Kane Brown knows he doesn’t look like “your average country artist,” as he puts it: he’s a biracial singer in a genre dominated by white stars, and you won’t find him rocking a cowboy hat. But Brown has bucked norms at every step of his journey, from singing a Chris Young song at a high school talent show in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., to touring with country heavyweights including Young himself. His 2017 single “What Ifs?”is one of the most-streamed country songs ever, and he’s the first artist to top all of Billboard’s country charts simultaneously.
Brown once looked forward to a “big-boy job” as a FedEx driver, but that was before his videos developed a following on Facebook. “You can’t not chase dreams if they’re in front of you,” he tells TIME. Brown’s honeyed drawl, willingness to stretch genre boundaries and highly personal storytelling have won him fans far beyond social media. “There have been some fans that still don’t let me in,” he says. But Brown, who believes country music is “all about love,” has his eyes on bigger things. Once, he felt like an outcast. Now, he feels he belongs. The numbers–and the fans–already prove it.
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