From mullet man to Sexiest Man Alive!
As Blake Shelton approaches the 20th anniversary of his No. 1 debut single, "Austin," on April 16, the star is looking back on his road to superstardom — and the fashion faux pas he's made along the way.
"I would have told that kid, 'Hey man, the mullet's not as cool as you think it is,'" the 44-year-old country singer — who just launched a new line of hard seltzer lemonade with his company Smithworks — tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's issue. "And I would have told myself to get more rest back then. When I started I was 24 and lived life to the max back then. It's probably why I ran out of battery so soon."
Released in April 2001, "Austin" was Shelton's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and catapulted him to stardom. Since then he's released 11 studio albums (his twelth, Body Language, is set for release in May) and embarked on nine headlining tours.
"These days I'm just kind of a slow slug," quips Shelton, who's performing a mashup of "Austin" and his latest hit, "Minimum Wage," at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 18. "Luckily I got the job on The Voice and I get to sit in the red chair most of the time for a living."
Jokes aside, Shelton spent the last two years hard at work on his upcoming album, which he says is a departure from his previous work.
"I'm really happy The Swon Brothers, who were on my team on The Voice in season four, wrote [the title track] and sent it to me. It's such a different sounding song," he says. "I'm to the point in my career where I always want to try to reinvent myself. I keep one foot in traditional country but at the same time … find new sounds and new music."
Over the last few years, Shelton has teamed up with his future wife, Gwen Stefani, on several hit songs. Their first — 2016's "Go Ahead and Break My Heart" — holds a special place in his heart, and the star says it's been incredible to find success together.
For more on Blake Shelton, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
"I've been lucky enough to have won my share of those things over the years and so has she, just not country music awards," Shelton says of racking up nominations and awards with their duets. (He and Stefani won a CMT Award in October.)
Nominated for an ACM award together this month for their hit "Nobody But You," the couple are still "so excited," he says. "Gwen's so blown away. She's just shocked and so happy to be welcomed into [the country] family."
Still, don't expect either to make permanent moves into each other's musical worlds. "One of the things that she's adamant about is she wants people to know that she's not making a country album or trying to just step into that area," he says. "She just likes to make records with me. And if you're going to make a record with me, whether you like it or not, it's going to end up country. I can't help it!"
Over the last year, Shelton also tapped Stefani, 51, for her help as he put the finishing touches on his new hard seltzer.
"For me, it's something you throw in the ice chest when you go out to the lake — and we definitely spend a lot of time on the lake every year," he says.
Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Shelton's taste testers weren't as readily available. Luckily, he had Stefani more than willing to pitch in.
"The things that I like, for instance, the pickle juice flavor, didn't come to light for some reason," he jokes. "I really lean on the team there at the company and even people on my team. There was a time or two where I even asked Gwen, like 'What do you think of this? What would you do differently?' There's something for everybody in there."
As he gears up for a jam-packed future, Shelton is amazed at all he's been able to accomplish in the last two decades.
"Here I am sitting here talking to you 20 years later after 'Austin' came out — not only talking to you but talking about new music that's still coming out," he says. "I don't know how this happened to me, but I thank God every day. I've just been super blessed and super lucky. It's unbelievable."
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