If an award show’s lineage reaches the 50-year mark, they’re definitely doing something right to stay in business for so long. 2016 sees the Country Music Association Awards reach that milestone. And to celebrate, they’re going all out, bringing in not only modern names like Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maren Morris, but also seven former Entertainer of the Year winners: Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Charley Pride, Reba and George Strait. No better way to celebrate the present and future of the genre than by giving significant shine to the trailblazers. The CMA’s even got a bunch of artists from each era to contribute to a humongous collaborative song and music video, capped off by the great Dolly Parton closing it out. But of course the ones getting the honors bestowed upon them are the acts of present day, and that’s what I’m taking a look at here. The FearlessRiOT Forecast once again goes country for the 50th Annual CMA Awards.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Kelsea Ballerini vs. Miranda Lambert vs. Maren Morris vs. Kacey Musgraves vs. Carrie Underwood
For the last half-decade, the Female Vocalist of the Year category has been notoriously easy to predict. The women nominated this year have received more airplay in the past year than women have in recent years duo to the bro-country fad has died down a bit, so it seems like this year could see a changing of the guard due to more opportunities for success opening up. Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini have definitely benefited from this and achieved decent chart success in the process. Kacey Musgraves is still struggling at country radio, especially since only two singles from Pageant Material were released, but she’s respected enough that she was included in the Forever Country lineup and that votes from board members wouldn’t be a surprise. And Carrie Underwood has been a favorite since day one and should never be counted out of the conversation. But like I said, this category hasn’t thrown us a curveball in the last five years, hence why Miranda Lambert has been on a winning streak. But maybe this year could see it come to an end due to the fact that she’s barely released anything. She has an album on the way, but as far as singles go, she’s dropped one as a main artist and one as a feature in the past year. We’ll have to wait and see whether that has an affect on the outcome in any way.
Who I Want to Win: Maren Morris or Kacey Musgraves. I admit, the Texas girls have me wrapped around their fingers.
Who Will Win: I’m too afraid to go against the streak; Miranda Lambert again.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley vs. Eric Church vs. Tim McGraw vs. Chris Stapleton vs. Keith Urban
I recall a bit of an uproar happening when the nominations revealed a shocking snub to Blake Shelton, who seemed to be a lock after the release of his album If I’m Honest. I didn’t see Dierks Bentley getting in ahead of him, that’s for sure. But just because Bentley is always overlooked here doesn’t mean this can’t be the year he finally takes it. But with Chris Stapleton in the running, his chances shrink significantly as CMT, the ACM’s, the Grammys, and even the CMA’s last year were in agreement that Stapleton is in fact the certified real deal. He and Eric Church are both sitting upon heaps of critical adoration; I’ll get more into Eric Church later, but he’s certainly a worthy contender here. Tim McGraw is a veteran of this game and shows no sign of slowing down. And why should he? He’s just as successful as ever, always present on the charts and still getting healthy radio airplay. Same goes for Keith Urban, who’s still as big as ever over two two decades into his career. Yes; two decades.
Who I Want to Win: Chris Stapleton; though I will also settle for Eric Church or Keith Urban.
Who Will Win: I see either Stapleton or Church taking this one.
Vocal Group of the Year
Lady Antebellum vs. Little Big Town vs. Old Dominion vs. Rascal Flatts vs. Zac Brown Band
Little Big Town won this award last year, and deservedly so. They’ve been one of my favorite acts in the genre for years now and I’m glad for any success that comes their way. That said, their decision to make, by Karen Fairchild‘s own admission, a pop album with pop/hip-hop/R&B producing great Pharrell Williams this year was a bit of a headscratcher and part of me assumes that decision will probably cost them this year. But to who? Zac Brown Band, who never seem to take this trophy home despite always releasing plenty of material that achieves at least some kind of moderate success? Rascal Flatts, who’s heyday and peak of award show success was a decade ago? Lady AntebellumLady Antebellum, a trio who have been on hiatus as of late, having released numerous projects separately and exactly zero percent of material as a unit in 2016? Or Old Dominion, a group that is enjoying quite a breakout year and currently dominating country radio with more and more airplay every day?
Who I Want to Win: Little Big Town, primarily out of bias admittedly. Sure, there was the pop album, but their new Taylor Swift-penned single (not kidding) should get them back on track in country.
Who Will Win: Admittedly a bold prediction, but if not Little Big Town, I think the award will go to category freshmen Old Dominion.
Vocal Duo of the Year
Brothers Osborne vs. Dan + Shay vs. Florida Georgia Line vs. Joey + Rory vs. Maddie & Tae
Two duos in this category contain female members. For one duo, blonde up-and-comers and FearlessRiOT Top 20 Countdown favorites Maddie & Tae, this year represented hard work paying off as the RDMA winners have seen their profile continue to soar. But for Joey + Rory, it’s a year of tragedy as Joey Feek unfortunately lost her battle with cancer earlier this year. I don’t know if this’ll net her and her husband a posthumous win. The other three nominees are all-male duos. Brothers Osborne had one really notable hit this year with “Stay A Little Longer” while Dan + Shay continue to go places and land more radio play. But as I’ve discussed with Miranda Lambert earlier, it’s kind of hard to go against a streak, which is why it’s hard to ignore how big a chance Florida Georgia Line has to keep theirs going this year. Ever since the bro-country trend started, they’ve been the duo to beat, and even now with the fad dying down a bit, they’re still as huge as ever with their latest album, Dig Your Roots.
