Music

Nate Smith’s “Whiskey On You” Is A TikTok Hit

The entertainment industry loves a good story of survival. The more compelling, the better. Well, if emerging country singer-songwriter Nate Smith has anything going for him, it’s a really moving backstory — a phoenix-y one about endurance and optimism in the face of tragedy. I’m not even being hyperbolic: Across the last 15-ish years, Smith’s tried to make it in Nashville multiple times, experienced a divorce, and lost everything he owned in the 2018 Paradise, California Camp Fire, including his guitar. The bio practically writes itself.

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But now? Smith is signed to Sony Music Nashville and is taking over both TikTok Billboard‘s Emerging Artists chart with his breakup ballad “Whiskey On You” — an enormously satisfying country kiss-off anthem that sounds like it could’ve come from a Carrie Underwood-taught masterclass. Audiences are really responding to Smith, who hit #1 on the aforementioned Emerging Artists chart. “Whiskey On You” currently has more than 8 million streams on Spotify.

“Whiskey On You” IS a country-pop crossover banger. The production is tight and crisp, and Smith’s vocals have oomph but are audibly weathered. The lyrics aren’t complex, but they are universally appealing, with a post-romance Smith sounding fed up with himself: “To hell with the lonely, and the why-don’t-you-want-me/ Yeah, bartender pour me a farewell round.” The song’s composition, too, is traditionally compact but plays with the pop framework by looping in a shredding guitar solo.

It’s hard not to be compelled by Smith’s story. Originally from Paradise, he grew up listening to a range of artists, both country and not — Elvis, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Garth Brooks, Michael Jackson — and was active in his church, where he was a worship leader. In his early 20s, Smith moved to Nashville, got signed to a Christian music label, Word Records, and got a publishing deal with Centricity Music. Around this time, he opened for artists like Brett Eldredge, Eli Young Band, and X Ambassadors.

Nashville didn’t stick, though. As Smith told Entertainment Focus: “I had a publishing deal in Nashville, wrote songs for other people, you know, but then I went through a rough divorce, it was hard for both of us. We tried and tried and couldn’t make it work, and it left me not in a good place mentally and emotionally, and I just needed to be with my family again. I sort of left Nashville with my tail between my legs, and I lost my publishing deal because I left town too.

“I was never planning on being an artist again,” he continued. “I was going to be a nurse. I had been saying I was going to be a nurse for 13 years and never actually went to school to do it.” So Smith took a job at a hospital in his hometown, and then the Paradise fire happened. Smith lost everything. While his family picked up and moved to Idaho, Smith started writing music again.

“I started writing more music after that point and played shows,” he said. “My friends had all been encouraging me to make the move back to Nashville, so they started a GoFundMe for me to get back. I packed up my car and drove all around America for a month and a half, living out of my car. When I got to Nashville, I met some incredible people who were in a position to help me out, and I eventually landed management, booking, publishing and a record deal in just under a year.”

Together with his friend Miykael Goodwin, Smith wrote “One Of These Days” as a tribute to Paradise, and they released the hometown pride track under the moniker Cold Weather Sons. “One Of These Days” took off on social media after Smith performed it on a local news channel, singing, “I can still remember the first time that I fell in love with this town. The tall green trees, the mountain breeze, the girl that made me shake in my knees. I’m going to miss it. I already miss it.” Some positive press coverage encourage Smith to head back to Nashville, and his next single, “Wildfire,” went viral on TikTok with 3 million views.

The combination of local press coverage and building an organic audience on the still-fledgling video platform no doubt helped Smith nab a record deal with Sony Music Nashville, who released his next single, “Raised Up,” last year. You can see the path to “Whiskey” on the piano-led “Raised Up,” which finds Smith leaning into that beaten-broken-down survivalist narrative. It’s clear how the industry’s selling Smith: He’s a homegrown guy, someone you’d have a beer with. He’s taken some knocks, but he’s so much stronger for it. He’s still devotional, but not isolating. Musically, he’s a vocal powerhouse, but his pitch has a gruff, ragged edge. I don’t mean to present any of this cynically — Smith’s output since signing with Sony went from “having potential” to “pristine.” Whatever producer/co-writer collaborations Sony’s bringing to the table look and sound great on him.

This past year, Smith teamed up with Tenille Towns on the wedding-ready “I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven.” (He’d initially released “Heaven” last year, but it sounds way better as a duet.) That pretty much brings us up to “Whiskey On You,” which, compared to Smith’s earlier singles, is a delightful change of pace. Smith was already promising as an earnest albeit roughed-up balladeer with songs about love, hope, community, and just a sprinkle of worship-speak, but “Whiskey” is an unifying blast of fuck-you fun — you could hoedown to it at any bar, anywhere around the world. Hopefully more songs like it are on the way.

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