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What happens when a CMA Awards press event hits B. B. Kings in midtown New York City? Here’s a behind the scenes look, with commentary on this morning’s 2012 CMA Awards nominations, the surprises, the snubs, and of course, the Idol impact.
Going into this morning’s press conference for the CMA Awards nominations, it seemed logical there would be significant media in attendance…there’s lots of media in New York City and the CMA Awards are, as Brad Paisley put it, the “Oscars of country music.” It was a surprise to see the event rather sparsely attended, though that can be partly explained by the fact that the event would be live-streamed. It is also possible some media got stuck in Nashville just like scheduled nominations announcers Lady Antebellum and, as it turns out, CMA CEO Steve Moore. Still, the likes of the Associated Press, ABC News Radio, and Variety/Premiere Radio Networks were represented at the event and there was a lot of videography/photography going on. The event itself was well-organized and well-run, with plenty of helpful, friendly, and informative staff on hand. The only real complaint and inconvenience? The fact that the event was held in a nicely appointed underground area, resulting in the lack of wireless signal (despite promises there would be wireless access) and a failed attempt to access the internet via broadband. Sorry for the lack of live blog!
With Steve Moore grounded in Nashville, CMA Senior Vice President Of Marketing & Communications Sheri Warnke addressed media in attendance prior to nominations announcers Jason Aldean and game substitute Luke Bryan. She discussed the growth of country music’s presence in New York City, citing data that indicates 21% more New Yorkers are listening to country music today than they were 2 years ago and that the rate of growth of country music sales is twice as high in New York City as in the rest of the country. She also noted how proud she is that country music crosses genre boundaries and has made its presence felt around the world. She then introduced Jason and Luke to read the complete list of 2012 CMA Awards nominations.
Chatting with some of the media members in attendance (not all of whom are on the regular country beat), there wasn’t a whole lot of surprise about the nominees. That speaks more to the perceptions of where the momentum and power in country music is than subjective views of merit. The CMA voters are perceived as being creatures of habit, so they like to stick to winners for a little while before moving on the next bunch. When you look at the nominations, one thing that stands out is where the power centers within the CMA are.
The power of manager Narvel Blackstock (who also happens to be Reba McEntire’s husband) is clear in the nominations. Blake Shelton continued to coast his star status to #1 hits and multiple CMA nominations despite mediocre reviews and solid but not spectacular sales while Kelly Clarkson took a 5th (filler) spot in the Female Vocalist Of The Year category over actual country acts like Sara Evans and Kellie Pickler. Though the country media likes Kelly, this isn’t a nomination that is getting a great reaction (see this and this for just a couple of examples. EDIT: And this) and is generally interpreted as a sign of how bad it is for women in country. It’s not too hard to see Narvel’s hand in Miranda Lambert’s Song Of The Year nomination either, since “Over You” is a cowrite with her husband Blake. It’s all about the country music’s power couple!
Capitol Nashville also had a great showing: 4 out of the 5 Album Of The Year nominees are from that label (the albums from Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, and Lady Antebellum), 3 out of the 5 Male Vocalist Of The Year nominees are from that label (Luke Bryan, Eric Church, and soon-to-be-confirmed Idol judge Keith Urban), 3 out of the 5 Single Of the Year nominees (“Home” by Dierks Bentley, “Pontoon” by Little Big Town, “Springsteen” by Eric Church) were released by Capitol Nashville, 3 out of the 5 Song Of The Year nominees involve an artist on Capitol Nashville (Eric Paslay of Capitol Nashville cowrote “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” with Will Hoge, Eric Church cowrote and sings “Springsteen”, and Dierks Bentley cowrote and sings “Home”). Capitol Nashville’s power seemed to have its limits though, since Lady Antebellum was left out of the Entertainer Of The Year category in favor of Taylor Swift’s shocked face in its off-cycle year.
Making a weaker showing was Sony Nashville, which enjoyed dominant years at the CMAs in the mid 2000s through Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride (who is no longer on the label), and Gretchen Wilson (who is also no longer on the label). Sony Nashville’s Miranda Lambert has the most nominations among females, but that likely more to do with the previously mentioned Narvel Blackstock axis of power than the actual impact of her current album (an uneven effort with major highlights but mediocre single choices that have caused it to tail off in sales despite a respectable 600k+ total since its November 1 2011 release). Kenny Chesney did score 3 nominations (including one for the abomination that is “Feel Like A Rock Star” – his duet with Tim McGraw) and would seemingly have a strong chance at recapturing Entertainer Of The Year since he is the only nominated artist who took on a successful stadium tour.
