Country music generally has four televised award shows every year: the ACM Awards (the all-country version of the American Music Awards), the CMT Awards (the all-country version of the MTV Video Music Awards), the American Country Countdown Awards (the all-country version of the Teen Choice Awards, I guess), and the CMA Awards, easily the all-country version of the Grammy Awards. It’s at the CMA Awards where some of the most unforgettable performances on the country music calendar take place and it’s usually seen as a big deal to win one. This year marks the 49th edition of the show and even though there’s a rather tight list of nominees, they represent a pretty interesting year in country music. While the men continue to dominate the airwaves with their on-going bro-country tornado, the women got the most shine they’ve had in years and that is reflected in this year’s list of nominees. Who will win? Who would I love to see take these awards home? Will the Miranda Lambert streak finally meet its Brock Lesnar? (Wrestling references for ANY occasion!) What kind of jokes do Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley have up their sleeves this time? Well, I don’t have to answer to that latter question, but as for who’ll walk over to the winner circle, let’s head to the Forecast and take a look!
Musical Event of the Year
“Django and Jimmie” vs. “Lonely Tonight” vs. “Raise ‘Em Up” vs. “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” vs. “Wild Child”
I always feel the need to remind myself that in the country music world, a “Musical Event of the Year” award is basically just another way of saying “Best Collaboration”. I guess it’s a way of hyping these collaborations as really big deals, even though in the case of two of these collaborations, we’re not exactly breaking new ground as Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter have collaborated before and Ashley Monroe, as a part of Pistol Annies, has previously been on a Blake Shelton record. Not to take anything away from the songs nominated; I love “Lonely Tonight”. But as competition, they have to go up against a pairing of two country music icons in Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, two of country’s biggest rock stars in Keith Urban and Eric Church (even though their nominated song is on the softer side), and the wonderful (almost R&B-leaning) pairing of Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town.
Who I Want to Win: “Lonely Tonight”; one of my favorite collaborations in recent memory.
Who Will Win: Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town; the CMAs really seem to love both acts, so they must feel excited at the thought of awarding both at the same time.
See what I mean when I said that women have gotten the most shine this past year than they have since the bro-country trend being the it-thing? This category is all-female from a vocalist standpoint. And honestly, it’s actually a pretty good field. Kacey Musgraves went the comedy route and had a country jamboree basically, one in which she dons a fake moustache and duets with a Muppet. Maddie & Tae also went for the LOLZ, but it was in the name of satire as they poked fun at bro-country by having a gender swap and letting the men objectified just like they always do for women. Miranda Lambert created probably her hottest music video to date as she checks into a hotel where a ton of stuff is happening and lounges by the pool. Meanwhile, Little Big Town kept things simple with an intimate, black-and-white performance video that fit the mood of the song. And Carrie Underwood did a majestic video featuring plenty of dancers and water. Lots and lots of water.
Who I Want to Win: “Girl in a Country Song”; Get ready, folks because this is not the first time I’m gonna be rooting for Maddie & Tae to head to the stage for some hardware.
Who Will Win: Probably “Something in the Water”; there’s just something magical about it and I think the CMA voters are gonna go for it.
Song of the Year
“American Kids” vs. “Girl Crush” vs. “Like a Cowboy” vs. “Like a Wrecking Ball” vs. “Take Your Time”
I’m not much of a songwriter; I’ve tried before and let’s just say there’s a reason I’m sticking to blogs, articles, and fiction stories. Therefore, my opinion on a songwriting award probably doesn’t have much merit. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to break down what makes a song work lyrically. What makes “American Kids” work? I say it’s simple, carefree lyrics and wordplay. What makes “Girl Crush” work? It’s lovely narrative and moving words that really make jealousy seem like an understandably justifiable subject. What makes “Like A Cowboy” work? Well, it uses the idea of a cowboy as a way of describing how he loves someone, pretty well if I must say. What makes “Like A Wrecking Ball” work? The imagery the lyrics conjure up as a way to describe how epic the sex in that house will be. (How is it that a country song can describe epic sex better than rap these days?) What makes “Take Your Time” work? Well, along with establishing Hunt’s talk-singing style, it’s uniquely conversational at least.
Who I Want to Win: “Girl Crush”. What a controversially pretty song that is lyrically.
Who Will Win: “Girl Crush”; if a song as open-minded as “Follow Your Arrow” can win this award last year, so can this.
