Country music has been one of the most popular genres in the U.S. for decades now, but it’s so much more important than just sales and streams. Almost no other style of music is more closely identified with American culture as country, and that helps it maintain a certain level of respect in a nation that is incredibly diverse in both its population and its musical tastes.

While country artists might be some of the biggest sellers and the highest earners in the business, the genre has taken a hit when it comes to the charts in the past few years. The singles rankings have been dominated with what seems like every type of music other than country as of late. Pop, EDM, alternative, and especially hip-hop have all performed extremely well, while that familiar twang hasn’t been heard in a while on mainstream radio.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – APRIL 03: Co-host Luke Bryan speaks onstage during the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In fact, a true country song hasn’t hit the top ten on the Hot 100 (the all-encompassing chart that measures the 100 most popular tracks in American in any given week) since 2013. Three years ago, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” made it to number four, and even that was aided by a remix that featured rapper Nelly. In 2011, both Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean charted massive hits within the top ten, but since then the closest that country has come to the region has been either Taylor Swift’s brand of semi-country that she traded in for a while before becoming a bonafide pop star, or almost nothing at all.

A handful of tunes that were clearly inspired by the traditional country sound have peaked within the uppermost tier on the chart in the past few years, but they wouldn’t really be considered “country.” Last year, pop singer-songwriter Andy Grammer reached new heights with his latest, “Honey I’m Good,” which has southern influences, and in 2013, Avicii first broke into the mainstream in a major way with “Wake Me Up,” which uses a guitar that sounds like it could fit perfectly in a real country tune. Neither of these tracks could honestly be deemed country, but their success shows that the public is clearly amenable to the sounds that comprise much of the genre.

According to Nielsen’s Year-End Music Report for 2015, country wasn’t the most popular genre, but it certainly held its own. The style was responsible for 37% of all physical album sales, and 20% of digital album sales. On the digital album sales front, country performed better than EDM, R&B/hip-hop, and even pop, which seems to rule the airwaves. Some decidedly country titles—Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, Luke Bryan’s Kill The Lights, and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo—were all among the biggest sellers of the year, though none of them produced any smash hits on the Hot 100.
Country music appears to be in something of an odd position right now, as it is still beloved, and those at the top of the food chain are extremely influential and powerful in both pop culture and the industry, but the hits aren’t resonating with the masses. This likely isn’t a permanent shift, as what is popular in music goes in cycles. When one new style or sound steps into the spotlight, another takes a breather, only to return some years later with fresh faces, new songs, and perhaps an updated attitude. Country music is due for another turn at the top sometime soon, and a country smash is probably waiting in the weeds somewhere, just waiting to own the charts.

 McIntyre, Hugh. "Where Have All The Country Music Hits Gone?" Forbes. April 21, 2016. Accessed April 22, 2016.