Ever had a really long week, and you’re all tired. Then you see something that you simply can’t believe exists, and think your fatigue must be playing tricks on you?
I’m going to bed.
I don’t think there’s ever been a song that I’ve wished remained an instrumental as much as this one, as the gorgeous instrumentation, especially the fiddle, is the very best example of what the title claims.
But alas, our reigning Entertainer of the Year insists on tackling the title with lyrics, and it doesn’t end well. It doesn’t even begin well, with the ridiculous notion that country music is where you need to go to hear that Jesus is the answer, as it’s not afraid of rubbing folks the wrong way by saying so in a song. Michael W. Smith and countless Winans have made a career out of doing so without ever recording a country song.
Has Paisley managed to live an entire life in the south without ever stumbling upon Contemporary Christian or Gospel Music? Of course he hasn’t. He’s just decided to do another tired country music spin on American exceptionalism.
We’re not the only country in the world that has freedom. By some measures, we might not even have the most of it. But it makes us feel good to sing along to a song that pretends we’re the only home of the brave and the only land of the free.
This at least accomplishes national solidarity, so it can serve a meaningful purpose. What purpose does it serve to convince people that country music is the only place – the only place! – where we can find songs about cancer and Jesus? And Mama? Don’t forget Mama! Given that Kanye West wrote a better Mama song than any country composition this side of “No Charge”, Paisley best not perform “This is Country Music” on the MTV Awards.
Given that the song quickly devolves into drinking on the weekend and hating on your boss by the second verse, it’s probably a waste of time to over-think this, even if it was Paisley’s insistence that has us going all meta in the first place. By the time he gets all serious again, this time via a soldier not coming home from war, Paisley has weighed down his impassioned defense of country music with so many genre stereotypes that he ends up being a witness for the prosecution.
If you happen to be curious about country music and want a song that also demonstrates “this is country music” without eliciting the knee-jerk response, “Why should I care?”, then I suggest you check out Sugarland’s “Very Last Country Song” instead. It captures the same sentiment attempted here more effectively, and without the nonsensical “My genre can beat up your genre” undercurrent.
Listen: This is Country Music
When the nominees were announced in August for the 44th annual CMA Awards, they sparked a firestorm of headlines –and thoughtful commentary by critics and fans alike– thanks to the CMA voters’ surprisingly bold moves. It’s all about change this year, as the voters revamped the ballot with a slew of fresh faces in almost all of the big categories.
How will it all play out? We’ll know for sure on Wednesday at 8pm Eastern, but before Gwenyth Paltrow throws on her cowboy boots, check out our staff picks and predictions and join the discussion in the comments below. And be sure to drop by Wednesday night for all of the CU live blog madness!
Kevin: Among the five nominees, Miranda Lambert has best represented the genre this year.
Leeann: I’m torn between Lambert and the Zac Brown Band as most deserving this year. I recently saw Lambert’s show and wasn’t incredibly impressed, however. While I have not yet attended a ZBB show, theirs is one of the few spots that I look forward to at awards shows these days. Moreover, I’m impressed by how much of a following they had even before they made any mainstream records.
Dan: Of these five, Zac Brown Band had the second-most success this year (after Lady A) and made the second-best music (after Lambert), so that’s pretty good standing. And I feel like giving this award to a grassroots act would be a good way for the industry to greet the future.
Tara: I’m consistently impressed by Zac Brown Band’s live performances, and it would be really refreshing to see them win – so I’ll go with them. (But I’m still disappointed that the first year my head and heart align on Carrie Underwood deserving an EOTY award, I can’t support her. I’m holding out for 2012…)
Kevin: I’ve probably learned nothing from last year’s Swift sweep by going with Paisley again, but he’s the only nominee of veteran stature who hasn’t won yet.
Leeann: I can’t imagine that Paisley won’t finally win this one.
Dan: I was going to guess Lady A, since they’re sort of 2010’s “flavor of the year” the way Taylor Swift was 2009’s. But when I think about it, Swift’s ascent was greater and more gradual, and she stood in contrast to the rest of her nominee pool (four male veterans) in a way Lady A don’t with theirs (in which they’re one of three new competitors). So, Paisley.
Tara: I have no rationale. My gut says Lambert.
Kevin: Bentley made the best music this year.
Leeann: Bentley may not have the best technical voice out of these nominees, but he has the most interesting and distinctive of them, which is always something that I gravitate toward. Also, I agree with Kevin that he’s made the best music this year.
Dan: Shelton and Bentley are the only ones in this pool who made significant career strides this year – Shelton at radio, and Bentley creatively. Since I’m backing someone else in the Album category, this is where I’d like to see Bentley recognized for following his muse.
Tara: I guess Up on the Ridge is as good a reason as any to fall off the Brad-for-MVOTY bandwagon. He’s a close second for me, though.
