2019 ACM Awards: Predictions & Personal Picks

The 2019 ACM Awards are almost upon us! As per Country Universe tradition, here are the predictions and personal picks of three of our writers, with further analysis of each category by two of them.

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

KJC: The ACM often takes its cue from the CMA Awards in this category, and Keith Urban’s surprise win last fall deserves a spring companion on his mantle. 2018 brought his second CMA trophy for Entertainer of the Year, thanks to the strength of his popular tour, but he has yet to win the ACM in this category.  He’s long overdue.

JK: Stapleton has emerged as one of the genre’s most visible faces… behind the beard, at least. As an ambassador for country music, he checks all of the boxes– including the touring component that’s allegedly one of the criteria for this award, but it’s the ACMs, so who knows if or when those criteria are applicable– and is making the best music of this lot. If the ACMs are recognizing Aldean as their Artist of the Decade– and, hoo boy, is that a topic we can get into at another time– then I assume he’ll win this. Had Carrie Underwood toured during the eligibility period, her omission here would be even more egregious than it already is, but it’s worth noting that she’s years overdue to win one of these without the help of a fan vote.

Male Artist of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

JK: When we’re just talking about “vocalists,” I’m hard pressed to vote against Stapleton. But now that the category has been rebranded as “artist,” I’m going to bat for Bentley, who made one of his very best albums and pushed himself artistically in a way that Stapleton didn’t. I believe the runaway commercial success of Combs will push him to a coronating-an-A-lister win.

KJC: The only nominees who haven’t won before here are Bentley and Combs.  It would be unprecedented for Combs to win this award on the strength of a debut album, but it seems entirely possible. Still, I’m hoping Bentley’s long wait for major awards recognition will come to an end in 2019, and I am encouraged by his strength across the ballot.

Female Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves – JK, BF, KJC
  • Carrie Underwood

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Maren Morris – JK
  • Kacey Musgraves – BF, KJC
  • Carrie Underwood

KJC:  A tenth consecutive victory for Miranda Lambert seems out of reach, unless they want to give her credit for her stellar work with Pistol Annies during the eligibility period. Kacey Musgraves is riding high right now, and should easily be a consensus choice for voters looking to move past this category being dominated by Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.

JK: Musgraves deserves this for the queen-of-all-media-except-country-radio pop-culture blitzkrieg she’s become over the last year; that Golden Hour is a strong album with a clear artistic vision makes her a worthy winner. I certainly wouldn’t be mad for an Underwood win, though I think the baffling choices of singles from Cry Pretty has lessened the impact she could have had with what is, if not necessarily her best album on a song-for-song basis, the most interesting album she’s released to date. Morris seems most likely to pull this off, though I’m not at all impressed by GIRL. McBryde’s nomination is thrilling from an artistic standpoint, while Lambert honestly shouldn’t have been eligible. And, sorry not sorry, I don’t miss Kelsea Ballerini more.

Duo of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

JK: Even the BrOs knew at the CMAs last fall that Dan+Shay were the most likely winner in this category, and it’s nearly impossible to think that the latter won’t win here, given their across-the-ballot support. But the BrOs would get my vote for their far more substantive work. Nice to see Maddie & Tae back in the mix, as well.

KJC: Dan + Shay are having their moment right now, and turnover in this category is finally becoming more common.  I still think Brothers Osborne made better music, however, and down the road, I’d love to see Maddie & Tae be contenders for this award.

Group of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

KJC: Midland seems to be the band that is easiest to vote for right now.

JK: For whatever reason, it seems like Old Dominion has been designated as the go-to group for the awards circuit; who knows how long their reign will last, but I hope it’s a quick turnaround. Of these five, Midland released far and away the best material during the eligibility year, and their new single, “Mr. Lonely,” should position them for a killer 2019.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Dan + Shay – Dan + Shay
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks, Dan Smyers and Matt Dragstrem
  • Desperate Man – Eric Church
    • Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • From a Room, Vol. 2 – Chris Stapleton
    • Produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton
  • Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves – KJC
    • Produced by Ian Fitchuk, Daniel Tashian and Kacey Musgraves
  • The Mountain – Dierks Bentley – JK
    • Produced by Ross Copperman, Jon Randal Stewart and Arturo Buenahora Jr.

Will Win:

  • Dan + Shay – Dan + Shay
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks, Dan Smyers and Matt Dragstrem
  • Desperate Man – Eric Church
    • Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • From a Room, Vol. 2 – Chris Stapleton
    • Produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton
  • Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves – JK, BF, KJC
    • Produced by Ian Fitchuk, Daniel Tashian and Kacey Musgraves
  • The Mountain – Dierks Bentley
    • Produced by Ross Copperman, Jon Randal Stewart and Arturo Buenahora Jr.