Single of the Year
“American Kids” vs. “Girl Crush” vs. “I Don’t Dance” vs. “Take Your Time” vs. “Talladega”
First of all, yes, the difference between Song of the Year and Single of the Year here are the same as the differences for them at the Grammys. With that out of the way, how about the nominees? Well, “American Kids” is probably the single catchiest country song in recent memory; catchiest doesn’t always mean best, but I really love jamming to this song. “Girl Crush”, meanwhile, is low and soulful and it makes for a really good (if not reportedly controversial) song. “Take Your Time” crossed over to pop radio; I don’t know if that’ll get it bonus success points here, but it’s worth mentioning. “Talladega” is a song I really like; it’s about looking back on a past memory and the music is beautifully reflective. “I Don’t Dance” is means more than I thought; instead of being about how you don’t dance while clearly dancing, it’s about how finding the right one and getting married can change a person for the better. That’s romantic.
Who I Want to Win: “Girl Crush” or “American Kids”. One is beautiful, the other is catchy, and they both get a reaction out of me; award one of them.
Who Will Win: “Girl Crush”; unless voters agree with the controversy, there’s no reason not to award it. I can also see “I Don’t Dance” taking it.
Album of the Year
Old Boots, New Dirt vs. Pageant Material vs. Pain Killer vs. The Big Revival vs. Traveller
Before this, I had only ever heard one of these albums in full: Pageant Material, and I loved it so much I wrote up an album review on Miss Musgraves‘ sophomore effort. I’d heard some of Little Big Town‘s album, so I had to go back and listen to the rest and it was decent enough. The rest of these albums, I had to go and listen to in full. Not every song on Jason Aldean‘s album sounds like “Burnin’ It Down” (which is a semi-R&B song, really) and that’s a good thing cause that would’ve been overkill on a concept that shouldn’t be overdone; his album isn’t something I’d listen to often though. Kenny Chesney‘s album was pretty decent. Honestly, though, the Chris Stapleton album surprised me by how good it really is; aside from Kacey’s album, this is the one I’d feel most fine with winning.
Who I Want to Win: Pageant Material. Yes, all that extra audio research just to say that I still want Kacey to take this one. But like I said, if Chris Stapleton wins, you’ll hear no complaints from me on this.
Who Will Win: Kacey Musgraves, Kenny Chesney, or Chris Stapleton.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley vs. Luke Bryan vs. Eric Church vs. Blake Shelton vs. Chris Stapleton
Hmm…that’s strange. No Darius Rucker, Tim McGraw, or Kenny Chesney in this category; Chris Stapleton and Dierks Bentley seems to have filled those spots. Well, in the case of Chris Stapleton, I won’t complain since I’ve already pointed out how good his album is. Dierks Bentley hasn’t stood out to me as much as his last two singles didn’t outpeak last year’s CMA-winning “Drunk On A Plane”, but he’s been visible enough to stay afloat on the CMA radar. Eric Church, Luke Bryan, and Blake Shelton being here are no shocker as Luke Bryan continues to be country’s biggest male solo name of the moment, Eric Church is still one of country’s mot standout performers, and Blake Shelton is the reigning champion of this category, here to once again defend his crown.
Who I Want to Win: Eric Church or Blake Shelton; I like Eric Church’s sound and rocker vibe and I liked Blake’s songs from this year.
Who Will Win: Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Miranda Lambert vs. Kacey Musgraves vs. Carrie Underwood vs. Lee Ann Womack vs. Kelsea Ballerini
First of all, how happy must diehard country fans be the not see Taylor Swift in this category; for years, there have been a section of country music listeners who have wondered why the increasingly poppy Queen of Modern Music (who also still released country singles in-between) was constantly nominated for this award. But this year, she’s officially jumped into the pop vortex 100%, which has allowed 22-year old newcomer Kelsea Ballerini to call dibs (clever, Nick) on her very first slot in this category. She’s joined by country vet Lee Ann Womack, Texas darling Kacey Musgraves, fan favorite Carrie Underwood (who just released a brand new album), and the still-on-a-winning-streak Miranda Lambert.
Who I Want to Win: Kacey Musgraves; I don’t know if I can praise her enough for the great music she’s put out thus far.
Who Will Win: Miranda Lambert; I’m too scared to predict against a streak, so I see Miranda taking it for the sixth year in a row.