Kevin: I can see the roots album giving Bentley an edge. Then again, Paisley could just repeat again, or Shelton may suddenly have deep support among voters. I say, Bentley by a nose.
Leeann: I think that voters will reflexively give this one to Paisley again.
Dan: I’ll ditto Kevin.
Tara: I can’t really see Paisley losing this one, but I think if he does lose to Bentley, it’ll be a telling moment.
Kevin: Underwood and McEntire are the women who made my favorite singles from the eligibility period, but Lambert’s the only one who hasn’t won this award. She’s not overdue, but she’s due.
Leeann: Kevin’s right that Lambert is due to win this award now, not to mention that she’s my favorite female singer out of the bunch.
Dan: Lambert still isn’t at Underwood’s sales level, much less Swift’s, and I don’t see her catching up before traditional music sales die out altogether. Doesn’t matter, though: her habit of making creative music will sustain her regardless of industry conditions, and will elevate the genre in the long run. It’s time to look ahead.
Tara: I’m 50/50 on Lambert and Underwood. I’m not sure how to balance Lambert’s long overdue mega-year against Underwood’s continuous stream of solid success, ambassadorship and artistic growth. I’ll be happy either way, but personal investment’s got me in Underwood’s camp.
Kevin: I’d be shocked if Lambert lost, and can’t even make a guess as to who she’d lose to, should she somehow lose.
Leeann: It’s between Lambert and Underwood, but I give Underwood the edge, especially since it’s somewhat surprising that she didn’t get an Entertainer nomination. Although Lambert has gained popularity in the past year, Underwood is still one of the two biggest females in the business and I refuse to predict that Swift will win the award.
Dan: Lambert’s had enough mainstream success this year to give tasteful voters an excuse to give her some props.
Tara: The voters love them some Lambert this year, and I think of all her nominations, this is the one she’s got in the bag.
Kevin: I’m assuming “Stuck Like Glue” was after the eligibility period, so I think actually making some music over the year is important. Joey + Rory are the only duo I like who have yet to win.
Leeann: I simply like them the most, but I know they don’t have a chance.
Dan: I mean, why not? Nobody on this ballot has done much but tour.
Tara: I’m not very excited about any of these acts right now, to be honest. It would just be heartwarming to see Joey + Rory pick this one up.
Kevin: Sugarland’s year off helped guarantee a B&D victory lap, which would probably have happened anyway.
Leeann: It’s between Brooks & Dunn and Sugarland. I should just pick B&D because of their retirement, but I’m still going with Sugarland because of their popularity.
Dan: Brooks & Dunn, unless voters ignore the eligibility period and stick with Sugarland.
Tara: Isn’t the Brooks & Dunn retirement thing kind of old news by now, or am I just out of touch?
Kevin: Let’s start getting some variety in this category, instead of having Lady A own it for five years.
Leeann: They’re the only group that I like right now.
Dan: I’ll probably be rooting for Little Big Town come ACM season, but for now…
Tara: I don’t want Lady A to own this for five years, either, but I do think they deserve to win this year. At least in my opinion, their huge success on the charts and with album sales can be attributed much to their ability to (I know, I know – I’m a broken record) hone in on specific emotion and deliver it in a way that people can really connect with. There’s some meat (and a heck of a lot of potential) behind their success that tends to go unnoticed.
Kevin: Lady A and Zac BB are both very popular with voters, but I’m thinking that this is the only race where voters can reward Lady A for dominating at retail this year.
Leeann: Ditto to Kevin.
Dan: New Artist will be ZBB’s consolation prize.
Tara: …And I think the voters will agree with my pick, if not for the same reasons.
Kevin: ZBB is in another league, which makes me wish they still called this the Horizon Award.
Leeann: It’s weird to see ZBB here considering their nominations elsewhere, so I think that Chris Young has the most potential of the remaining nominees.
Dan: I’d love to see Young take this, but ZBB can’t be denied.
Tara: This is a great line-up, but there’s no question that ZBB deserves this win.
Kevin: ZBB is nominated for Entertainer of the Year, much like Ricky Skaggs was when he won Horizon in 1982. (Skaggs also won Male Vocalist, which means I may have to rethink my pick for Vocal Group, too.)
Leeann: Kevin’s argument is too compelling not to follow. Also, they are the most popular of the nominees, therefore, probably the most deserving.
Dan: Everyone here but Niemann has had a significant breakthrough. With ZBB in the mix, though, it’s no contest.
Tara: It’s a funky set-up to have ZBB nominated for both the top and bottom (figuratively) prizes, and I think this one will play out exactly the way Kevin explained it.
Kevin: I have all five of these albums, and Underwood’s is the one that I listen to the most, with Strait a not-too-close second. In 2010, of course, “listening to an album” really means “how many songs do I pull off the album and put on a play list,” which has Underwood ahead by three tracks.
Leeann: If I follow Kevin’s test, Bently wins with Lambert as a close second. Bentley’s is, hands down, my favorite album of these choices. I’d love to see something this different from the mainstream win.
