Hardy Credit: Courtesy of Big Loud Management

Today’s biggest pop-country stars take lyrical tropes from 80s and 90s hits—drinking cold beer, driving trucks, praying, partying, feeling heartbreak—and bulk them up with hip-hop beats, hyperslick production, and catchy hooks that sound engineered in a lab. Twenty-nine-year-old Mississippi native Hardy (aka Michael Hardy) began his career as one of Nashville’s song scientists; he was a cowriter for bro-band duo Florida Georgia Line, then worked on smash singles by the likes of Blake Shelton and Dallas Smith. But his real moment in the sun came with last year’s gloriously stupid earworm “Rednecker,” a song of his own where he boasted about the size of his hometown (small) and the mounted bass on his wall (big) over drum machines, organs, and twangy yet spaced-out guitars. At the end of last year, Hardy released Hixtape Vol. 1, a ten-song, collaboration-heavy collection that includes cameos by Keith Urban, Morgan Wallen, and Zakk Wylde. Whether or not you’re into songs about hunting deer and drinking beer for breakfast, you have to admit that Hardy’s voice is the loudest one calling across country music’s glitzy new frontier.   v