Nominations for the 48th annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards are set to be announced in 2 parts this morning: 5 categories on Good Morning America and the remaining categories (including 7 other categories involving performing acts) to be announced in an online press conference streaming at the CMA Awards site. We’ll be live-blogging the whole thing here!
The CMA Awards are considered the premier country music awards show – they are traditionally the highest rated of country awards shows and also considered the most prestigious (and insidery) of country awards shows. This year’s ceremony will be hosted for the 7th consecutive year by country superstars Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.
As far as what you can expect, look for perennial CMA/ACM darling Miranda Lambert to lead the nominations, and as the only big name female to release new music during the eligibility period, she will wave the flag for women in the genre. She will likely appear in the Entertainer, Female Vocalist, Album, Song, and Single categories (for the lead single from her current album, “Automatic”), with additional nominations likely in the Vocal Event and Video categories. In fact, Miranda could appear up to 3 times in the Video category and 2 times in the Vocal Event category, with collaborations with Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood in the mix. Other leading nominees will likely include Luke Bryan, who has become country’s biggest seller in the past 2 years but hasn’t gotten the Music Row love to match yet, Eric Church, who has this year’s best selling album in any genre (for now, that will change when the October blockbusters come out), and Florida Georgia Line. If you’re looking for an upstart, consider Dierks Bentley, whose Riser has generated a mid-career resurgence and separated itself creatively from the “bro” pack without Eric Church’s braggadocio.
The suspense in these nominations, which often reflect the most commercially successful but still respectable of mainstream country, comes in a couple categories. Will last year’s Entertainer Of The Year George Strait be nominated again to honor his successful farewell tour (though he is not retiring as a recording act)? Will Taylor Swift, who announced in the middle of the 2nd round of voting for nominations that she will be releasing her “1st officially documented pop album,” factor into the nominations? Aside from obvious nominees Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Kacey Musgraves, which other females will get the remaining 2 nominations in the Female Vocalist Of The Year category? Will the dearth of females supported by radio allow Taylor to get in for another year? Will those slots go to established females with less radio support like Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Jennifer Nettles, and Sheryl Crow? Or will a newbie like Cassadee Pope, who scored a t10 hit during the eligibility period of July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, slip in?
Meanwhile the Male Vocalist category has the opposite issue: while Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, and Blake Shelton seem to be guaranteed 4 of the 5 slots, there are several big names jockeying for the 5th spot, including Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and former perennial nominee Brad Paisley.
So come on in and join the discussion!
Entertainer Of The Year
Comments: George Strait gets in again, and despite a push for Luke Bryan, it’s hard to imagine King George not getting a sendoff award here again. Keith Urban is a surprise nominee, but is a sign of what will be a recurrent theme: the strength of Capitol Nashville and maybe also a Live Nation voting bloc (4 out of 5 of the nominees are on the Live Nation Country Megaticket). 3 out of the 5 nominees (Luke, Miranda, and Blake) are signed with William Morris Endeavor for agency representation. It has become clear over the years that Carrie, despite her innumerable unique contributions to country music, multi-faceted commercial and critical success, and her ambassadorship for the genre, doesn’t have the affiliations it takes to get nominated here. Jason Aldean is more surprisingly out of the mix – his agent recently joined WME, and he’s part of the Live Nation Country Megaticket lineup, but his label Broken Bow is an indie.
Female Vocalist Of The Year
Comments: Taylor slips in due to a lack of other radio-supported females, and 4-time Female Vocalist winner Martina gets enough support despite not having a major label. Even if the politics weren’t already in her favor, Miranda is the only big name female to release new music in the eligibility period (and her album deserves its critical acclaim), so she’s a lock for her record setting 5th consecutive win.
Male Vocalist Of The Year
Comments: So much for Jason Aldean’s guaranteed spot! 4 out of the 5 nominees (all but Blake) here are Capitol Nashville (including EMI Nashville’s Eric Church), and all 5 are part of Live Nation’s Country MegaTicket lineup. 4 out of the 5 are signed with William Morris Endeavor for agency representation. Vote-splitting may favor Blake here unless Capitol Nashville and other blocs coordinate their votes (in which case, they’ll likely try to crown Luke).
Album Of The Year
Dierks Bentley, Riser, produced by Arturo Buenahora, Jr., Ross Copperman, & Jaren Johnston
Luke Bryan, Crash My Party, produced by Jeff Stevens
Eric Church, The Outsiders, produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr.