Dan: Also employing Kevin’s test, I flip-flop Leeann’s first and second choices. Only about two thirds of Revolution click for me a year later, but those two thirds have helped redefined what I thought modern country could be (still flipping about “Me and Your Cigarettes”), and the stray third at least tried.
Tara: I’m not going to follow Kevin’s test: I don’t play Revolution quite as much as three of the other albums on here, but I feel it’s the most deserving. It’s sharp, smart and an excellent example of an artist taking her potential by the horns.
Kevin: I really do think Lambert will sweep. I think she should’ve won for her last album, which wasn’t even nominated, but I’m not going to complain about an ambitious album getting the prize.
Leeann: I’m guessing either Lambert or Underwood. Although Lambert has the better album, Underwood has the slight edge because it sold better. I wouldn’t be especially surprised if Lady A takes it though.
Dan: Seems to me like a toss-up between Lady A’s commercial favorite and Lambert’s critical one. Lambert?
Tara: This is Lambert’s to lose, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Lady A (or maybe Bentley?) snatched it.
Kevin: It’s the big chunk of meat in a category of mashed potatoes and candied apples.
Leeann: Kevin just made me really hungry, therefore, kind of distracted. It’s a good thing that my choice doesn’t need justification then.
Dan: “Need You Now” had the biggest impact, of course, but “The House That Built Me” was no slouch either – four weeks at #1 – and was arguably the riskiest, most rewarding release. Also of note: she sang it real pretty.
Tara: “Need You Now” and “The House That Built Me” are performed equally well, but “House” is the better-written song. I’ll go with “House” on the basis of that, but I do think country music will be represented justly either way. Both songs resonate with pure, compelling sentiment.
Kevin: I think Lady A would have a better shot if they hadn’t won last year for “I Run to You.”
Leeann: It’s simply the clear winner.
Dan: Again, somewhat for diversity’s sake, I’ll guess that many voters have already forgotten about “I Run to You” – I certainly have – and will use this category to recognize the biggest hit, while they use Song to recognize the best one.
Tara: I’m jumping on Dan’s train…
Kevin: Overall, I think that “Need You Now” is a better Single than Song, and that “The House That Built Me” is a better Song than Single, but “House” is better than “Need” on both counts.
Leeann: I’m just being repetative now. It’s the best single and song of the year.
Dan: It’s the deepest-cutting of the five and the most unique.
Tara: “The House That Built Me” is, quite simply, beautifully written.
Kevin: Here’s where they can honor “Need You Now” without shortchanging Lambert.
Leeann: I just see “House” sweeping in all possible categories.
Dan: They often manage to pick the actual best song of the five, especially when that song is also the most “serious.”
Tara: This just seems way to obvious; I don’t see how the voters could bypass the most clearly deserving song.
Kevin: I don’t find any of these five songs particularly compelling, so I’ll go with the two artists who are longest overdue for some CMA love.
Leeann: I’m not big on any of these either, but the Jackson/Womack collaboration is the one I like the most if I have to choose.
Dan: I’d be fine with either “Til the End” or “Bad Angel”. Whatevs.
Tara: The Jackson/Womack song falls squarely within my typical taste, but “Bad Angel” gets under my skin – in a good way. It’s just a really cool record.
Kevin: Its presence in the Single category makes “Hillbilly Bone” the most likely winner.
Leeann: It’s the most mainstream of all the choices.
Dan: “Bad Angel” could play a welcome spoiler, since all three of the artists behind it command a lot of respect right now. I still see this going to the hit, though.
Tara: I’m predicting the big boys will win this one. It’s a decent song, but it makes me laugh that it gets as much love as it does – I mean, this is the song that has Adkins admitting that he’s “always wanted to sing a bone song”…!
Kevin: Lambert made the two best clips, with the humor of “Liar” outpacing the literalism of “House.”
Dan: The “House” video is beautifully conceived and directed, but somehow the “White Liar” one just sticks out more. Maybe it’s because “White Liar” is a thinner song, so the video has more of a chance to establish its own identity.
Tara: The “White Liar” video is the brightest and most creative of the bunch.
Kevin: I think “White Liar” has won all the video awards this year, so I guess it will win again.
Dan: This is the logical place to reward the other Lambert single the CMA liked this year.
Tara: One of Lambert’s videos will win for sure. My best guess is “White Liar” since it’s won before, like Kevin said.
Kevin: Paul Franklin is the nominee I’m rooting for the most this year. Give the man, and the steel guitar, some long overdue recognition!
Leeann: It’s the steel guitar for heaven’s sake! It should be a no-brainer, even though it’s clearly not.
Dan: I won’t pretend I know what’s going on. I’m just going to root for the guy who hasn’t won yet until he finally does.
Tara: How can you pass up the steel guitar?
