From the Honky Tonk to Hyde Park: How country crossed the Atlantic

This July, the lush expanses of Hyde Park in London will transform into a veritable honky tonk haven as American Express presents BST Hyde Park welcomes two of country music’s biggest stars: Shania Twain and Morgan Wallen. It’s a first for the festival, whose previous headliners have leaned more towards rock and pop, with previous years giving us legends like Guns N’ Roses, Adele and The Rolling Stones. The two country music powerhouses headlining means only one thing: Country is taking over the UK. 


Slow starters 

Country music has historically been slow to gain traction in the UK. Unlike in the US, where country is a dominant genre, the British music scene has been more resistant. This resistance can be chalked down to cultural heritage: country music is an inherently American genre, particularly focusing in on the working-class people of the US South. In the US, country music has always been a reflection of its rural, Southern heritage, with themes that resonate with a lifestyle that is less familiar to the average Brit. The UK’s musical landscape has been more dominated by rock, pop and electronic music, with country music often being relegated to a niche status. 

However, recent years have seen a significant shift. Darcey Jackson, AEG Festival Bookings Manager, credits events like C2C (Country to Country) for opening up the market by bringing major artists to the UK. “As soon as something becomes tangible and accessible, then it has the power to really make an impression,” she says. This sentiment is echoed by the surge in popularity of country fashion — cowboy boots, double denim and cowboy hats, with the latter seeing a 326% increase in sales in the UK year on year —thanks in no small part to mainstream artists like Beyoncé and Post Malone switching up their sounds to join in the hoedown.  

Jackson’s insights highlight a crucial point: the physical presence of country music in the UK has been a game-changer. The C2C festival, which started in 2013, has been instrumental in this transformation. By featuring top-tier country artists from the US, the festival has introduced British audiences to the authentic sounds of country music. The festival’s success is evident in its rapid growth and the increasing number of attendees each year. What started as a modest event has now become a staple in the UK’s (and Europe’s) music festival calendar. 


An upwards spiral (or should that be viral?) 

The rise of social media, particularly TikTok, has also played a crucial role in the genre’s growth. These platforms allow for the viral spread of music, making it easier for UK audiences to discover and fall in love with country music. Jackson notes, “Platforms like TikTok can have an impact on music, no matter the genre”. TikTok, with its algorithm-driven content delivery, has been a boon for country music. Songs can gain massive popularity almost overnight, reaching audiences that traditional marketing methods might never have touched. 


This digital revolution has democratised music discovery. In the past, access to new music was often mediated by radio DJs and music critics. Now, anyone with a smartphone can stumble upon a catchy country tune and share it with their followers, friends and family. This has led to some surprising hits and the emergence of new stars who might have struggled to find an audience in the pre-digital age. For instance, artists like Lil Nas X, whose ‘Old Town Road’ blended country with hip-hop, owe much of their success to platforms like TikTok and even artists who take a more traditional approach, like the UK’s Remember Monday, are feeling the benefits of virality. “It’s very female heavy, a lot of young girls and young gays. It’s really, really nice that we have that because I think before we’d been present on social media, we didn’t see that kind of audience when we’d come out and play. Now since the TikTok world has come out, we walk out and we’re like, wow, all of these young girls singing our songs. It’s really lovely. That is what our music is aimed at. It’s aimed at people who are young and girly,” they say, ahead of taking to the stage for another UK country music event that is on the rise, Highways Festival.  


Moreover, the visual aspect of TikTok has helped to amplify the appeal of country music. Users donning cowboy hats and boots, line dancing to country hits and participating in challenges have all contributed to a cultural crossover. This blending of music and fashion has made country music not just a genre, but a lifestyle that resonates with younger audiences. Although country music isn’t all about aesthetic, there’s little more fun than learning a dance with friends and dressing up to play the part – after all, us Brits are fantasists at heart.  



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