Take one listen to Luke Combs’ 2019 single ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart’ and its chorus hook will be looping around your brain for days to come. There’s a common folk myth that the only way to remove an earworm from your head is to go back and listen to the culpable song. Based on ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart’ having notched up 173 million Spotify streams and 80 million YouTube views, it seems I’m not the only who’s been driven to semi-delirium by Combs’ paean to his favoured “long neck, ice cold” beverages.
But ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart’ isn’t an outlier in the American country singer’s catalogue. Since debuting with the single ‘Hurricane’ in 2015, the North Carolinian songwriter has taken up near permanent residence on the US Billboard charts, smashing a whole range of long-standing records in the process. It’s been a staggering rise to stardom given the name Luke Combs was virtually unknown until the second half of the 2010s.
Watch the official video for Luke Combs – ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart’
Much of Combs’ appeal hinges on his everyman persona. He hasn’t framed himself as a fast-living alpha with unassailable sex appeal, but neither does he portray himself as a hard-up pariah. Combs’ songs are told from the perspective of a battler, but not an aggressor, a romantic, but not a status-seeker. And while you could characterise Combs’ catalogue as being preoccupied with themes of strength, resilience and equanimity, he also likes to have a good time and bring the audience along with him.
Combs also looks like an entirely unremarkable regular joe. The Rolling Stone review of his second LP, What You See Is What You Get, describes him as “burly” and he’s appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! wearing a trucker cap. Then there’s the fact he’s inked branding partnerships with Columbia Sportswear (whose PFG fishing shirts he wear with near-religious loyalty) and Crocs (whose Luke Combs signature clogs feature a bottle opener attachment). For context, other artists with a signature line of Crocs include Justin Bieber and Post Malone, which calls attention to just how massive Combs has become in a relatively short space of time.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers. ‘Hurricane’ hit number one on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in May 2017, nearly two years after its initial release. The song originally surfaced on Combs’ 2015 EP, This One’s For You, which came out independently in late 2015. By October 2016, Combs had signed a deal with Columbia Nashville who reissued the single and rebooted its chart ascension. It stayed at #1 for two weeks in May 2017, making Combs the first solo artist to score a multi-week #1 on the Country Airplay chart since Darius Rucker nine years earlier.
Combs released an expanded full length version of This One’s For You in June 2017, which debuted at #5 on the US Billboard 200 and had no trouble securing top spot on the Top Country Albums chart (where it would stay for a record-tying 50 weeks). All four of its subsequent singles – ‘When It Rains It Pours’, ‘One Number Away’, ‘She Got the Best of Me’ and ‘Beautiful Crazy’ – joined ‘Hurricane’ in rising to #1 on the Airplay chart.
Combs’ success isn’t confined to the US, either. ‘Hurricane’, ‘One Number Away’ and ‘She Got the Best of Me’ have all been certified ARIA Platinum while This One’s For You was the highest selling country album of 2019 in Australia despite being released in 2017. And we haven’t even started talking about his second album yet.
Watch the official video for Luke Combs – ‘Hurricane’
That record, What You See Is What You Get, landed in November 2019, but the build-up started with The Prequel EP, which came out in June 2019 and predictably topped the Billboard Country chart. The EP contained the aforementioned ‘Beer Never Broke My Heart’, which became Combs’ sixth #1 on the Country Airplay chart and was declared Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America within five months of its release.
But despite such consistent commercial triumph, the performance of What You See Is What You Get was still largely unprecedented. It debuted at #1 on both the US Billboard 200 and the ARIA Albums chart and notched up the most single-week streams for a country album in US chart history. Combs broke this record fewer than 12 months later with the release of the album’s deluxe edition, What You See Ain’t Always What You Get. The re-release also sent the album back to top spot on the Billboard 200 and its lead single, ‘Forever After All’, hit #1 on the US Rolling Stone Top 100 and #14 on the ARIA Top 50 Singles chart.
What You See Is What You Get has gone on to achieve ARIA Gold certification, which is no surprise given it’s been in the chart for 53 weeks and counting (at the time of writing it’s sitting pretty at #10). Though, for Combs, those numbers are nothing considering the Platinum-selling This One’s For You remains in the ARIA top 20 after a whopping 127 weeks. For context, the only other contemporary albums in the ARIA top 20 to have gone Platinum are by Harry Styles and Billie Eilish.
Watch Luke Combs perform ‘Forever After All’
It should come as no surprise that What You See Is What You Get took out the Album of the Year gong at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards and at the Country Music Association Awards, with Combs also collecting awards for Male Artist and Male Vocalist Of The Year. But it’s no longer accurate to describe Combs simply as a country star – he’s a pop star and one whose fame and popularity shows no signs of fading.