Kevin: Mac McAnally won the last two years, so I guess he’s the favorite. Did I mention that Franklin is 0-for-17 going into this year’s ceremony?
Leeann: I suppose its a habit to give it to McAnally at this point. So, why should I be so bold as to predict anyone else?
Dan: No justice!
Tara: Just going off of pattern here.
The new Sugarland album is a failure. Of this, I am sure. But as I wrote in my review, the problem isn’t that they made an eighties rock album. It’s that they didn’t make a good one.
Which got me thinking about others who made pop or rock albums after building a fan base as a country artist. Sometimes it works, and their pop/rock music is as good or better than what they did under the country umbrella.
So I ask this question:
What artist did the best job of transition from country to pop?
I can think of quite a few, but I’m going to start with a less obvious one, since her Aussie/English roots make her easy to overlook. And also because I keep putting off a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists feature on her.
Olivia Newton-John started off as a folk-type singer, but her first two million-selling singles were country to the core. She won her first Grammy in the category of Best Female Country Vocal Performance, earning the honor for her breakthrough single “Let Me Be There.”
She went on to have three #1 country albums and a few top ten singles, and was named the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974. That same year, she was the second woman (after Loretta Lynn) to be noninated for Entertainer of the Year. Everyone from Loretta Lynn to Donna Fargo covered her hits.
Songs like the very country “Let it Shine” made in impact on fhe pop, AC, and country charts, but like Carrie Underwood did with “Before He Cheats”, Newton-John crossed over in spite of the country arrangements, not by making pop music and calling it country:
But Hollywood came calling, and her starring role in the film Grease required her to sing pure pop/rock. But she didn’t abandon the country format entirely. In fact, the soundtrack contained a new song specifically tailored for the country market, even though it did better on the pop charts when released. But “Hopelessly Devoted to You” has a steel guitar that can’t be ignored:
Even on her next album, Totally Hot, she continued to record country music, scoring her last real country hit with “Dancin’ Round and ‘Round.”
After that, it was pretty much all pop, and she so successfully transitioned into that format that she became more popular than ever. Not a bad second act for a woman who was the most popular female country artist of the mid-seventies. But I’d argue that her pop music was better as well, perhaps because I bought this 45 so many times, always having to replace a worn out copy:
Which country artists do you think segued into other genres most effectively? Who would you like to see try?
There’s no point in dancing around it.
The Incredible Machine is a terrible album, an unmitigated disaster that manages to fail in ways that shouldn’t even be possible, especially on a mainstream album created by established professionals and released by a major label.
At its best, Sugarland has made successful music by combining clever musical arrangements with strong lyrical hooks, delivered by the inimitable vocal talent that is Jennifer Nettles. I would have deemed a full album being completely devoid of all three components inconceivable, but The Incredible Machine comes frighteningly close.
First, the arrangements. Look, it’s cool when an audience sings back to you at a concert. Heck, the Sugarland audience has been known to sing along with “Stay” and “Joey”, which are hardly your typical Bic light anthems. But on several tracks here, Jennifer and Kristian become their own audience, singing back to each other in chants best fit for a Journey concert.
And, oh boy, are they chanting back some inane lyrics. Sugarland make the fatal error of mistaking form for content. Yes, there’s an adrenaline rush that’s produced by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”, and Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” But that’s because the songs have a deeper meaning that resonates with audiences, not just because they simply can be chanted along with.
So we get the empty platitudes of “Stand Up”, for example, which impels us to do stand up and…do what, exactly? It unpleasantly reminded me of the high drama of primary season two years ago, when I stood there confused, wondering why I was supposed to be inspired by vague promises of change instead of hard work and proven results. The time for music lifting up a people into social action is largely behind us, but if you’re going to try to resurrect it, it helps to clue us in on what you’re impelling us to do. Unless you just want to feel important for five minutes in an arena, I guess.
So the lyrics aren’t what you’d expect from Sugarland, even on an off day, and the arrangements fall flat on nearly every track. But you still have Jennifer Nettles at the mic, so that must be a net positive, right?
Wrong. I don’t know the Jennifer Nettles on most of this album. She yells at me, can’t enunciate, uses odd accents, and often sounds like she has a head cold, the latter being very pronounced on the could’ve-been-good-if-it-was-sung-better “Tonight.” I can only shake my head at the sad truth that the woman who once broke my heart singing about “Pictures, dishes, and socks” can now repeat the same word a dozen times in the title track without me being able to decipher it once. (The word is “calling”, by the way. Not that it matters, since it doesn’t make sense anyway.)
I can’t think of an album that has ever disappointed me more than this one. Having loved Love On the Inside and Live on the Inside, and simply adoring lead single, “Stuck Like Glue”, I really thought this was going to be good. The charm of that lead single, which brought reggae flavor firmly over to traditional Sugarland territory, had me thinking they could be country music’s Blondie, innovative in their integration of other genres without sacrificing their own musical identity. They decided to be its Starship instead, rejecting everything that made them distinctive and relevant and embracing a musical style that they aren’t even able to do competently, let alone do well.
