2018 CMA Awards: Picks & Predictions

The 52nd Annual Country Music Association Awards are nearly upon us. Here are Jonathan and Kevin’s personal favorites, along with their predictions to win.

Entertainer of the Year – Will Win

  • Jason Aldean – JK
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Chris Stapleton – KJC
  • Keith Urban

Entertainer of the Year – Should Win

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Chris Stapleton – JK, KJC
  • Keith Urban

Jonathan Keefe: It’s a damning indictment of the state of mainstream country that the CMAs couldn’t bring themselves to nominate any woman– particularly the years-overdue Carrie Underwood– for this prize. In terms of which of the five is the best overall ambassador for the genre in 2018, Stapleton is the obvious and easy choice. I’m just not 100% convinced that the voters are ready to give him the CMAs’ biggest award yet, so I’m hedging my bets and going with Aldean. There’s this lingering consensus that he’s owed something beyond his own popularity.

Kevin John Coyne:  Chris Stapleton’s strength downballot indicates that CMA voters love him as much as ever, and he’s the only nominee this year that hasn’t reached his zenith. With Garth Brooks out of the running, the field is clear for this voter’s favorite to win the big prize.

Male Vocalist of the Year – Will Win

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton – JK, KJC
  • Keith Urban

Male Vocalist of the Year – Should Win

  • Dierks Bentley – KJC
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton – JK
  • Keith Urban

KJC: Dierks Bentley won the Horizon Award in 2005, but has gone 0-for-12 in the major categories ever since, losing Album, Male Vocalist, Single, and Song every time he was nominated. He’s beyond overdue, but the CMA loves to repeat themselves in the vocalist races, so Stapleton is the likely winner.

JK: Stapleton would be my choice based upon the strength of his vocal performances on his eligible material, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a win for perennial bridesmaid Bentley. After the godawful Black, he’s back to releasing some of mainstream country’s best work. Urban, however, released a career-worst album, while the appeal of Rhett and Combs remain entirely lost on me.

Female Vocalist of the Year – Will Win

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris – JK
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood – KJC

Female Vocalist of the Year – Should Win

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves – JK
  • Carrie Underwood – KJC

JK: I’ve championed her as loudly as anyone over the course of her career, but, surely to God, Lambert won’t actually win again. That Underwood scored only one other nomination makes me question if she has enough support to reclaim her title here. I still believe she has a look at this, and she’d be a deserving winner, too, as Cry Pretty is a better album than its first two singles let on. Musgraves would be my choice by a hair. I don’t love Golden Hour in its entirety, but its best moments rank among the finest examples of country music released this year. But she’s still a long-shot. Among the potential first-time winners, Ballerini’s commercial momentum has, mercifully, cooled. That leaves Morris, who has built enough clout with radio to balance her critical acclaim; I think that will be enough for voters this year.

KJC: Carrie Underwood came back with compelling music and a new label behind her that needs to prove that her changing rosters was worth it. They’re not doing a great job making that case at radio yet, but this will be the first year since her earliest days that there are no split allegiances at her label in this category. I wish the Kacey Musgraves album was better than it is, but she’d still be my pick of the three women who haven’t won this award yet.

Vocal Group of the Year – Will Win

  • Lady Antebellum
  • LANCO
  • Little Big Town
  • Midland
  • Old Dominion – JK, KJC

Vocal Group of the Year – Should Win

  • Lady Antebellum
  • LANCO
  • Little Big Town
  • Midland – JK, KJC
  • Old Dominion

KJC:  Seems time for a changing of the guard here, and it’s probably a race between Midland and Old Dominion.  The former made better music, while the latter had more success at radio, so I’m split on who should win and who will win.

JK: Country radio finally realized that Karen and ‘Berly of Little Big Town are both over 40; after a multi-year run at the awards shows, it seems that their time has passed. Midland is the only one of the five nominees who released music that I liked at all during the eligibility period, but Old Dominion is likely to follow-up their ACM win here. As ever, this category should have been merged with Vocal Duo to trim the fat.

Vocal Duo of the Year – Will Win

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay – JK
  • Florida Georgia Line – KJC
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Sugarland

Vocal Duo of the Year – Should Win

  • Brothers Osborne – JK, KJC
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Sugarland

JK: Brothers Osborne released one of my favorite singles (“Shoot Me Straight”) and one of the strongest mainstream albums (Port St Joe) this year; they’d get my vote. FGL could reclaim their throne here based upon “Meant To Be,” but I believe the number of nominations Dan + Shay earned this year point to a win for them. Nice to see Maddie & Tae back in the mix, too, even if country radio still won’t give them the attention they deserve.