JK: Other than the tepid Dan + Shay album, this is quite the solid line-up. I certainly won’t begrudge Musgraves’ completion of the ACM – CMA – Grammy Triple Crown for an album that I love listening to, even if I do think there are some lapses in the quality of its songwriting. Church would also be a deserving winner for yet another ambitious set; he should have earned more nominations than just this one, so I would be surprised if he has the support to pull off the win. My preference of the five, though, would be for Bentley’s thoughtful and intuitively performed album that strikes an ideal balance between his rootsier impulses and commercial aspirations.

KJC:  The CMA kept Same Trailer Different Park from winning the Triple Crown, but with even them on board, I have trouble seeing the ACM not endorsing this acclaimed album.

Single Record of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Down to the Honkytonk” – Jake Owen
    • Produced by Joey Moi
  • “Heaven” – Kane Brown
    • Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Produced by Wilshire for Rock the Soul Entertainment
  • “Most People Are Good” – Luke Bryan – JK, BF
    • Produced by Jeff Stevens and Jody Stevens
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay – KJC
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks and Dan Smyers

Will Win:

  • “Down to the Honkytonk” – Jake Owen
    • Produced by Joey Moi
  • “Heaven” – Kane Brown
    • Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Produced by Wilshire for Rock the Soul Entertainment
  • “Most People Are Good” – Luke Bryan
    • Produced by Jeff Stevens and Jody Stevens
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay – JK, BF, KJC
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks and Dan Smyers

KJC: “Tequila” meets my general criteria for Single of the Year: a song big enough to define the year that isn’t also an embarrassment to have represent the genre.

JK: Bryan’s single is fine; it’s performed competently and sincerely. That’s enough to make it the best of these five nominees. Dan + Shay’s overwrought hit picks up exactly where Rascal Flatts left off after their commercial heyday ended; hard pass.

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Break Up in the End” – Cole Swindell
    • Written by Jessie Jo Dillon, Chase McGill and Jon Nite
  • “Broken Halos” – Chris Stapleton
    • Written by Mike Henderson and Chris Stapleton
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Written by David Garcia, Tyler Hubbard and Joshua Miller
  • “Space Cowboy” – Kacey Musgraves – JK, BF, KJC
    • Written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay
    • Written by Nicolle Galyon, Jordan Reynolds and Dan Smyers
  • “Yours” – Russell Dickerson
    • Written by Casey Brown Russell Dickerson and Parker Welling

Will Win:

  • “Break Up in the End” – Cole Swindell
    • Written by Jessie Jo Dillon, Chase McGill and Jon Nite
  • “Broken Halos” – Chris Stapleton
    • Written by Mike Henderson and Chris Stapleton
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Written by David Garcia, Tyler Hubbard and Joshua Miller
  • “Space Cowboy” – Kacey Musgraves – KJC
    • Written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay – JK, BF
    • Written by Nicolle Galyon, Jordan Reynolds and Dan Smyers
  • “Yours” – Russell Dickerson
    • Written by Casey Brown Russell Dickerson and Parker Welling

JK: “Space Cowboy” is easily the best composition here, with a perfectly-rendered conceit that pays homage to the western half of “country and western” without overplaying its hand or becoming too clever. But I don’t see the ACMs giving this to a song that didn’t chart at all, and it seems like Dan + Shay are poised for a big night. The nomination for “Yours” over “Most People Are Good” is baffling.

KJC: I think that “Broken Halos” and “Tequila” each have a shot, but since Stapleton has a previous win and Dan + Shay can be acknowledged in many other categories, I expect that voters that are picking Musgraves in every category will carry her to a win.

Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Babe” – Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift
    • Produced by Roger Hunt
    • Directed by Anthony Mandler
  • “Burn Out” – Midland
    • Produced by Ben Skipworth
    • Directed by TK McKamy and Cameron Duddy
  • “Burning Man” – Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne
    • Produced by Nate Eggert
    • Directed by Wes Edwards
  • “Drunk Girl” – Chris Janson
    • Produced by Ben Skipworth
    • Directed by Jeff Venable
  • “Shoot Me Straight” – Brothers Osborne – JK
    • Produced by April Kimbrell
    • Directed by Wes Edwards and Ryan Silver
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay – KJC
    • Produced by Christen Pinkston
    • Directed by Patrick Tracy

Will Win:

  • “Babe” – Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift
    • Produced by Roger Hunt
    • Directed by Anthony Mandler
  • “Burn Out” – Midland
    • Produced by Ben Skipworth
    • Directed by TK McKamy and Cameron Duddy
  • “Burning Man” – Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne
    • Produced by Nate Eggert
    • Directed by Wes Edwards
  • “Drunk Girl” – Chris Janson – JK
    • Produced by Ben Skipworth
    • Directed by Jeff Venable
  • “Shoot Me Straight” – Brothers Osborne
    • Produced by April Kimbrell
    • Directed by Wes Edwards and Ryan Silver
  • “Tequila” – Dan + Shay – KJC
    • Produced by Christen Pinkston
    • Directed by Patrick Tracy

KJC: I think the ACM would have jumped at acknowledging Taylor Swift if it was still the 1989 era, but Reputation era Swift is persona non grata these days.  The meta humor of the Brothers Osborne clip showcases the personality of that duo well, but I don’t think it’s any match for the sweeping cinematography and surprisingly touching storyline of the Dan + Shay clip.

JK: The perceived importance of Janson’s well-intentioned but not-entirely-unproblematic “Drunk Girl” will triumph over the piss-take by Brothers Osborne.

Music Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Burning Man” – Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne – JK, KJC
    • Produced by Ross Copperman, Jon Randal Stewart and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • “Drowns the Whiskey” – Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert
    • Produced by Michael Knox
  • “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” – David Lee Murphy featuring Kenny Chesney
    • Produced by Buddy Cannon, Kenny Chesney and David Lee Murphy
  • “Keeping Score” – Dan + Shay featuring Kelly Clarkson
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks and Dan Smyers
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Produced by Wilshire for Rock the Soul Entertainment

Will Win:

  • “Burning Man” – Dierks Bentley featuring Brothers Osborne
    • Produced by Ross Copperman, Jon Randal Stewart and Arturo Buenahora Jr.
  • “Drowns the Whiskey” – Jason Aldean featuring Miranda Lambert – JK, BF, KJC
    • Produced by Michael Knox
  • “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” – David Lee Murphy featuring Kenny Chesney
    • Produced by Buddy Cannon, Kenny Chesney and David Lee Murphy
  • “Keeping Score” – Dan + Shay featuring Kelly Clarkson
    • Produced by Scott Hendricks and Dan Smyers
  • “Meant to Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
    • Produced by Wilshire for Rock the Soul Entertainment

KJC:  Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert must have thirty ACM Awards between them at this point.  They should win easily. Got a bit of a heart tug seeing David Lee Murphy on a ballot more than two decades after his last hit, but artistically, “Burning Man” is in its own league here.

JK: Hard to imagine the ACMs letting Lambert go home completely empty-handed given her track record, though she should be nominated here for Pistol Annies’ Interstate Gospel. Hell, Pistol Annies should also be up for Vocal Group and Album Of The Year, but so it goes. Of the five, “Burning Man” sounds the most like a legitimate collaboration, and it’s a terrific single, besides.

7 Comments

  1. I’m hoping for a miracle for Keith Urban to win Entertainer!! His GU Tour was out of this world awesome!!

  2. Even though I haven’t cared much for his albums since “Be Here”, the only one of the 5 nominees for entertainer I would pay to see in concert would be Urban. Don’t care for the other 4 as vocalists.

  3. Thank you for your perspective. I agree Lambert should not have been eligible. And the Pistol Annies album fell off the charts so I can see why that wasn’t nominated. But also it’s a side piece for them. As they said in an earlier interview it’s not their full time job. Groups who put out music/perform exclusively should be rewarded. I also find it odd that Lambert had won so many of these awards-even when she had no new music. So for the last 10 years there were no ither women artists other than Carrie and her? Then it was explained to me by a Nashville insider that the ACMs are the most political of the awards. He explained bloc voting. So these awards are basically bought. Her nomination this year confirms that. I just want to see other deserving artists rewarded for once. And not a WME buy out.

  4. @Samuel,
    Miranda Lambert’s nomination doesn’t show that the awards are bought. Carrie and Miranda have been mainstays in the Female Vocalist races for the past decade because they’ve been the only consistently successful female artists during that time.

  5. @ Kevin, that’s debatable because there have been years when Carrie had better output than Miranda and was still somehow passed over in favor of Miranda. Miranda winning these awards hasn’t exactly translated into better single/album sales or even tour sales. I just hope Kacey winning indicates a change in tide and people are finally rewarded based on quality and not bloc voting (although Thomas Rhett winning male artist invalidates this)

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