Who I Want to Win: Maddie & Tae; I’d love to see them collect their second CMA this year.
Who Will Win: Again, too risky to go against the streak; Florida Georgia Line.
Musical Event of the Year
Dierks Bentley & Elle King vs. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild vs. Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood vs. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope vs. Morgane & Chris Stapleton
Boy, this was quite a year for male/female musical team-ups in country music. And this isn’t even all of them; don’t forget that Kenny Chesney and pop/rock singer P!NK currently have a song that’s #1 on the country charts as I write this and that Brad Paisley‘s love of cross-genre collaborations continued this year when he worked with pop goddess Demi Lovato, who’s apparently on a collaboration kick of her own lately. But of the five nominated, only one is actually crossing genres, that being Dierks Bentley‘s collaboration about how women handle break-ups differently from men with rock musician Elle King. I’m not counting Chris Young and Cassadee Pope in that assessment since Cassadee Pope’s pop-punk days are way behind her and she’s doing well for herself in country, as the success of this collaboration indicates. Speaking of crossing genres, I imagine if “The Fighter” was released as a single, it could do well on the pop charts because Urban and Underwood recorded a straight-up pop song here. That said, it’s also a really fun song honestly. Things go a bit more straight-up country as Bryan and Fairchild single about hooking up with one another and rubbing it in their exes faces via photographic evidence. And finally, we have Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane singing the most soulful rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”that I have ever heard in my entire life. Will Smith at graduation this is not.
Who I Want to Win: I want to say “The Fighter” so bad; sure, it’s a pop song, but Urban & Underwood are two country heavyweights. For a pure country pick, “You Are My Sunshine”.
Who Will Win: I see this one going to Dierks Bentley & Elle King.
Song of the Year
“Burning House” vs. “Die A Happy Man” vs. “Humble & Kind” vs. “Record Year” vs. “My Church”
If you’ve been following my Top 20 Countdown, you would know that “My Church” has been on the chart for 22 weeks and counting. Why is that? Because I too connect with the song’s idea that music can be a metaphorically religious experience in which a person can be so devoted to getting so in the music they hear that it allows them to escape their real world problems for a few minutes and send them to my happy place. Eric Church pretty much shows that same appreciation for good tunes in “Record Year”, where he makes lemons with lemonade by using a breakup to reconnect with a love of music. Thomas Rhett, meanwhile, is madly in love, and sings about how he doesn’t need all the luxuries of life as long as he’s with the woman he loves. Cam‘s relationship isn’t going so well; in fact, it’s toxic and lethal, but still burns bright anyway. And Tim McGraw reminds us of what makes a good human being, and we could definitely use more songs like that in the chaotic day and age we live in.
Who I Want to Win: “My Church” because that is my jam.
Who Will Win: I think either “My Church” or “Humble & Kind” is gonna take it.
Single of the Year
“Die A Happy Man” vs. “Humble & Kind” vs. “My Church” vs. “Nobody to Blame” vs. “Record Year”
Same category as Song of the Year, with the only difference being criteria for nomination and who actually gets a trophy for the winning track. And if this category was going by chart success, does any other song in this category hold a candle to “Die A Happy Man”? Without a doubt, this song was massive for Rhett, one of the biggest hits of the past year in country music as well as music in general. Call it a “Thinking Out Loud” ripoff all you want, but 17 weeks at #1 on the country chart and peaking at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100, a Billboard Music Award win, and a cover from Nelly (who obviously wants to be a country singer based on “Over & Over”, “Cruise”, and this, and should just become one because what else does he have to lose?) makes the song a huge success. “My Church”, “Record Year”, and “Humble and Kind” also did well on the charts, all peaking in the Top 5 on the country charts and the Top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 and are all good songs in general. “Nobody to Blame” is the least successful song in the category, but Chris Stapleton isn’t one who’s value lies in sales figures; it’s in quality, which his music has plenty of. Therefore, “Nobody to Blame” could probably stand a chance in this category. Could. Doesn’t mean it will win, though.
Who I Want to Win: Again, “My Church” is my jam and has my support.
Who Will Win: Thomas Rhett. I don’t see any other song winning but “Die A Happy Man”.
