When LeAnn Rimes first hit radio as a 13-year-old in 1996, topping the country chart for 28 weeks with her debut album, Blue, her adolescent breakthrough wasn’t without precedent. Most famously, Tanya Tucker had hit at the same age in 1972. But Rimes truly opened the floodgates for several female singers aged 21 and under who charted country in the next half decade or so: Lila McCann, Jessica Andrews, Alecia Elliott, Meredith Edwards, Rebecca Lynn Howard, the now tragically departed Mindy McCready. A few boys hit as well — 12-year-old Billy Gilman and six teen-to-early-twentysomething brothers in the Clark Family Experience in 2000, for instance, then 18-year-old Blaine Larsen in 2004 — but the women seemed to have a direct appeal to a demographic of female fans their own age or younger. Katrina Elam and Erika Jo followed, but of course it took Taylor Swift, exploding at 16 in 2006, to rewrite the rulebook.
This playlist looks at teen-pop country in both the post-Rimes and post-Swift eras — mostly artists who were teens themselves, but also a few of slightly older vintage who seemed clearly aimed at a tween-to-teen fan base. Dan + Shay, for example, are in their mid-20s, but their big hit in recent months is called “19 You + Me” and they’ve done a Savage Garden medley on Bobby Bones’ syndicated radio show. Love and Theft, Hunter Hayes and Scotty McCreery all have a clear boy-band heartthrob thing going on as well. And, of course, more than a couple of these performers jumped to country radio from TV reality show competitions — from McCreery back to his fellowAmerican Idol alumnus Kellie Pickler, who put out her first single within a couple months of Taylor Swift’s in 2006, and was initially branded as unabashed bubble-country before getting the serious retro bug three albums in. There are those of us who still believe her debut was her peak, though — teen-pop country is nothing to be ashamed of. — Chuck Eddy