Luke Combs’ music career is definitely one of the fastest growing that Nashville has ever seen. What took others so many years – even decades – to reach, he did more in six. Combs built himself a loyal fan base through social media, established his name in a cutthroat industry, and even went on to be the top paid musician in his genre (in 2020, according to Billboard). Not to mention all the chart hits and awards that he raked over the years.
But Combs’ classic country style blended with Southern soul – inspired by Eric Church and Chris Stapleton – and hints of modern R&B isn’t something that played well to all country fans despite his perceived overall popularity. Most of the time, he is reduced to a pop country mainstream guy who sounded no different than all the other singers in that block. That is, some fans can be elitists, labeling and arranging music in a sort of diminishing value, and at the end of that line are the songs about love and booze, which are often what Luke Combs songs are about.
Purist country fans will never agree that he should be leading the mainstream country genre when they believe there are far more artists who are qualified. And not when they think that he is a pop singer and no country boy.
While we can argue all day about the technicalities, the point is that it’s not just what leading the genre or being the face of it really is all about. Leading a genre is also about character, and that is something that sets Luke Combs from all the other country artists of his time.
Saving Country Music is right. Luke Combs isn’t ideal, but he is out there doing all the right things.
Luke Combs has always been authentic. He never tried to chase any branding and chose to be that same guy he was before all the fame came in. And that authenticity has also translated into his songs, creating music that connects with people. It may not be deep honky-tonk, but it definitely appealed to the masses, opening up the genre and creating more fans out of non-fans. He is taking country music to the people. Because sometimes, all it takes is one song to interest people to start exploring.
Second, he is a singer who uses his empowered platform to create doors of opportunities for other country singers. Combs had gone out of his way to make space for artists like Brent Cobb and Rod Snyder, with whom he wrote “Six Feet Apart” and for Adam Hood, Channing Wilson, and many others. He also collaborated with artists like Leon Bridges and Billy Strings, bringing their names to more people and larger audiences. Not only that, but he also takes his time to co-write songs or even cut songs from different talented songwriters. He uplifts others by helping them, and their music reach more people.
Third, while he might be tight-lipped about his beliefs and only offering lukewarm takes like on his new bluegrass song with Billy Strings called “The Great Divide,” he is a man who takes accountability seriously. After his past photos associating him with the Confederate flag resurfaced, he issued his apology, saying there was no excuse for the images. He also addressed the old images to show as a highly visible country artist that people can learn from their mistakes and change for the better.
Lastly, Luke Combs is a man who doesn’t need a camera to extend his help, just like in the recent case of the Faster Horses Festival in Michigan. Combs headlined the festival alongside Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean, where three young men died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. He stepped forward and paid the funeral expenses of the three men out of his own pocket. He didn’t have to do it, yet he did. And he never made it about him by making a public statement or press release. And it is during these little moments that we get to see a man for who he truly is.
Sure, Luke Combs is not the greatest country music artist, or maybe he really is overrated. And there are many more talented musicians who can spin even better or catchier tunes. But the fact remains that Luke Combs has definitely shown his capacity not only as a musician but as a person as well. And that he can help lead the genre into a direction that empowers others and takes accountability. Whether fans like him or not, he deserves to be the leader of the mainstream country genre.