As the sound of country music has become more top 40 friendly—with arena-rock guitars, drum programming, and rap cadences—high-profile cross-genre collaborations have become more prevalent. Florida Georgia Line broke country chart records when they connected with Nelly for "Cruise;" Ariana Grande and Little Big Town performed "Bang Bang" together last year. At this year's CMA Awards, Justin Timberlake's slick falsetto will be paired with Chris Stapleton's honeyed roar, and Fall Out Boy—who have been very eager to genre-hop of late—will play with Thomas Rhett.
Stapleton, who released a solo debut album in May after spending years as a professional Nashville songwriter, described Timberlake in glowing terms in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "[Timberlake] is obviously one of the greatest musical talents in the world, maybe ever," Stapleton noted. "I called him up with no thought of him agreeing to it, and he was ready to start planning it right then... He was so gracious and kind to want to do it and was so excited about it, and I'm excited about it. It'll be something I've never done before for sure."
News of the collaboration has sparked rumors that Timberlake is planning to record a country album. If he does, he would be following in the footsteps of a long line of pop and rock stars who have found their way to Nashville—the practice is so common that Alan Jackson satirized it more than two decades ago in "Gone Country." (R. Kelly also hinted that he might record a country album in his memoir.)
The CMAs air this Wednesday at 8 pm EST on ABC. Read FADER's interview with Stapleton, and listen to "Drinking Dark Whiskey," a song he wrote for Gary Allan more than a decade ago.