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Morgan Wallen has deftly navigated the gap separating Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt, developing a variation of bro-country that emphasizes smooth R&B rhythms over arena-ready stomps. Wallen sings plenty of songs about happy hours and "Whiskey Glasses" -- the latter gave him his first solo number one country single -- but his romantic streak when combined with a sense of playfulness has helped him break away from the pack. Several years after his successful 2014 run on the televised singing competition The Voice, he signed with Big Loud Records and debuted with the Top Ten album If I Know Me (2018). By the time he released his second LP, Dangerous: The Double Album (2021), he was one of the biggest stars in contemporary country music, affirmed by a lengthy reign on the Billboard 200.
Wallen was born in Sneedville, Tennessee, on May 13, 1993, and he grew up in the Knoxville area. His father was a preacher who loved the bombast of hard rock, while his mother was a teacher whose tastes ran to contemporary Christian sounds. Wallen developed a strong interest in music at a very young age; he started singing in church when he was three years old and took up the violin when he was five. He later learned to play piano and guitar, but in high school his passion was baseball, pitching for the team at Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tennessee. He was good enough to earn offers to play college ball on a scholarship, but late in his senior year, an elbow injury put an end to his days as a pitcher, and he began considering music as a career.
In February 2014, Wallen became a competitor on the popular televised singing competition The Voice, blind auditioning for the judges with the song "Collide" by Howie Day. Usher liked Wallen's performance, and Morgan joined his team. After the second Battle Round, Wallen was stolen by Adam Levine's team, but Morgan was eliminated in the playoffs. The Voice gave Wallen nationwide exposure, but it also helped him find a collaborator; Sergio Sánchez of the band Atom Smash was a vocal coach on the show, and the two began writing songs together that suited Wallen's country voice and rock & roll attitude. He moved to Nashville, where he and Sánchez formed a short-lived band, Morgan Wallen & Them Shadows.
After settling in Music City, Wallen landed a manager and an agent, as well as a publishing deal with Big Loud Shirt Music, which placed his songs with a number of up-and-coming artists. Big Loud's record label, Big Loud Music, then gave Wallen a chance to record as a solo act, and he went on a tour of radio stations to get back in shape for performing. In 2016, he made an impression on the radio with his tune "The Way I Talk," and a five-song EP featuring the track soon followed. In 2017, he collaborated with Florida Georgia Line on the single "Up Down," which made the Top Ten of the Country Singles charts and earned a gold record. The song became the leadoff track on Wallen's first full-length album, If I Know Me, which was released in April 2018.
He returned in 2019 with the single "This Bar," and again in early 2020 with "More Than My Hometown," the latter of which reached number one on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Wallen's sophomore long-player, Dangerous: The Double Album, featured a mix of romantic ballads and neo-country tracks that leaned on R&B and pop influences. The record debuted in January 2021 at the top of the Billboard album charts and racked up the highest number of first-week streams of a country album to date. Roughly a month after its release, Wallen was suspended by his record label, his songs were removed from country radio, and the Academy of Country Music declared his album ineligible for their awards as a result of a video where the singer used racially insensitive language. That May, he was reinstated to Big Loud Music's artist roster. ~ Mark Deming