wanted to hear him singing about his own life, so he came up with the R&B-tinged “Die a Happy Man” as a tribute to his wife Lauren. The approach worked: The song became one of the biggest hits of 2016, spending multiple weeks at Number One and putting Rhett on the fast track to stardom. It’s since been certified five-times Platinum, and Rhett has continued adding hits to the Big Machine catalog, including “Marry Me,” “Look What God Gave Her” and the autobiographical “Life Changes.”
Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem”
No artist on the Big Machine roster represents the potential for making country cool again — and maintaining its profitability — quite like Midland. The rough-and-rhinestones trio scored a Platinum hit with their debut single “Drinkin’ Problem,” reintroducing a classic country vibe and Urban Cowboy fashion sense to pop culture (Lil Nas X was clearly paying attention, even watching Midland’s set during CMA Fest last month). That should pay dividends in the long run, as the “I like all music but country” crowd discovers that Midland isn’t too far removed from the Eagles tunes they put on their weekend chill-out playlists.
Brantley Gilbert, “Country Must Be Country Wide”
One of BMLG president Scott Borchetta’s great talents has always been his ability to sense a market opportunity, which he did expertly with Georgia native Brantley Gilbert. Formerly working independently and then with the label Average Joe’s (where he co-wrote “Dirt Road Anthem” with label co-owner Colt Ford), Gilbert had already put time into building a loyal, walk-through-fire-for-you fan base (dubbed “BG Nation”) before he signed with Big Machine imprint Valory. The label just figured out how to blow it wide open and find every set of ears he had yet to reach, which they did with his first release, “Country Must Be Country Wide.” A brooding slab of country-sludge, the Platinum-certified song encapsulated an entire lifestyle that Gilbert fans found appealing and made it to Number One in 2011. Gilbert has continued releasing his music through Valory, including the albums Just As I Am and 2017’s The Devil Don’t Sleep.
Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”
As the discussion over the lack of women being played on country radio began ramping up in 2014, a second discussion was taking place about the current of misogyny running through many of the songs by country’s bros — they were big on hooks, trucks, tailgates, tanned legs and nameless girls, and not a lot else. Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye shredded it all to bits with “Girl in a Country Song,” their debut single and first Number One under the revived Dot imprint, who released their album Start Here. Using the production tricks favored by the popular dudes, Maddie & Tae cleverly and tunefully made fun of every cliché in the book: “Tell me one more time you gotta get you some of that/Sure, I’ll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped,” they sang with glee. It went on to win the Video of the Year honor at the 2015 CMA Awards and has been certified Platinum. Maddie & Tae moved on from Big Machine after one album, but it’s impossible to forget their spectacular introduction with “Girl in a Country Song.”
The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”
Before the Band Perry flipped their wigs and dramatically altered their previously true-blue country sound, they populated the Big Machine catalog with some of its most successful songs. Chief among them: The 7-million-selling “If I Die Young,” a monster of a crossover hit that is nearing 150 million streams on Spotify. “Better Dig Two” and “Done.” also bolstered the label’s equity. The trio exited Republic Nashville in 2016, but those hits remain in the company’s coffers.
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