Where were the adults to tell this A-list act that the music wasn’t working? Why even have a record label anymore, if they either can’t hear the sound of their top act throwing their careers away or don’t have the gumption to stop them before they do? This is a poorly conceived and poorly executed album. Even one of those would be bad enough, but the two of them together is worse than tragic. It’s a disgrace.
New releases are on the way from no less than eight past CMA Entertainer of the Year nominees and winners, along with current top sellers Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington, Jamey Johnson, and Montgomery Gentry.
So head on over to see that list, then come back to answer this question:
What Fall 2010 CD Release are you most excited for?
For me, it’s no contest. I can’t wait to hear Sugarland’s The Incredible Machine. Their last studio set, Love On the Inside, is my favorite mainstream country album of the past five years, and I still haven’t gotten tired of the covers they included in their stopgap set Live On the Inside.
Plus, “Stuck Like Glue” is my favorite lead single from any of their albums so far, no small feat given my deep affection for “Want To.” Given that a new Dixie Chicks album comes along about as quickly as a Senator goes up for re-election, I need a fix of music from a really great country band, stat.
arland-Stuck-Like-Glue-300×300.jpg” alt=”” width=”160″ height=”160″ />I could write a few paragraphs about why I love this song, but what’s the point?
They don’t sing the praises of Bubble Yum and S’Mores in Food & Wine magazine, but boy, do those treats taste good.
So you’ll have to look for the country connoisseur perspective elsewhere. All I have to say about “Stuck Like Glue” is this:
Listening to it makes me very happy.
Written by Kristian Bush, Shy Carter, Kevin Griffin, and Jennifer Nettles
Listen: Stuck Like Glue
Female artists dominated this year’s ACM Awards in a way that would have been unimaginable just five years earlier, with nearly all of the major winners of the evening coming from a female solo artist or a band that prominently features a female vocalist. More significantly, this year’s ACM dissented from the CMA this fall in the marquee categories of Entertainer and Female Vocalist, which makes this fall’s CMA Awards that much more unpredictable.
Here’s my spin on the show’s highlights:
Carrie Underwood wins Entertainer of the Year
Perhaps we should have known not to underestimate the fan base of Ms. Underwood, who helped deliver the singing siren her second consecutive win for Entertainer of the Year. With Taylor Swift dominating the Grammys and CMAs, it was easy to forget that Underwood has continued to do quite well in her own right. Her string of hits at radio – eleven consecutive top two hits, nine of which reached #1 – is unprecedented. She’s also had ten gold singles, three of which have sold platinum or better. Her third album, Play On, has moved her cumulative album sales past eleven million.
She’s consistently proven herself as a live vocalist and entertainer as well, with her once-awkward stage presence now a distant memory. She remains the genre’s most constant and dedicated ambassador, shown again with her heartfelt acceptance speech for the quite silly Triple Crown Award. So while I’m surprised by her win, I can’t say that I’m disappointed or that there’s another person who deserved it more.
Miranda Lambert wins Female Vocalist, Album, and Video
I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking, since Lambert’s won Album at this show before and the ACM was the first to award Patty Loveless in the Female Vocalist category, proving that the CMA doesn’t always get it right before the ACM does. “The House That Built Me” is shaping up to be a career record for her, making Lambert the presumptive favorite at this year’s CMA Awards. Much can happen between now and then, but it’s not difficult to imagine her repeating in these categories and adding Single and Song to boot.
Rascal Flatts had quite the run, but it’s clear that Lady Antebellum is now the group to beat. “Need You Now” is arguably more deserving of the hardware it won than its predecessor “I Run to You”, which earned Lady Antebellum a CMA and a Grammy. This group is a force to be reckoned with, and has the potential to dominate its Vocal category for a long time.
Brooks & Dunn win Vocal Duo
I should’ve seen this coming, as all of my colleagues at CU were able to. The ACM has always loved these guys, giving them two Entertainer wins and sticking with them when the CMA switched over to Montgomery Gentry and Sugarland. It helped that Sugarland was completely off the radar this year, clearing the way for a sympathy vote. But as I watched them perform “My Maria”, the cover song picked by fans over two excellent originals, it felt like 1996 all over again. They’re good at what they do, but it’s hard not to notice that their music never evolved much over the twenty years they spent in the spotlight.
Brad Paisley wins his fourth Male Vocalist trophy
It’s funny that the guy who waited forever to finally win this race has now become so dominant in it that nobody’s been able to take it from him. I can’t picture somebody else getting this in the fall. Can you?
