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    Monday, December 05, 2022

    On his new album, arena-country star Kane Brown keeps breaking down barriers

    Kane Brown has been on a big Limp Bizkit kick lately.

    "People might be shocked to find out I'm into that stuff, but them and Korn and Slipknot — that's the music that speaks to me in the gym," says the 28-year-old country star whose deep, syrupy voice has driven him to the top of Billboard's country airplay chart eight times since 2017.

    There's no nu-metal to speak of on Brown's third studio album, "Different Man" (due Sept. 9), but the LP still showcases one of Nashville's most casually expansive talents, with rowdy power-country tunes — including his latest No. 1, the endearingly shameless " Like I Love Country Music " — up against trappy pop jams like "Grand" and sweet, sticky R&B songs such as "See You Like I Do," in which the singer-songwriter imagines watching his lady "on the runway walking with your wings with Gigi and Gisele."

    Brown's stylistic flexibility — he's collaborated with Marshmello, H.E.R. and Swae Lee — is taking him into territory unexplored by many of his peers in Nashville; just this week he became the first male country act to perform on MTV's Video Music Awards. But he's wary of the term "crossover," he says, because "it's not like I'm leaving country music." Indeed, there's a kind of inevitability to his naturally eclectic approach that says as much about the porousness of the streaming era as it does about Brown's upbringing as the child of a white mother and a Black dad.

    He was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee — halfway between Nashville and Atlanta — where he learned to sing in high-school choir with Lauren Alaina, the future "American Idol" runner-up. Today, Alaina remembers Brown performing material by everyone from Usher to Journey. "I think he and I also did the song from 'High School Musical,'" she adds with a laugh. "But even then his voice was so distinct that it always felt like him."

    After graduation, Brown started posting covers on Facebook, which eventually drew the interest of Jim Catino, a former A&R exec at Sony Music Nashville who also signed Luke Combs and Maren Morris. "A lot of people in town were skeptical at first: Is this a real artist or just an influencer trying to be an artist?" says Catino, who now heads his own publishing company. "It was no different than what we're going through now with TikTok." Brown's first two chart-toppers — " What Ifs," a dramatic duet with his old pal Alaina, and the smoothly romantic " Heaven " — convinced the industry he was likely to stick around.

    Which isn't to say he doesn't occasionally doubt himself these days. Asked if he felt comfortable filming the hip-hop-style video for "Grand," Brown chuckles. "I will say it was not comfortable. But I grew up watching music videos, and I've always wanted to do something like that. Definitely threw some dad moves in there," adds the married father of two young daughters.

    What were some clips that influenced a young Kane?

    "Of course the 'Thriller' video," he says. "Gotta go with ' Chattahoochee ' by Alan Jackson. And then — what was that song? — 'My lip gloss is cool/ My lip gloss be poppin'.' Lil Mama! That video is so dope."

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