Vocal Group of the Year
Lady Antebellum vs. Little Big Town vs. Rascal Flatts vs. The Band Perry vs. Zac Brown Band
I remember a while back, it seemed like Lady Antebellum won this award every single year. In actuality, though, it was only for three years. For an even lengthier winning streak, look back on the mid-to-late 2000s where Rascal Flatts won every year from 2003 to 2008; six straight years. Well, for the last three years, Little Big Town have taken it home while the award continues to escape the grasp of The Band Perry and Zac Brown Band. In a year where The Band Perry made a proclamation to live forever and Zac Brown put out a Chris Cornell collaboration that made it to #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and appeared in WWE 2K16 (available now), will that be enough to topple the foursome from Alabama?
Who I Want to Win: Little Big Town; I would’ve gone with The Band Perry if they had released more music this year than just “Live Forever”. And even then, I’d endorse a LBT win!
Who Will Win: Little Big Town; they’ve had the buzz, they’ve had the hit, and they have the streak. These guys totally got this won.
Vocal Duo of the Year
Brothers Osborne vs. Dan + Shay vs. Florida Georgia Line vs. Maddie & Tae vs. Thompson Square
I’ve casually heard music this past year from approximately three of these duos. Dan + Shay are kind of on the Hunter Hayes, young-heartthrob plane of country music, and that’s been further established by the fact that they performed on the ACM Awards with Nick Jonas. I hear their song “Nothin’ Like You” a lot on the country station here in Chicago. Y’all already know that I love Maddie & Tae’s music (“Fly” is now the longest running song in the history of my Top 20 Countdown) and they’ve done well at country radio. Florida Georgia Line needs no explanation; y’all know the bro-country posterboys are a big deal, no matter how polarizing. Thompson Square won this award once in 2012 and looked to become huge before the bro-country boom. I haven’t heard much Brothers Osborne on the radio, but from what I’ve heard of them, they have such a pure country sound to them.
Who I Want to Win: Maddie & Tae. I didn’t listen to “Girl in a Country Song” and “Fly” approximately 5,357,924 times combined this year for nothing after all.
Who Will Win: Florida Georgia Line because even though the CMA’s are more focused on artistry and talent than most other award shows, mainstream success can still net you an award.
New Artist of the Year
Sam Hunt vs. Maddie & Tae vs. Chris Stapleton vs. Kelsea Ballerini vs. Thomas Rhett
Sam Hunt had a country-pop crossover hit this year with “Take Your Time”, so I feel like he’s probably the most well-known nominee outside country music in this category, so that could give him a huge advantage. Maddie & Tae also had some buzz this year; the “Girl in a Country Song” video was a huge deal when it came out an they’ve kept up the success with follow-up single “Fly”. Kelsea Ballerini has been called the next Taylor Swift, and that’s quite the praise; “Love Me Like You Mean It” was a hit and “Dibs” is currently climbing. Thomas Rhett has been doing great as well, with singles like “Gotta Get Me Some of That” and “Make Me Wanna” giving him his breakthrough. Chris Stapleton, by far the oldest nominee, hasn’t been lucky chart-wise as a performer, but maybe the Association could see his efforts as good enough to reward.
Who I Want to Win: I sound like a broken record now, don’t I? Maddie & Tae, please win this!
Who Will Win: He just wants to take your time and he’s here to take your trophy too; I see them giving it to Sam Hunt. However, I can totally see Maddie & Tae or Kelsea Ballerini winning it too.
Entertainer of the Year
Garth Brooks vs. Luke Bryan vs. Kenny Chesney vs. Eric Church vs. Miranda Lambert
It’s the big one. The most coveted award of the night where a person’s overall success and work the past year is rewarded. And this year, Miranda Lambert is the lone nominee. Shocking divorce aside, can her sexy “Little Red Wagon” video, her Platinum Tour, her Pistol Annies reunion, collaborating with Little Big Town, and her cameo on Taylor Swift‘s 1989 Tour make her the first female to win since Swift herself in 2011? How about Garth Brooks with his tour and his ACM performance? Or Luke Bryan, who released a song that sounded like a snake-charming tune and hilariously hosted the ACM’s with Blake Shelton once again? Or Kenny Chesney, with his multiple #1’s, his million-selling tour, and his Corona endorsement? Or Eric Church, who continues to entertain by pushing the boundaries of country and working with others along the way?
Who I Want to Win: Miranda Lambert has my vote.
Who Will Win: Probably Luke Bryan; that’s be a sure thing if this was fan-voted, but since it isn’t, this is just a very bold prediction. If not him, I believe it’ll go to Garth Brooks.