Taylor Swift shut out
Our predictions for Swift varied, with all of us expecting her to win both Entertainer and Video, and some of us expecting similar victories in her other categories. But the shut-out makes sense. “You Belong With Me” lost to “Need You Now” in the big races, and to belle of the ball Miranda Lambert in Video and Female Vocalist. Her speed dialers just couldn’t keep up with Underwood’s in the night’s biggest category, resulting in the first Swift-free country awards show since the 2008 CMA Awards, I believe. It felt rather abrupt after her CMA and Grammy sweeps, but it also felt good not having to wince at her being named a standard-bearer after yet another mediocre performance.
Laura Bell Bundy, Kenny Chesney, and live music
Though at least Swift sang live, and she wasn’t the only one to sound less than great while doing so. Chesney lip-synched his heart out without moving a step on stage, while Bundy did an amazing song-and-dance number with a live mic that recalled the very best of Reba McEntire’s showstoppers from the nineties. The Broadway background helped her command the stage in the way that our B-listers simply couldn’t, and let’s be honest: the genre is mostly B-listers these days.
There’s certainly more to talk about. Thoughts?
Nashville takes over Vegas this Sunday for the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and it could actually be an interesting night. Eight acts are vying for Entertainer of the Year, one trio is poised to sweep the show, and a certain artist’s performance may solidify her as Music Row’s Lady Gaga. We’ll find out for sure Sunday at 8 pm Eastern, but in the meantime, we’ve picked ‘em and predicted ‘em. Sound off in the comments below.
Kevin: While I suspect that this will be the end of her impressive awards show victory lap, Swift should easily win this award. Does she deserve it? Probably. If I was an ACM voter (traditional member or willing to go vote online), I guess that I’d vote for George Strait, though my favorite among those with a real shot at this is Carrie Underwood.
Leeann: I predict Swift, though I don’t know if the backlash against her will thwart my prediction. Then again, the fan voting debacle will likely still work in her favor. I’ll throw my personal vote to Zac Brown Band, since I’ve really dug their live performances that I’ve seen on television. They seem like natural entertainers.
Dan: Fan-voted = Taylor Swift, with a possible Underwood repeat. But Swift hasn’t been as interesting post-Grammys. So I’ll also go with our resident grassroots heroes, ZBB.
Tara: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a five-year Underwood fan has been watching her stage presence gradually become as killer as her vocals, resulting in a powerful combination. I’d love for this to be properly recognized, and rationale seems pointless now that the EOTY race is a glorified internet fan war…but I can’t ignore that Underwood spent most of 2009 off stage. I’m going with Paisley.
Dan: It feels like Paisley’s winning streak may be just about up, which is a shame, since this year has actually been stronger material-wise for him than the years for which he’s won. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, Jason Aldean had a bigger year than any of these guys.
Tara: Paisley and Strait were the only two who impressed me in 2009, and Paisley’s material feels fresher and more interesting. But I agree with Dan that his winning streak has probably run its course, so I’ll go out on a limb and say Strait will be the one to edge him out.
Kevin: I agree with Dan but suspect that there isn’t another nominee with enough momentum to upset the status quo in this race. If I’m wrong, I hope it’s because Urban or Strait pull it off.
Leeann: I think Paisley just might have another year of winning left in him.
Tara: It’s really a toss-up between Lambert and Underwood for me, with personal preference and investment swaying me towards the latter artist. I’m eerily optimistic that the ACM voters will stick to the truest sense of the award’s title – as I adamantly believe they should – and sidestep Swift.
Kevin: This is the first time in my twenty years as a country fan that I’m rooting for Reba McEntire to win Female Vocalist, though I wanted her to win Entertainer every year she was nominated in the nineties. Consider me smitten by “Consider Me Gone.” As always, I’d be happy with an Underwood victory and I wouldn’t mind Womack or Lambert, either. I’m guessing that Lambert will actually win, given her widespread appeal among ACM voters and the fact that she’s had a big radio and retail breakthrough during the voting period.
Leeann: The Academy seems to like Lambert pretty well. Since this has been her biggest year to date, it’s hard for me to imagine that she won’t be rewarded for it.
Dan: I’m going to cautiously predict that Swift’s CMA win will carry over to ACM, but Underwood has been reliably successful, and Lambert’s got stronger momentum than ever. The latter is also my favorite mainstream act at the moment, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m rooting for her to take it.
Leeann: Lady A has the hype and momentum that makes it impossible for me to bet against them. I’d sure love to see ZBB prove me wrong ,though.
Dan: Little Big Town’s new single has me thinking I’ll probably be gunning for them again soon, but for now, I’m with Zac Brown Band.
Tara: I have a feeling the coming year(s) is going to be Lady Antebellum’s year o’ accolades, so I’d like to see the equally deserving Zac Brown Band pick this one up while they still have some momentum.
Kevin: This is becoming a habit. Predict LA, root for ZBB. This was so much easier when the Dixie Chicks were in the running.
Kevin: A sympathy vote might give B&D one more trophy, but it seems that both the CMA and ACM see this award as one that is passed down from one duo to the next, and not very often at that. I wonder if they will be calling this “The Sugarland Award” like it was once called “The Judds Award” and “The Brooks & Dunn Award.”
