Country music isn’t always amazing. Actually, it’s evolved into a troubling genre as of recently, primarily due to incredibly homogenous productions and terribly basic, lame, and quite misogynistic lyrics. I will absolutely be the first to recognize its faults and flaws, and, despite progression in 2016, its lopsided ratio of successful men versus women. (Breaking news: women are consistently being overshadowed by mediocre releases by their male peers.) With that being said, country music has seen a huge uptick in quality this past year, and, thankfully, the nominees for next week’s CMA Awards, the fiftieth anniversary of the show, reflect that.
Because I love awards shows (shamelessly and unapologetically, at that) and I appreciate quality country music, I’ve decided to go ahead and do a little examination of the nominees this year, including who I wholeheartedly and unbiasedly believe should take home some of the major trophies.
Album of the Year
Black, Dierks Bentley
Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church
Ripcord, Keith Urban
Thoughts: Maren Morris is too new, and Keith Urban’s album is the weakest of this bunch. I’m confident in counting those two out as winners. Dierks Bentley has hardly ever seen much love from the CMAs outside of the very minor Music Video and Musical Event categories, but Black has provided him with some more substantial critical clout (despite it also hosting one of the worst songs of 2016, “Different For Girls”). I could see him winning, but if I was a betting man, I’d place my chips on Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood.
New Artist of the Year
Thoughts: First of all, where’s Cam? “Burning House” was one of the most sensational breakout hits of the last couple of years. Second, please allow me to do a quick eyeroll over Cole Swindell and Kelsea Ballerini both being in this category. Swindell was nominated for this award in 2014 (not a typo—he was nominated for Best New Artist two years ago, as well), and Ballerini was up for the trophy last year, along with a Female Vocalist of the Year nomination. I understand that there are some loopholes in the rules that allow for these things to happen (though I’ve never actually understood said loopholes), but things like this are ridiculous. Nevertheless, if Maren Morris doesn’t walk away with this award, I’ll be beside myself.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Thoughts: Miranda Lambert has won this award every year for the last six years. Can you say “excessive?” Up until July 18th, over two weeks after this year’s eligibility period ended for the show, Lambert hardly did a thing in the public eye for well over a year. Musgraves, for the most part, joins this camp, though she did release some underperforming singles. Their nominations here seem like more of formalities than recognitions, largely because they didn’t release much work to recognize. Ballerini has seen continued success as a breakout female artist, though her music has hardly been groundbreaking or sonically unique, especially when being put up against Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood. Morris’ debut is fantastic and she’s made an admirable splash onto the scene in 2016, but anyone besides Underwood winning this award would be unjust and silly. She’s had a huge, phenomenal year, and she’s also the best vocalist in the game (and “the game” is not solely limited to country music).
Male Vocalist of the Year
Thoughts: I feel for Dierks Bentley, I really do. Why? Because he’s never the top dog. He’s always up there, but never actually at the top of the heap. So while I’d love to say that he could receive some recognition here, I just know that it won’t happen. Keith Urban, despite his big year with his nominated Ripcord record, just won’t stick out enough to voters over the likes of Church, McGraw, and Stapleton, and to even narrow it down even further, the latter two of those three. So long as Eric Church takes Album of the Year the way I expect him to, I think the CMAs will recognize reigning champion Chris Stapleton here. A case could be made for Tim McGraw, whose Lori McKenna-penned “Humble and Kind” crossed genres this year and became a massive smash, but Stapleton’s breakout year should, and likely will, be enough to get him this trophy.
Entertainer of the Year
Thoughts: Keith Urban isn’t winning this. Again, I reiterate that whole betting man thing. Four strong cases could be made for Brooks, Bryan, Stapleton, and Underwood, but Carrie Underwood deserves to receive the trophy this year. For starters, this is her first visit to this category (not once has she ever been nominated for this award before in her twelve-year career, though she should’ve already won it a couple times by now). No country artist has opened with higher first-week sales in the last year than her, ever since her #1-debuting Storyteller opened with a sum just a bit shy of 200,000 albums sold. The album has since gone Platinum (meaning, it’s scanned more than 1 million copies), she’s scored three more #1 singles (bringing her total to 24 career #1s), and her Storyteller Tour was recently named by Billboard as the top-selling country tour of 2016, and the eighth best-selling 2016 tour of any genre. The tour runs through November 28th, and it just recently played to a sold-out crowd of over 18,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She’s the face of Sunday Night Football and Almay Cosmetics, and the RIAA recently named her the top-selling digital country artist in music history.
Cases like these simply cannot be made for any of the other nominees, further reinforcing that Carrie Underwood is, unabashedly, the most deserving artist of this year’s trophy.
The 50th CMA Awards, airing on ABC at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2, are hosted by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley for the ninth consecutive year.
CRAIG JAFFE | Underwood or Riot | KXSU Editor