CMA co-hosts Carrie and Brad each scored a nomination apiece. In Brad’s case this has been an off-cycle year for him in every aspect except touring. In Carrie’s case the Blown Away album was released late in the eligibility year and it’s possible the voting body has yet to really appreciate its impact despite strong reviews and sales. It’s also possible XIX’s lack of Narvel-esque deep connections in Nashville has had an adverse impact on her awards chances lately. Combining that with Sony Nashville’s loss of muscle since Joe Galante’s retirement would explain how Blown Away was left out of the Album Of The Year category. Until nominations were announced this morning, Carrie had enough momentum that a recent Entertaiment Weekly article (print version only) predicted she should clear off some space on her mantle for new CMA Awards. But with power centers being what they are, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be that straightforward. Also missing from nominations this year are Sony Nashville acts like Chris Young and Jake Owen, who both scored multiple #1s during the eligibility period. Sony Nashville did manage to land duo Love & Theft a couple nominations on the back of their recent #1 hit, “Angel Eyes.”
Making an even weaker showing among major label groups was Universal Nashville, which recently underwent a change at the top when former head of Capitol Nashville Mike Dungan replaced Luke Lewis. The only categories in which a Universal Nashville act is represented are the already thin Vocal Duo Of The Year category (where Sugarland got a nomination despite releasing no new music) and the Musical Event Of The Year category (where Lionel Richie got nominated with Capitol Nashville’s Darius Rucker). There was some surprise around me that Lionel Richie didn’t show up in the Album Of The Year category at the CMAs. Scotty McCreery seemed like a frontrunner for a New Artist Of The Year nomination thanks to the platinum-plus sales of his debut album, despite his lack of radio momentum. But voters bypassed him in favor of some acts who have had or are on the verge of having a #1 hit. Universal Nashville couldn’t even get Kip Moore who did score a #1 hit during the eligibility period and has been selling well into the New Artist Of The Year mix, or David Nail. It’s true that Scotty has more than his fair share of skeptics within the industry and has a lot of work to do to prove that he’s here to stay. But among the New Artist nominees only Brantley Gilbert (who isn’t really new) and Hunter Hayes had undeniable cases, so there was likely more to the votes than simple merit considerations.
Then there’s Big Machine Label Group, headed up by the mighty bane of country music Scott Borchetta (currently promoting “Truck Yeah” and “We Are Never Ever Like Whatever” or whatever it’s called to country radio ya’ll!). Swifty snagged 3 nominations, 2 of which were in not heavily contested categories. But, her Entertainer nomination is a little surprising in an off-cycle year. The Band Perry and Eli Young Band got some expected nominations and Brantley Gilbert received an expected nomination for New Artist Of The Year., but Rascal Flatts got shut out entirely. The band has been vocal about wanting more recognition and had sent out this FYC ad in August. By the way, I was told by an unimpressed media member about a year Rascal Flatts was announcing nominations, was told beforehand they hadn’t received the nominations they had wanted, and subsequently cancelled one-on-one interviews that had been scheduled after the nominations. Looking it up, that would’ve been 2008 in which they were nominated for Vocal Group Of The Year and nothing else. Now they’ve been pushed out of that category too (and replaced there by a couple of their opening acts!).
All that being said, it’s not like Jason Aldean has a huge power center behind him. All he’s done is made himself undeniable through his continued sales success, radio dominance, and sold out arena tour that is beginning to move into small stadiums. And, he’s done this without major label backing. He’s not a critic’s favorite but his numbers aren’t the kind the industry feels it can afford to deny. You could also say that about Luke Bryan, who is responsible for the ridiculousness of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and also has that hit song about a girl making his “speakers go boom boom” but is selling the crap out of them. Luke, unlike Jason, does have Capitol Nashville behind him.
Eric Church on the other hand IS a critic’s favorite, and his album, download, and tour sales have been strong to back up the buzz. It’s a testament to his album that several of his peers (including Little Big Town and Keith Urban) have turned to Eric’s producer Jay Joyce for new projects. Eric may be the hot pick in the Album and Song/Single categories for Chief and “Springsteen.” But, it’ll sure be interesting to see how it plays out for him while he’s up against the Narvel/Blake/Miranda axis. They’ve been vocal about not liking him after he told Rolling Stone he’d rather starve than become a reality show judge because it meant he’d be about something other than the music – a clear shot at Blake Shelton (whom he named in complaining that getting record deals because Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton turn their chair around is ridiculous). He’s competing against Blake and/or Miranda in each of his categories, so it’s not like he was getting their votes anyway.
In the end, maybe the CMA awards won’t be so predictable after all. Or, maybe they will. But, there are still some juicy storylines going on, and there’s always Brad & Carrie’s opening monologue to look forward to. And of course, there’ll be performances. Dare we hope for a performance by CMA nominee Snoop
Dogg Lion? Based on some of its nominations and past performers, you know the CMA would go for it!
What do you think about this year’s CMA nominations?
BONUS: Check out a couple pics of 2 of the CMA’s men of the moment from this morning’s press event:
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