Leeann: I’d love to see Joey + Rory win, but I know it wouldn’t actually be fair if they did. So, I’m not officially picking them here. I’m pretty sure this one will go to Brooks & Dunn as a parting gift, though they’d be totally undeserving at this point. Really, Sugarland is probably the duo that makes most sense. It’s just too bad I’m not more personally invested in them, though I’ve warmed up a bit.
Dan: Sugarland have been off the radar since “Joey” trailed off months ago, and I still remember how ACM stuck with Brooks & Dunn that one year even after CMA had passed the torch. So I see the veteran duo winning again in a shrug. I’m indifferent, personally.
Tara: I keep going back on forth on this one. I want Brooks & Dunn to win, but I can’t rationalize it. I think the ACM voters may feel the same.
Kevin: It’s categories like this that make me feel out of touch with contemporary country music. I love Joey + Rory, but can’t see them winning. Who’s bigger now, Bryan or Gloriana? I’m taking a guess here.
Leeann: I’m like Kevin. I love Joey + Rory, but don’t imagine they’ll have enough votes to win. So, between Bryan and Gloriana, I’ll flip a coin and predict the latter.
Dan: Given the fan vote, I imagine this award will boil down to whether or not Taylor Swift has been urging her peoples to back Gloriana like she did with the AMAs. She hasn’t tweet-commanded it, and that’s as much research as I’m willing to do on the subject. So I’ll go with Bryan.
Tara: My best guess is that there’s enough fan overlap for Swift’s votes to lift Gloriana to victory.
Kevin: I’m expecting a Lady Antebellum sweep. They’re just ridiculously popular right now. But I could see any one of these five winning. I revisit the Underwood set more than any of the others.
Leeann: I can’t ignore Lady A’s popularity right now, but I’d love to see Lambert be recognized for one of my two favorite albums on this list, Paisley’s album being the other one.
Dan: Revolution doesn’t have the punch or consistency of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it’s got some brains, and I like that. I’m expecting a Lady A sweep too, though.
Tara: If my co-bloggers are right about a Lady A sweep, I’ll be pleased to see the trio’s underrated debut album take this award. But frankly, every album in this line-up is substantial, authentic and layered. I’m backing Revolution because it’s the sharpest of them all, created by the artist who has the firmest grasp on her potential.
Kevin: There’s only one career-changing single in the running here.
Leeann: Ditto to Kevin. But also, it’s my favorite in terms of melody.
Dan: I swear I’m not just being a spoilsport. I know “Need You Now” sounds great, and in many respects it was the single of the year. But I can’t get past how boring Lady A’s lyrics always are. There’s just not a single original phrase in that song, and it puts a damper on my experience listening to it.
Tara: It’s never been my personal favorite, but “Need You Now” finds the trio excelling at what it does best – honing in on specific, raw emotion and expressing it potently and believably. In a category as weak as this one, and with a performance as haunting as Scott’s, “Need You Now” is the clear winner.
Kevin: I like the writing of “Need You Now” more than the performance, even if it’s just a college dorm knock-off of “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” I range from indifference to active dislike for the rest of these entries.
Leeann: I think Lady A will sweep these awards, but I doubt that Swift will walk away with nothing. Since she’s most lauded for her songwriting skills, I predict that the Academy will continue the trend in this category.
Dan: “You Belong with Me” combines a memorable melody with telling details. Subject matter notwithstanding, it’s the only one of these songs I take seriously as a composition.
Tara: Unlike Kevin, I think “Need You Now” is better performed than written, but it’s still a great composition. I wouldn’t mind if Swift took this award, though.
Tara: The “You Belong With Me” video is brilliant in that it embodies everything that makes Swift relevant and appealing. I just really wish Paisley’s video had been better directed, because its message is so compelling.
Dan: That Swift video is mega-charming. But Lambert’s is a close second.
Kevin: I’m rooting for the only video I don’t reflexively skip past while channel surfing.
Kevin: Nice to see Griffin on the ballot, but “I Told You So” is among both my favorite Underwood and favorite Travis singles.
Leeann: Frankly, I’m not crazy about any of them, as long as the B&D collaboration doesn’t get the token vote.
Dan: Wish I liked “Seeing Stars” more. I’d actually probably go with presumptive favorite “Hillbilly Bone” if the song itself didn’t feel like such a Music Row toss-off. There’s charm in the idea and performances, but again, limp lyrics.
Tara: Underwood and Travis’ collaboration is the strongest and most exquisite of the bunch, but it feels a little like old news, with the news of the day being the inescapable (but nonetheless solid) “Hillbilly Bone.”
As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.
“Stay” swept the Song of the Year categories at all three industry shows, along with winning the ACM for Single Record. Allan’s presence here shows that being a little West Coast can still help a guy at the ACMs.
