In the age of the social media, streaming services and the occasional surprise album drop, some people might think the traditional rules of how to become a music star no longer apply. But there are certain combinations of traits and talents that, to this day, can indicate an artist’s potential.
Most fans of popular music will always want a “look” that catches the eye with a “sound” that pleases the ear. In some instances, the two elements come together and add a level of intrigue to what people are watching and listening to.
Initially, that was at least part of Kane Brown’s appeal. The 23-year-old bi-racial Georgia-born singer who rocks backwards ballcaps and is adorned with tattoos and multiple piercings opens his mouth and a rich, aged baritone that’s distinctly country comes rolling out. It was certainly enough to catch the attention of the judges of the 2013 TV singing competition “The X Factor,” where he advanced to the next round.
Only Kane Brown didn’t become a reality show success story, because he quit the moment he realized that the show wanted to put him in a boy band. Instead, Brown took to YouTube and Facebook and began posting homemade videos of country covers and few of his original songs.
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Those videos have received millions of views. He hired a manager and crowdsourced his first six-song EP, “Closer,” in 2014. He followed up the next year with his second EP, “Chapter 1,” which featured the single “Used To Love You Sober.” Through a combination of word-of-mouth, presence on streaming play lists and a featured “World First” spot on world-renowned DJ Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, the single debuted No. 1 on the iTunes country singles chart.
Since he took to social media, he went from building a fan base by bypassing the Nashville system to becoming an artist whom the Nashville system couldn’t ignore. The Tennessee transplant, in a 2015 interview with the Times Free Press in Chattanooga, said, “I’ve had offers already, but I want to go No. 1 and make them come to me.”
On Feb. 1, 2016, that happened when Brown signed to RCA Nashville. Later that month, he played his first-ever show in Lexington at a sold-out Manchester Music Hall, despite the lack of a major-label release. Now, for his second sold-out show in Lexington at the same venue Saturday night, he is coming off a summer tour opening for country hitmaker Florida Georgia Line and hitting the road in support of his self-titled major-label debut that was released late last year.
Sonically, the album is a blend of Brown’s early influences and current aspirations, and he has writing credits on seven of the 11 tracks. You can hear his adoration of reflective and lower-key country artists Randy Travis and Chris Young on the song “Cold Spot,” about his grandfather’s convenience store, that fits his voice like a broken-in boot. That being said, he also exercises some bro-country tendencies on his self-described mission to be “the next Luke Bryan” on rocking tracks dedicated to beautiful girls on the track “Pull It Off,” the party-anthem opener “Hometown” and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” Then, there is the hip-hop influenced, tell-all track “Learning,” in which Brown reveals a background littered with struggles with racism, poverty, the drug abuse of close friends and physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather.
That track shows just how far Brown has come, from a rough childhood to Internet sensation to fast-rising country star. With a growing fan following and a major-label debut behind him, Brown is now primed to see whether the talent that led to his fast start can sustain him for country music’s long haul.