KJC:  Not exactly a marquee race.  I think FGL wins on the strength of their chart domination alone, but would prefer it go to Brothers Osborne.

New Artist of the Year – Will Win

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Luke Combs – JK, KJC
  • Chris Janson
  • Midland
  • Brett Young

New Artist of the Year – Should Win

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Luke Combs
  • Chris Janson
  • Midland – JK, KJC
  • Brett Young

KJC:  If this was still the Horizon Award, I’d be picking Lauren Alaina for her slow and steady rise.  But now that it’s a generic New Artist award, it seems likely that Luke Combs wins, even though Midland made better music.

JK: I think this is between Combs, one of the year’s true commercial breakthroughs who also isn’t completely artistically bankrupt, and Janson, who seems to be awfully well-liked among his peers. If enough of those peers think that they can just vote for Combs again next year when he’ll still be eligible, I could see that giving Janson the edge. But I wonder if that’s perhaps too many mental steps to take. Young is the most maddeningly overpraised act I can think of in at least a generation: His songs have no distinct perspective, and he has a singing voice that makes Hunter Hayes sound like Raul Malo by comparison. Alaina’s potential still far outstrips the quality of her output. I don’t know that Midland is around for the long-haul, but they’ve released the best music of these five to date.

Album of the Year – Will Win

  • Dierks Bentley, The Mountain
  • Thomas Rhett, Life Changes
  • Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
  • Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 2 – JK, KJC
  • Keith Urban, Graffiti U

Album of the Year – Should Win

  • Dierks Bentley, The Mountain – JK, KJC
  • Thomas Rhett, Life Changes
  • Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
  • Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 2
  • Keith Urban, Graffiti U

JK: I will be legitimately shocked if they give this to Musgraves, despite the passion that the album’s fans have for it; there’s nothing in this year’s slate of nominees to suggest that the CMA voters are looking to make the kind of provocative statement that a win for Golden Hour would represent. Rhett’s album of pop pastiches makes for a study in secondhand embarrassment; if he deserves anything, it’s an intervention to tell him that he will never be Bruno Mars. Urban’s nomination is just flat-out appalling. There isn’t a single track on it that isn’t beneath his considerable talent or that doesn’t debase the country genre wholesale. Stapleton is 2 for 2 in this category so far, so he seems the safest bet, but From A Room: Volume 2 offers little that he hasn’t already been recognized for. Which leaves Bentley’s return-to-form. The Mountain is only his third-best album (behind Up On The Ridge and Riser), but it would certainly be a worthy winner on its own merits.

KJC:  Chris Stapleton hasn’t lost this race yet, so I assume he will win again. Bentley, as mentioned earlier, is overdue, and this is one of his better albums.

Single of the Year – Will Win

  • Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos” – KJC
  • Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem”
  • Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert, “Drowns the Whiskey”
  • Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line, “Meant to Be” – JK
  • Dan + Shay, “Tequila”

Single of the Year – Should Win

  • Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos” – KJC
  • Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem” – JK
  • Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert, “Drowns the Whiskey”
  • Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line, “Meant to Be”
  • Dan + Shay, “Tequila”

KJC: I don’t think any of these are Single of the Year material, but I suspect Lambert’s presence on “Drown the Whiskey” will give the CMA cover to acknowledge Jason Adean in a major race for the first time in six years.

JK: I’ll go to bat for “Drinkin’ Problem,” but I don’t think it will win over the juggernaut of “Meant To Be.”

Song of the Year – Will Win

  • “Body Like a Back Road,” Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
  • “Broken Halos,” Mike Henderson and Chris Stapleton – KJC
  • “Drowns the Whiskey,” Brandon Kinney, Jeff Middleton, and Josh Thompson
  • “Drunk Girl,” Scooter Carusoe, Tom Douglas, and Chris Janson – JK
  • “Tequila, ” Nicolle Galyon, Jordan Reynolds, and Dan Smyers

Song of the Year – Should Win

  • “Body Like a Back Road,” Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
  • “Broken Halos,” Mike Henderson and Chris Stapleton – KJC, JK
  • “Drowns the Whiskey,” Brandon Kinney, Jeff Middleton, and Josh Thompson
  • “Drunk Girl,” Scooter Carusoe, Tom Douglas, and Chris Janson
  • “Tequila, ” Nicolle Galyon, Jordan Reynolds, and Dan Smyers

KJC: Chris Stapleton is the easiest name for queasy voters to check off as they go down the ballot, and none of these compositions seem compelling enough to overcome his popularity with voters.

