Change is inevitable. Those who learn to embrace and own the great unknown that is the future set the pace and thrive. So it is that Hunter Hayes found himself at a perilous emotional juncture at the beginning of 2018. Two of the most significant relationships in his life – one a business partnership, the other a romantic one – had come to an end and he’d gone through a period of grieving. But after looking at what was now behind him and realizing he could not change it, Hayes stared out at the future, realizing that the path before him was unknown. The only way to find out what was there was to dive in.
The new music Hayes has begun to create is indeed a celebration in every sense of the word, though it’s not an endless party. It’s a recognition of a difficult period of growth, the kind of challenge required in a life well lived. Hayes faced up to change in his real life, and he put it all down in his art. The result is a body of work that rips the scabs off his emotional wounds, peering at the doubts, the demons, the losses and the uncertainties. It hints at the hard questions: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Why can’t I get out of my own way? Must the world be so painful?
Hayes has done things in a big way since he stepped onto the national stage in 2011 when Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville released his debut single, “Storm Warning,” months before he turned 20. Setting a precedent in country, he co-wrote every song on his first major-label album, sang every vocal part and played every instrument, including some preternatural guitar solos that demonstrated the depth of his abilities. That self-titled project and his sophomore album, Storyline, both topped the Billboard country albums chart while three of his singles – “Wanted,” “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and “I Want Crazy” (the latter appearing on the Deluxe edition of his debut) – went to No. 1 on various charts. Seven titles earned gold or platinum honors from the Recording Industry Association of America, with Hunter Hayes hitting the double-platinum mark and “Wanted” achieving five-times-platinum status. He snagged five Grammy nominations and won the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year trophy.
All of that occurred as both Hayes and his chosen industry were going through profound changes. Having left his native Louisiana for Nashville, he negotiated early adulthood while simultaneously navigating the spectacle of stardom. And the sales victories – coming at a time when the music industry moved uncomfortably from its longtime physical-purchase model into digital streaming – was accompanied by some built-in pressure.
He sings personal material with new-found confidence, allowing himself to be emotionally open while reclaiming his inner light. Ably moving between his chest voice and falsetto, it’s a departure from trying to convince the outer world and more a need to simply express his inner reality. It’s that conviction about his art that allowed Hayes to step up to the edge in and jump.
Hunter Hayes has learned to embrace change. And with this new music, he moves in the same direction everyone is headed, whether they accept it or not: into a future that is – happily, wonderfully – unknown.