NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Whenever country singer Thomas Rhett posts a video of his 1-year-old daughter, Willa Gray, or a photo of his wife, Lauren, on social media, Rhett's dad, Rhett Akins, knows exactly what fans are saying in the comments.
"There's not even a point to go look at the comments," Akins said. "It's one hundred thousand hashtag goals."
At 27, Rhett is enjoying an abundance of blessings, both personal and professional, and he's just trying to make sense of it all on his third album, "Life Changes," out Friday. The bouncy title track is literally Rhett's biography put to song as a college kid who became a country singer, married his childhood sweetheart and became a father.
"It is very weird," Rhett said of becoming country music's hottest celebrity couple. "Because we are completely just normal people who fight like normal couples, and love like normal couples. It is nuts how famous my wife has become over these past couple of years. She has a million Instagram followers, which is insane to me."
Thanks to the success of his multiplatinum sophomore album, "Tangled Up," and the hit love song for his wife, "Die a Happy Man," the Georgia native has been racking up awards this year like single of the year and male vocalist of the year from the Academy of Country Music.
Then as Rhett and his wife were in the process of adopting Willa Gray from Uganda, they found out she was pregnant. Suddenly Rhett went from a headlining country act with a rigorous touring schedule to a father of two girls under the age of two.
"I think it's going to be hard; I think it's going to be awesome," Rhett said in an interview in August, just a few weeks before his daughter, Ada James, was born.
Akins said his son's perspective on his career has changed and he's more conscious about balancing his work and touring with his time at home with the girls.
"This is more about providing more for his family now," Akins said. "This isn't just a young kid out there having a blast. This is: 'I gotta wife and two kids.'"
Rhett's family has been the driving force behind his music. He grew up watching his father open for acts like Reba McEntire and later become an in-demand songwriter. The father and son have often collaborated as songwriters, but "Life Changes" features their first-ever duet together on a throwback '80s-style country party song "Drink a Little Beer."
It's a testament to Rhett's confidence that he can fill a country album full of songs with references to other genres, including doo-wop "Grease"-style musicals, Springsteen heartland rock, EDM and '80s New Wave.
"I am never going to be the guy ever again that makes a straight-down-the-middle album," Rhett said. "I wasn't really a rule breaker, I just didn't love rules. And I always tried to bend everything. Definitely translates into my music today."
Largely what ties all the songs together are the stories that Rhett tells. That's where his country roots shine on songs like "Marry Me," with a heartbreaking twist on seeing an ex get married, or the gospel-tinged "Grave," about love that lasts beyond death, or the nostalgic ode to adolescence in "Sixteen."
If he sounds confident in pushing the genre further and further, Rhett says each album may be a gamble, but he thinks he's earned his fans' trust.
"You're always going to struggle with the fans that fell in love with you on that last record for that one reason and may not fall in love with you on this next record," Rhett said. "You have to be ready to take some risks."
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall