Every year, the Academy of Country Music Awards proves that a genre can thrive commercially and artistically without the support of MTV or pop radio.
Country audiences are fervently devoted, and for good reason—these artists know and love their audience. While other genre’s have to contend with the cynicism and fickle nature of the pop world, country singers and their fans tend to be much more loyal to each other.
Because of country’s self-contained identity, there are lots of music fans that are completely clueless about the genre. Of course, there are a handful of stars that transcend the genre (hello, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood) but, aside from those few, many pop fans still don’t know who the hottest names in country music are.
So with the 2013 ACM Awards under way tonight (April 7th), here are five country artists that—if you weren’t aware of before—you should definitely be taking note of.