Music Video of the Year
“Burning House” vs. “Fire Away” vs. “Humble & Kind” vs. “Record Year” vs. “Somewhere On A Beach”
I’ve already discussed three of these music videos during the CMT Awards Forecast, and two of those videos ended up winning buckles on those shows. I’ve already discussed how Tim McGraw shows everyday people going through everyday struggles and offering acts of kindness. I’ve already discussed how sad a story “Fire Away” is with it’s tragic commentary on mental illness. I’ve already discussed how miraculous it is that Cam was able to survive in a burning building as long as she’s motivated with getting back to her lover. What I haven’t discussed yet is Eric Church and company preserve the value or record by collecting them, actually playing them, and then storing them on a pole in a basement, one by one. As someone who’s recently been on a mission to buy and collect albums myself recently (in CD form, not vinyl, but close enough), I appreciate that commitment to the music. I also haven’t discussed Dierks Bentley‘s video taking a turn for the comedy. And why not? Maddie & Tae won this same award last year with a comedy video and so did Dierks himself in 2014 with a comedy video. This Bentley video features a man overcoming his anxiety issues after he ends up with a beautiful woman. If only I was as lucky.
Who I Want to Win: I’m impressed with Cam‘s ability to withstand fire; give it to “Burning House”!
Who Will Win: I see this one going to Tim McGraw; he, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban won this award in 2013 and I have a feeling his video must’ve warmed voters hearts just as much.
Album of the Year
Black vs. Hero vs. Mr. Misunderstood vs. Ripcord vs. Storyteller
I didn’t expect to enjoy Hero as much as I actually did. I was first drawn to it due to the fact that the cover reminded me of the artwork I used to see on old vinyl records (that Eric Church probably has a copy of), especially with the track listing appearing on the front of the album with a dimly lit photo of Morris. And I genuinely enjoyed it; sure, it tows the line between country and pop (which Morris has addressed before), but honestly, so does Urban‘s album. Ripcord has an appearance from Pitbull, for God sake. We should’ve expected some experimentation from the pop-savvy jam that was “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”, and the experiment was evidently a success as it landed his album in the Top 5. No more Pitbull collaborations, though. Please. Certainly not something you’ll hear from Eric Church, who dropped one of the deepest and best country albums in recent memory with Mr. Misunderstood. Carrie Underwood’s album has been a mighty success for her, but then again, which of her albums hasn’t been? In Dierks Bentley’s words about Black, “It’s a relationship album that covers the ups and downs of the journey and ends with some self-realization and evolvement,” and though these aren’t exactly new these in music, I give him credit for making it the whole concept and storyline for the album.
Who I Want to Win: Maren Morris or Eric Church.
Who Will Win: Though call, but I’m gonna say either Carrie Underwood or Eric Church.
Best New Artist
Kelsea Ballerini vs. Brothers Osborne vs. Maren Morris vs. Old Dominion vs. Cole Swindell
Does the CMA Awards believe in second chances? Because in case they’ve forgotten their own recent history, they should probably be reminded that they’ve previously nominated two of these contenders for Best New Artist twice before, despite the prevailing wisdom that you can only be nominated for Best New Artist at an award show once and only once. Kelsea Ballerini lost in this category to Chris Stapleton last year while Cole Swindell lost this category to Brett Eldridge in 2014. Here’s proof for both Ballerini and Swindell if you think I’m making it up. Somehow, someway, both artists – who are admittedly very successful, for the record – managed to slip onto the New Artist ballot a second time against three acts who genuinely found their breakout success this year. Maren Morris joins Kelsea Ballerini as the only other female on the ballot while Old Dominion and Brothers Osborne represent as collectives.
Who I Want to Win: Maren Morris all the way.
Who Will Win: One of the girls; I see this one going to either Morris or Ballerini.
Entertainer of the Year
Garth Brooks vs. Luke Bryan vs. Chris Stapleton vs. Carrie Underwood vs. Keith Urban
Like last year, the top prize of the night will be contested between four men and one woman. This time around, Carrie Underwood is the sole lady in the ring, already proving her value as an entertainer by being selected to co-host the show itself for a ninth year in a row with Brad Paisley. Add to that the chart success of her singles, as well as performances on the Grammys, the CMT Awards, Sunday Night Football, and her own headlining tour and the American Idol alumnus certainly has the credentials to join Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, and Taylor Swift on the list of women who have won the top prize. Chris Stapleton also has a shot after his show-stealing performance with Justin Timberlake at last year’s CMA Awards, went on to light up the Grammy stage with Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark Jr., as well as the SNL stage while taking home a couple Grammys and releasing some music videos along the way. Keith Urban, who was a judge on American Idol’s final season earlier this year, has also been touring in support of his album Ripcord, and with Urban being the guitar virtuoso and stage phenom that he is, you know you’re in for a show when he’s on-stage. That’s also the case for Luke Bryan, who only released a couple of singles and one EP this year. (Boy, such a huge star and still putting out EPs.) But even without a Male Vocalist nomination, he still gets to defend his title here due to his undeniable popularity and entertainment value. And Garth Brooks, who’s prepping a brand new album, is still doing gangbusters on his tour with wife Trisha Yearwood. He’s still every bit as popular and entertainer he was in his prime apparently.
Who I Want to Win: Carrie Underwood gets my vote here.
Who Will Win: Say goodbye to your streak, Luke Bryan. Carrie Underwood is coming to collect!
What do you think of these predictions? Hit me up on Twitter @FearlessRiOT with your predictions and tune into the 50th Annual CMA Awards this Wednesday night on ABC!