JK: “Broken Halos” is the only one of these songs that I think even comes close to being a strong composition, but even it struggles to keep its metaphors straight for its full running time. But I could see the perceived importance of “Drunk Girl,” a well-intentioned song that is not very good on its own merits, drawing voters.

Music Video of the Year – Will Win

  • Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift, “Babe”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” – KJC
  • Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” – JK
  • Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me”
  • Dan + Say, “Tequila”

Music Video of the Year – Should Win

  • Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift, “Babe”
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty”
  • Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl”
  • Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me”
  • Dan + Say, “Tequila” – JK, KJC

JK: I don’t care for Dan + Shay or their “Tequila” at all, but I’ll give them credit for the most memorable video in this line-up. I’m not convinced Janson will win New Artist or Song Of The Year, but I think this category is his safest bet.

KJC: “Tequila” is the best demonstration of how a music video can elevate a song, but the pure vulnerability of Underwood’s clip, combined with her star power, should give her the edge.

Musical Event of the Year – Will Win

  • Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man”
  • Maren Morris featuring Vince Gill, “Dear Hate”
  • Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert, “Drowns the Whiskey” – KJC
  • David Lee Murphy featuring Kenny Chesney , “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” – JK
  • Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, “Meant to Be”

Musical Event of the Year – Should Win

  • Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” – JK
  • Maren Morris featuring Vince Gill, “Dear Hate” – KJC
  • Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert, “Drowns the Whiskey”
  • David Lee Murphy featuring Kenny Chesney , “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
  • Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, “Meant to Be”

JK: I’d be fine with a win for Morris and Gill, even though I don’t think “Dear Hate” is especially well-written. “Burning Man,” however, I can get behind as both a collaboration and a stand-alone single. Any of the other three chart-toppers could win, but I think voters will take the chance to recognize David Lee Murphy long after his commercial prime, much as they recognized Tracy Lawrence in this category a few years ago.

KJC: Maren Morris having the good taste to enlist Vince Gill resulted in the best record of the five (low bar), but the star power of Aldean and Lambert should power them through to a win.

Musician of the Year – Will Win

  • Jerry Douglas (Dobro)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar)
  • Dann Huff (Guitar) – KJC
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar) – JK
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

Musician of the Year – Should Win

  • Jerry Douglas (Dobro)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar) – JK, KJC
  • Dann Huff (Guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar)
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

KJC: Paul Franklin should win, but he won’t. This is always a race between Dan Huff and Mac McAnally. I’m just guessing that it’s a Huff year, as there’s no rhyme or reason to why one wins over the other in any given year.

JK: I’ll go with McAnally just so we have our bases covered. As ever, Franklin should win, Douglas would be a fine second choice, and it’s indefensible that not a single woman has ever been nominated in this category in the entire history of the CMAs.

4 Comments

  1. Am I the only one who feels like Carly Pearce and Kane Brown should be in for New Artist over I hate to say it but Lauren Alaina and Chris Janson. I feel like Carly Pearce and Kane Brown have had more of an impact than the latter two.

    Should be a fun show regardless.

  2. Re Kane Brown, wonder if he’s hurt his future new artist chances by recording “American Bad Dream” which includes the lyrics, “Now you gotta take a test in a bulletproof vest / Scared to death that you might get shot.”

  3. The one bit I’ll stress is that the period of time we’re supposed to be evaluating is from the midpoint of last year to the midpoint of this year. For instance, Carrie Underwood’s current album was released this September. “Eligibility Period: July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.”

  4. @ Raymond

    Of the artists who made the second round of voting, Pearce was one of the four I personally would have voted for; a solo #1 and a follow-up solo top-20 (which the late Windmills Country showed has been the exception rather than the rule for women at country radio for the last decade) should have gotten her onto the final ballot.

    Brown has certainly had more of a commercial impact than arguable any of the five nominees; artistically, I don’t think he’d be an improvement over any of the five except Young.

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