Miranda Lambert, Platinum, produced by Chuck Ainley, Frank Liddell, & Glenn Worf
Keith Urban, Fuse, produced by Benny Blanco, Nathan Chapman, Ross Copperman, Zach Crowell, Mike Elizondo, Dann Huff, Jay Joyce, Stargate, Keith Urban, and Butch Walker,
Comments: Once again 4 out of the 5 nominees here are Capitol Nashville (including EMI Nashville’s Eric Church). Miranda is the only exception and also the only female. All 5 nominees toured as part of Live Nation’s Country Megaticket, and 4 out of the 5 are signed with William Morris Endeavor for agency representation. Eric Church has the year’s best selling album but has had mixed fortunes at radio. Miranda had a decent hit with “Automatic” and a buzzy big hit with “Somethin’ Bad” with Carrie, plus her album enjoyed great reviews. She seems to be the likely winner unless there’s a big push to get Luke some recognition due to his double platinum-plus album sales. Dierks could also play spoiler, considering his multi-category support.
Vocal Group Of The Year
Eli Young Band
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band
Comments: No big surprises here. Rascal Flatts is perennially on the outside looking in at this point. Big Machine Label Group (specifically Republic Nashville) has 2 out of the 5 nominees (The Band Perry & Eli Young Band) and Capitol Nashville has 2 out of the 5 nominees (Little Big Town & Lady Antebellum). 3 out of the 5 nominees (Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, and Zac Brown Band) are signed with Creative Artists Agency for agency representation. Based on airplay this is probably a battle between Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry despite Little Big Town being the most industry beloved act. Zac Brown Band has sustained a higher level of commercial success than the rest of the groups (ZBB is the only act in this category that can sell out stadiums) with no shortage of critical acclaim but is on its own indie and has mentioned in the past that they don’t get involved in the vote-trading and politics of country awards shows. Lady Antebellum is the most visible lately, so I’m guessing they’ll reclaim their CMA Vocal Group crown this year.
More to come!
Song Of The Year
“Automatic,” Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert
“Follow Your Arrow,” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
“Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church & Luke Laird
“I Don’t Dance,” Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson, & Rob Hatch
“I Hold On,” Dierks Bentley & Brett James
Comments: The CMA embraces “Follow Your Arrow,” a gold-certified single that didn’t make t40 at country radio. Yes! The surprise absentee in this category is the Chris Stapleton and Lee Thomas Miller penned Luke Bryan hit “Drink A Beer,” which was Luke’s bid to be taken seriously. 3 out of the 5 nominees in this category are UMG Nashville (2 are Capitol Nashville) – but that bloc wasn’t enough to get Luke in. That’s especially surprising because Chris Stapleton is also a Mercury (UMG) Nashville act and beloved in Nashville for his incredible voice & songwriting ability.
Single Of The Year
“Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
“Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley
“Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
“Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton
Comment: No major surprises here, except that again, none of Luke Bryan’s smash hits was nominated (he was promoting “Play It Again” for this category). 2 out of 5 of the nominees are Capitol Nashville.
New Artist Of The Year
Brandy Clark (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Comment: There is a female act nominated! And she’s on a tiny indie with no leverage whatsoever! Sometimes overwhelming industry respect can carry a nominee, and that appears to be what helped Brandy Clark, who released 1 of 2013’s most critically acclaimed albums in any genre with 12 Stories and has cowritten big, critically acclaimed hits for The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert (in addition to her acclaimed work with Kacey Musgraves). Could that carry her to a win in a year without a clear commerical standout?
Kip Moore is UMG Nashville’s sole representative in the category and has struggled to launch his sophomore album after 2 consecutive t40 misses (coming after 3 straight #1s, the last of which peaked at the end of July 2013, near the beginning of the eligibility period). There are 2 Warner Nashville acts (Eldredge and Swindell) – Swindell has sold more albums but not a breakout quantity. Eldredge has 2 #1 hits and Swindell has 1 (and is closing in on his 2nd). Thomas Rhett also has 2 #1s under his belt though he’s struggled to sell albums. Like Swindell, Rhett has landed cuts with established superstars (Swindell has cowritten big hits for Luke Bryan, Rhett has written for Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean among others). Eldredge and Moore stand out vocally among the male nominees (and Eldredge has less of a bro stigma than Swindell and Rhett), but it’s easy to imagine the guys cancelling each other out and opening the door for Brandy Clark. And that would be awesome.
