Defining the difference between a star and a superstar in the music industry is nearly impossible, but if you needed a rough sketch of what that means for a country music performer, the past two years of Chris Young’s career is as good an outline as you’ll find.
It began in August 2017 when Young was surprised during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry by friend Vince Gill, who extended an offer to become an official member of the institution.
That was followed in October by the release of “Losing Sleep,” the singer’s seventh studio album and the second of his career to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. The success of “Losing Sleep” was mirrored by its first single, the album’s title track, which was certified Platinum in sales. It also was Young’s ninth song to top either the Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay charts.
But that kind of success doesn’t come easy, and Young is far from an overnight success. This year marked Young’s 16th year on the road, and while his days of playing dives may be behind him, the work ethic he developed early on is still carried today.
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“I’m the kind of person where, even if I did take a little time off, I’d immediately fill it with something work-related,” he tells the News & Observer in a phone interview during a break in his Losing Sleep World Tour.
Young’s tour with Dan + Shay, Morgan Evans and Dee Jay Silver is set to take over Raleigh’s PNC Arena Dec. 1.
“As much as there are periods where I think that I’ve been grinding for so long, and I don’t know for sure what timezone I’m in sometimes, all of this has been amazing,” he said. “You never know how long you get an opportunity to experience some of the things I’ve been able to as an artist in the past few months, and playing in some of the huge rooms that I’m getting to play - and have people show up! I can’t take it for granted now.
“I wouldn’t turn down a 24 hour break, if it were offered, just so I could catch up on some sleep though.”
Q: You’ve collaborated with the R&B vocal group Boyz II Men twice now in the past couple of years, first on the song “Silent Night” for your 2016 holiday album “It Must Be Christmas,” and then on “Your Love Is So Doggone Good” for a Ray Charles tribute that is set to air on PBS stations in February. Do you feel that your chart success allows you the freedom to work with artists outside the country fold?
A: It’s pretty wild, the way that country music has taken me into so many different situations, whether it’s working with people like Boyz II Men or the Ray Charles tribute that we were all a part of. There are so many crazy things that music has given me the opportunity to do that I never expected, and I think that’s one of the cool parts of being a musician: you never know where there might be a crossover or where you might end up, based on just going out there and making the best music that you can.
Just getting invited to be a part of that night was special to me, but when you add performing with Boyz II Men, it just becomes even more awesome.
Q: A lot has been made over the past few years about female country artists only receiving a fraction of the airplay time on mainstream country radio stations that male artists get. But I’ve noticed happening recently as a consequence that some once-successful male artists are losing their spots to younger artists sharing similar sounds and song lyrics. Did the success of “Losing Sleep” allow you to release a sigh of relief, as you are as secure as anybody in country music today?
A: Well, there’s two different things at play there. I think everyone has brought up and talked about how there should be more women on country radio, and I think anyone that would even try to argue against that is probably nuts. I think it’s something that is a total talking point right now, and it should be talked about. There are a lot of really talented women in country music, whether they are on the chart right now or not.
The other side of that is when you talk about — and it doesn’t have to be limited to men in this aspect, whether we’re talking solo males or female groups — there are a lot of people that have one hit, or maybe two, and that’s kinda it. That’s why I say I never take any of this for granted, as I’ve been really lucky for many years now to have a string of hits.
Now to be clear, there is a single here and there that we’ve released over the years that for whatever reason just failed to connect with listeners. It all just depends on the right timing, but the fact that I’ve been able to hang on this long, it’s just a weird thing for me to wrap my head around sometimes. I started out playing 100-capacity rooms that would have 15 people in them, and now we’re in arenas.
Q: At the time of its debut at No. 1, did you view “Losing Sleep”’s immediate success as a natural progression of your career trajectory, or more as a massive step in your career as a headlining act?
A: The tour has been crazy, and I think that is really the measuring stick that can be used. A lot of the arenas we’ve played during this tour are ones that I’ve played before, only as an opener for someone else, and I’ve never attempted a full tour of this scale. This was a huge step for me, to book a whole tour around the hope that I was ready for something this size.
The music, you never really know what’s going to happen when it’s finally released, but you hope for this kind of response. When your album debuts at No. 1, and then the lead single goes platinum, and it just rolls on from there, you know that it has connected with fans. The tour was the benchmark for me, because my career can almost be viewed as a war of attrition, where I just played the same towns over and over again until the people finally showed up.
Who: Chris Young with Dan + Shay, Morgan Evans and Dee Jay Silver
When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 1
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: $39.50 to $79.50
Info: ThePNCArena.com or 919-861-2300