The fiftieth annual Academy of Country Music Awards air tonight, and Country Universe has you covered! Here’s a rundown of all of the major categories, along with some commentary from our writers about who should win, who will, and what the nominations as a whole say about the current state of country music.
Share your thoughts about this year’s show in the comments, and check back for a list of winners when it’s all said and done.
Update: Join the CU crew on Twitter (@CountryUniverse) during the show to share your thoughts as things unfold!
Entertainer of the Year
Garth Brooks – Jonathan
Luke Bryan – Sam
Miranda Lambert – Ben, Kevin
Florida Georgia Line
Miranda Lambert – Jonathan, Ben, Sam, Kevin
BF: I think Lambert is due, but I could get on board with a win for Brooks, whose comeback tour certainly warrants recognition. Those are about the only two possible victories I could swallow.
SG: This is fan-voted, so it really comes down to who can most mobilize their fan base. I give Miranda the nod, simply because she and her husband can both rally the troops. As to who deserves it, it’s hard to deny the impact that Luke Bryan has had on country music, love him or loathe him. He also seems like a fair entertainer, whether it’s shimmying around the stage or falling off them.
The narrative surrounding Aaron Watson’s The Underdog makes it an album that is easy to root for: Buoyed by more than a decade of goodwill and fan support and a deft pre-release promotional push, the album surprised many with its #1 bow atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, surreptitiously around the same time that erstwhile Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton made his controversial remark about how artists who don’t get played on country radio “don’t exist.” The Underdog, the twelfth album from a traditional-leaning Texas singer-songwriter known as much for his humility as for his music, provided a perfectly timed counterexample to Overton’s short-sighted arrogance.
Despite the Grammys and even the ACM’s demonstrating more consistent taste over the past few years, the CMA’s remain the most significant industry awards that honor country music. This year’s slate of nominees gives the organization an opportunity to build on the credibility of last year’s George Strait victory. His win for Entertainer saved a dismal show in its closing minutes.
Here’s our take on this year’s contenders:
Entertainer of the Year
George Strait – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara, Ben
George Strait – Jonathan, Kevin, Tara, Ben
Kevin: I’d settle for a Miranda Lambert victory, as she had an amazing year. But my first choice is George Strait, who deserves a fourth trophy for that record-breaking final concert. The rest of these nominees have either won before or still seem to have their best days ahead of them. There will never be another George Strait again.
Jonathan: The appalling sense of entitlement Jason Aldean has shown in his seemingly endless campaign of adult temper-tantrums disguised as interviews since these nominees were announced makes it all the more satisfying that the voters didn’t exclusively consider commercial and touring stats when voting for this award. I think that will likely continue with the final ballots, giving Strait the win here as a final send-off– a win that, as Kevin said, Strait’s last concert fully justifies based on even Aldean’s logic.
Tara: I have a feeling I’ll be pulling for Lambert next year, but 20 months after seeing it, I’m still high on Strait’s phenomenal farewell show. He deserves this.
Ben: Why not? Miranda will have plenty more shots at it, but this could be our last chance to see George Strait accept a CMA Entertainer of the Year trophy. Let the cowboy ride away in style.
This year’s CMA nominees are the best in years, with multiple nominations for Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Brandy Clark. Country radio may still be shunning women, but their embrace by CMA voters suggests that the industry knows who is really leading the way in the genre these days.
Entertainer of the Year
Who’s In: Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban
Who’s Out: Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift
George Strait, a surprise winner last year, is nominated again in a year that includes his record-shattering final concert. Miranda Lambert’s domination of this year’s nominations extends to the big category, where she competes for the first time since 2010.
The mind-numbingly dull lyric has nothing new to offer, with details that sound more like a pitch for an Axe commercial than an actual documentation of a realistic human experience. The band also phones it in, with nothing more distinctive than a Karaoke backing track.
But Rhett sells it anyway. It’s nice to hear a guy who can actually sing being allowed to do so, without any production tricks or clumsy attempts at spoken word. Sincerity is always a plus in my book, and “Get Me Some of That” is better than similar records because Rhett sounds engaged, not detached.
I don’t really want to listen to it again, but if I had to pick one brocountry album to hear all the way through, I think Rhett’s might be the one that’s the least likely to be painful.
Written by Rhett Akins, Michael Carter, and Cole Swindell
Cole Swindell has turned in an excellent record by many measurable standards. It’s well-paced, he’s got some charisma behind the mic, it’s identifiably country, and intelligently structured. Any song these days that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and also manages to get it all done in under four minutes, feels like manna from heaven.
But all of this is in service to the most played-out, increasingly insufferable, and remarkably unnecessary country song concept: guy and girl hanging out in the country, love and liquor in tow.
It’s a bit like an exquisite painting of dogs playing poker. Great technique, ridiculous subject.