Vocal Duo Of The Year
Florida Georgia Line
Love & Theft
Comment: Florida Georgia Line will win this as the only act with significant commercial impact here. Sony Nashville gets 2 acts nominated – Love & Theft, which is struggling to get its current single into the t30, and the Swon Brothers, who haven’t released an album yet but have a t15 single. 3 of the nominees are signed to William Morris Endeavor. The Duo category may have more acts with radio support than the Female Vocalist category, but unlike the FV it’s short of established acts on major labels (Big & Rich and Montgomery Gentry are both on indie labels, and Big & Rich has a single closing in on the t20 right now). Show of hands: who expected the Swon Brothers to be the 1st Voice alum to be nominated for a major industry award? Buzzy new act Maddie & Tae will likely show up in this category starting with the 2015 ACMs – their single was released after the eligibility period for this year ended.
Vocal Event Of The Year
Bakersfield, Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
“Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert duet with Carrie Underwood
“We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
“You Can’t Make Old Friends,” Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers
Comment: Great to see some veteran talent in this category, especially on such great work. Surprisingly, the Vince Gill/Paul Franklin nom is for their whole album. Realistically, and considering the way this category has gone in the past, this is a toss up between the hits by Tim/Faith, Miranda/Carrie, and Keith/Miranda. The biggest hit out of these is the Miranda/Carrie song and it would give CMA voters a chance to reward a power female duet (oh and also, Miranda does very well at these shows). But the song itself is not the best showcase of either woman’s talent, and vote-splitting between 2 Miranda hits could open the door for the well-received Tim/Faith song.
Video Of The Year
“Automatic,” Miranda Lambert, directed by Trey Fanjoy
“Bartender,” Lady Antebellum, directed by Shane Drake
“Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards
“Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves, directed by Honey & Kacey Musgraves
“Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood, directed by Trey Fanjoy
Comment: The highest profile videos here are the Lady A video (with guest stars Kate Upton and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale), the amusing Dierks video (which debuted on Funny Or Die), and the Miranda/Carrie video (whose treatment was written by Carrie and is by far the most viewed and most dynamic of the videos). “Follow Your Arrow” is the best song in the category, and the award doesn’t always go to the actual best video. Tough call, but this is a bellwether, pre-telecast category that is a likely hint as to how the rest of the evening will go.
Musician Of The Year
Sam Bush, mandolin
Jerry Douglas, dobro
Paul Franklin, steel guitar
Dann Huff, guitar
Mac MacAnally, guitar
Comment: This award has gone to Mac Macanlly for the past 5 years, but here’s hoping Paul Franklin finally wins his CMA, especially thanks to the elevated profile he has due to his collaboration with Vince Gill on Bakersfield.
P.S. The CMA also does nominations for broadcast excellent in radio. I’m not listing all the radio station nominees here, but I have to give a shoutout to @broadwayonair and @CoryMyers925 for their CMA nomination for Broadcast Personality Of The Year, Medium Market for their work on the Electric Barnyard morning show on Hartford’s WWYZ. They’ve been nice enough to have me on the show a few times, and they’re good radio people who look outside the box for fresh, original content to entertain and engage with their listeners. I criticize country radio a lot, but there are some radio personalities who are genuinely interested in being non-formulaic, and Broadway and Cory are 2 of them. Congratulations to them on their well-deserved recognition! Check out the full list of CMA radio nominees here.
Overall thoughts: High profile acts shut out include Jason Aldean,Hunter Hayes and Brad Paisley. Hunter has struggled at radio and Brad is trying to find himself in a changing market, but Jason Aldean’s exclusion is a surprise in a year when he’s had several #1 hits and continued to put up huge touring numbers. Well, until you consider the label issue, anyway. Capitol Nashville left a stronger mark in the Entertainer/Male/Album categories than it did in the more diffuse Song/Single categories. Despite his massive commercial success, Luke Bryan didn’t get as much cross-category nominations love that Dierks Bentley (whose Riser is a thoughtful album with some concessions to bro country, but cleverer and better written than Luke and Jason’s formulaic bro smashes) did, and Florida Georgia Line’s only nomination is in the Duo category. Generally speaking, the nominations skew anti-bro (which may have hurt Jason Aldean, but his singles in the eligibility period leaned romantic) and skew towards radio hits that didn’t follow that trend. Will the winners do the same? The New Artist and Album categories may tell us a lot.
So stay tuned! The 48th Annual CMA Awards, hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood< will air on ABC on Wednesday November 5th at 8p Eastern, 7p Central. Join us as we live-blog/live-snark the show, won't you?