George Strait earned his second ACM Single Record award a decade after his first (“Check Yes or No”) and two and a half decades after having his first radio hit. Underwood won at the CMAs later that year. “Give it Away” is one of a small group of ACM winners to not receive a nomination at the CMA ceremony.
In the battle of biblical hits, the CMA picked Brooks & Dunn but the ACM picked Carrie Underwood. Much like George Strait would later win a CMA trophy for a different single (“I Saw God Today”), Underwood later triumphed at the CMA with “Before He Cheats.”
Because McGraw picked up the trophy at the CMAs in 2004, the field was cleared for Womack to win the CMA later in 2005. McGraw had won the ACM before for “It’s Your Love.”
Among all the lead nominees, only Toby Keith wasn’t a previous winner. Still, the award went to the new alcoholic’s creed, winning over a more pensive Jackson track and a big comeback hit for Randy Travis.
Chesney spent nearly two months at #1 with this hit, perhaps giving him the edge over the other mega-hits at radio from Keith, Urban, and Wills. As for the Trick Pony nomination, somebody really should find out what Heidi Newfield has on those ACM voters.
Jackson’s powerful 9/11 reflection stands out as the only ballad among his four ACM Single Record victories.
Toby Keith’s run of four consecutive nominations began this year. His album of the same name proved victorious that evening. Womack’s massive hit became an instant standard, and is incidentally the most recent winner to also be a genuine crossover hit.
As pop hits go, this one was a monster. “Amazed” even topped the Hot 100, the first country single to do so since “Islands in the Stream.”
Hill and hubby Tim McGraw each have two ACM trophies in this category, one solo and one shared.
While Yearwood had won over Rimes at the Grammys a few weeks earlier, the ACM sidestepped the big controversy of the year and gave the trophy to the biggest hit in the bunch.
It’s rare that the ACM goes with the song that was least successful at radio, but don’t let that #10 peak of “Blue” fool you. That hit was responsible for millions of record sales.
It was a stroke of marketing brilliance: add two singles to a box set of a genre superstar. When the first single became one of his biggest hits, the box set quickly became the top selling in country music history.
There have been a few wedding standards to win this award, though Montgomery’s hit didn’t cross over in its original form.
Jackson won the ACM with his massive hit, but the McEntire/Davis duet and the Yoakam track were Grammy winners.
Brooks & Dunn are among the most nominated artists in this category’s history, but this is their only victory.
This was Jackson’s first major industry award.
Garth-mania was beginning to peak in 1991. He swept the ACMs that year.
Clint Black is one of only three artists in the last twenty years to win for their first proper single, with Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes being the other two.
Mattea’s award-winning hit had such a high profile that it was even referenced in the dialog of the hit movie Rain Man.
Travis won for the second year in a row with what would become his signature hit.
This was technically his first single, but when released under the name Randy Traywick, it bombed. Warner Bros. then released “1982” under Randy Travis, and it went top ten. They then re-released this song, and it became his first #1 hit.
So successful was this winning single that the four legends would go on to release future collaborations as the Highwaymen.
Say what you want about this winner, but it was popular enough to sell two million 45s.
Another pop smash that moved two million 45s. Is there anybody over 30 who can’t sing along to the chorus?
Nelson’s had quite a few signature hits, but none bigger than this one.
This might be the most pop-flavored lineup in category’s history. Even the Mandrell hit doth protest too much.
Jones capped his biggest comeback in a career defined by them with several awards for this classic hit.
West Coast represent!
In a category of superstars, the Gentle Giant of Country Music was the victor.
All of these records made a big impact on both the country and the pop chart.
A surprising win, perhaps fueled by the momentum of Gilley’s previous single, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
Campbell made quite the comeback with this one, and it later inspired the Dolly Parton film vehicle Rhinestone, which earned an ACM nomination of its own for the Tex Ritter Award.
Smith may not have gotten all the recognition that his talent warranted, but he made two undeniable classics: “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”, and his winner here.
Rich’s two hits were so big that even with vote-splitting, he still emerged the winner.
Fargo was a local star on the West Coast before she broke through nationwide with this hit, dominating the 1973 ACM Awards as a result.
This gold-selling classic helped Hart triumph over the superstars of his day.
Each one of these is a classic in its own right. In a battle of Kristofferson-penned hits, Price emerged victorious, though Smith won the CMA later that year.
Haggard’s only victory in this category came on a night where he also won Album of the Year for the only time in several nominations.
Miller’s known for his legendary songwriting, but his winning hit here was penned by Bobby Russell.
A young Vern Gosdin made up half of the nominated Gosdin Bros., a nice historical footnote to the first year of this category. Glen Campbell’s victory was appropriately West Coast for the ACMs first attempt at honoring the national country music scene.
Facts & Feats:
Most Nominations Without a Win
Singles that Won Both the ACM and CMA Award: