2024 Academy of Country Music Awards: Predictions & Personal Picks

This year’s ACM Awards are upon us, and because we completed things with our usual sense of timeliness  – Jonathan got his entries done and spent days waiting on me to do mine – some winners have already been announced. We’ve got our predictions in the document anyway for posterity.

The winners so far:

  • Top New Female Vocalist: Megan Moroney
  • Top New Male Vocalist: Nate Smith
  • Top New Vocal Duo/Group: Tigirlily Gold
  • Songwriter: Ashley Gorley
  • Artist-Songwriter: Hardy

The scoreboard so far:


  • JK 4/5
  • KJC 3/5


  • JK 1/3
  • KJC 1/2

Here’s how to interpret the initials next to the individual nominees in each category:

Will Win – Bold initials

Should Win – Italic initials

Will Win and Should Win – Bold and Italic initials


Entertainer of the Year

Kane Brown – JK, KJC

Luke Combs

Jelly Roll

Cody Johnson

Chris Stapleton

Morgan Wallen – KJC

Lainey Wilson – JK

Kevin John Coyne:  Kane Brown represents country music better than any superstar has this century, and he’s going to be my choice to win this category every time he’s nominated. He’s a stadium-level act with the longest current streak of No. 1 singles, and he’s at home next to Randy Travis as he is to Marshmello. 

He’s an obvious Entertainer of the Year winner, though I think he had a better shot last year when he was nominated across the board. 

The ACM and CMA aren’t often on the same page in this category, and one of the key differences is that artists making asses of themselves doesn’t really bother the ACM, as long as they’re making money for the industry.

Toby Keith got two of these at the peak of his odiousness, and Jason Aldean was their Artist of the Decade. He returned to this category last year at the peak of his odiousness. Morgan Wallen is a perfect fit for them. What would be more on brand than awarding Morgan Wallen the top trophy on a night where Aldean pays tribute to Keith? 

JK: I’d honestly be fine with four possible outcomes here: Brown, Combs, Johnson, or Stapleton would each be a winner I would endorse without much reservation. I can at least entertain arguments in favor of both Jelly Roll and Wilson, though I’m significantly less sold on the two of them. And I’m hopeful that the latest round of evidence that Wallen had always been unrepentant in his ongoing sleaze– which happened smack dab in the middle of voting for these awards– will dissuade enough voters from rallying around him. As ever, his popularity should be its own reward.

Brown would be my choice for the win: The fundamental decency and kindness with which he has built his public persona stands in stark contrast to Wallen and his lack of guile is a welcome counterpart to Jelly Roll’s ability to cry on cue. But I imagine Wilson will continue her awards circuit dominance here. If her slew of wins last year seemed somewhat premature, they contributed to a higher profile that makes this specific recognition make more sense.


Male Artist of the Year

Luke Combs

Jelly Roll – JK

Cody Johnson – JK, KJC

Chris Stapleton

Morgan Wallen – KJC

KJC: Cody Johnson, Luke Combs, and Chris Stapleton all represent the best of what country music is today. Johnson in particular has been making exceptional music, and like Jonathan notes below, he’s on the upswing because he’s challenging himself to make better music.

Jelly Roll has potential but it feels early for him to be in this race. Wallen will likely repeat anyway. He made the worst music by a wide margin, but he’s on at least three songs in heavy rotation every week, and his album is parked at number one. If Jason Aldean and Thomas Rhett can win this three times, I don’t see why they won’t give Wallen a repeat victory and his second trophy. 

JK: In terms of who released the best music of these five over the last year, I’d give this to Johnson by a hair over both Combs and Stapleton. CoJo has truly pushed himself artistically, while Stapleton and Combs continue to perform at a consistently high level without straying far from their trademark formulae. I could actually see CoJo pulling off an upset, though I think he’s more likely to be recognized downballot.

Instead, I think this is likely between the radio juggernauts of Jelly Roll and Wallen. Of the two, I’d certainly go to bat for the former over the latter. Again, I think the fact that Wallen chose to show his entire problematic ass during the voting period is likely to swing enough voters over to Jelly Roll’s camp.


Female Artist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini – JK, KJC

Ashley McBryde

Megan Moroney

Kacey Musgraves

Lainey Wilson – JK, KJC

KJC:  Well, here I am recommending Kelsea Ballerini to be the year’s Top Female Vocalist. As much as I love Ashley McBryde, who I’d also be happy seeing win, her latest album just wasn’t as good as Ballerini’s.

Lainey Wilson feels like AI’s idea of what men who don’t really want women making country music would love about a woman making country music. I’ve yet to hear anything that I genuinely like. But she’s the designated lady of the day, so here we are.  

JK: It’s clear that at least some of the Music Row powers-that-be have soured on Ballerini since she started taking more outspoken progressive stances. She hasn’t been excommunicated to the Island Of Misfit Toys with The Chicks and Maren Morris just yet, so it’s nice to see her turn up here. She’d get my vote for turning in what’s easily the best work of her career– referring to “If You Go Down (I’m Going Down, Too)” first and foremost, then to rolling up the welcome mat– by a hair over McBryde, whose album was very, very good but not her strongest. There’s nothing I can say about the appalling rise of Moroney that Whitney Houston didn’t already say better and more concisely thirty years ago.

All of that is incidental to the fact that the industry has decided that Wilson is their current golden child. Even if I’m rarely more than lukewarm on her output, her win in this category at least makes sense.

Duo of the Year

Brooks & Dunn

Brothers Osborne – JK

Dan + Shay – KJC

Maddie & Tae

The War and Treaty – JK, KJC

KJC: Simply put, the War and Treaty made the best music, and Dan + Shay had the most commercial success. 

JK: Dan + Shay regained some of their commercial mojo with a pretty awful new album, so it’s possible they could reclaim their throne here. But Brothers Osborne actually scored the closest thing they’ve had to a hit in ages with “Nobody’s Nobody,” so I’m thinking they sneak out at least one more win. The BrOs’ latest album and follow-up EP are fine enough, as is the latest by The War & Treaty. As much as Maddie & Tae are years overdue to have won this, those are really the only two acts I’d consider this year.


Group of the Year

Flatland Cavalry – KJC

Lady A

Little Big Town

Old Dominion – JK, KJC

Zac Brown Band

KJC:  Flatland Cavalry is the best of the bunch, but I don’t think that the ACM will deviate from Old Dominion any time soon.

JK: Flatland Cavalry probably should win on principle, but if they’re making the short list because there are so few viable candidates– and it’s hilarious that they got more votes than Parmalee– then I don’t see why an act like Turnpike Troubadours or The Red Clay Strays shouldn’t be here, too. Old Dominion will inevitably repeat, and God, I cannot even pretend to care.


New Female Artist of the Year

Kassi Ashton

Ashley Cooke

Hannah Ellis

Kylie Morgan – JK

Megan Moroney – JK, KJC

KJC:  Moroney  seems best positioned due to the response to his recent work, but I honestly can’t pick an artist from this lineup that I think should win. 

JK: Morgan’s “If He Wanted to He Would” is probably the best music any of these five have released, though there’s promise in both Ashton’s and Cooke’s work. Ellis released a dreadful album that wasted her strong voice.

None of that matters, though. The country industry decided they were all-in on Moroney as soon as the rumors of her dating Wallen started to circulate last year. Music Row has thrown far too much money at her career already not to give her this as an attempt to maximize their ROI.


New Male Artist of the Year

Ernest – KJC

Kameron Marlowe

Dylan Scott

Conner Smith – JK

Nate Smith – JK

KJC:  Ernest seems best positioned due to the response to his recent work, but I honestly can’t pick an artist from this lineup that I think should win. 

JK: A win for Scott would be more absurd than Shelby Lynne’s “Best New Artist” Grammy, so don’t rule that out, but it stands to reason that Nate Smith, who’s getting a performance slot on the show– with Avril Lavigne and what the literal hell– has found enough favor with the ACM. Both Ernest and Conner Smith released better than expected albums this year, and I wouldn’t hate a win for either of them.


New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year

Neon Union

Restless Road

Tigirlily Gold – JK, KJC

KJC:  I’m fond of Restless Road, but not their most recent singles. Tigirlily Gold deserves to win on the strength of “I Tried a Ring On,” which likely makes them the only act voters are even familiar with. 

JK: Tigirlily Gold have a pretty fantastic single to their credit, while Neon Union doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page to tell me that they do, in fact, exist. Restless Road’s one not-good single just barely scraped the top 40, and it’s no wonder the Duo and Group categories have been so barren for over a decade.


Album of the Year

Gettin’ Old, Luke Combs

Higher, Chris Stapleton

Leather, Cody Johnson – KJC, JK

One Thing at a Time, Morgan Wallen – KJC

Rollin’ Up the Welcome Mat, Kelsea Ballerini

KJC:  Leather is a landmark album that deserves a whole wave of accolades. Combs and Ballerini are nominated for career-best work. Stapleton continues to grow as an artist and his latest album is also quite compelling.

But let’s get real here. This category has been won by Blue, Not a Moment Too Soon, Some Hearts, Shock n Y’all, and Dangerous: The Double Album based on their massive sales. Heck, even deserving winners like The Woman in Me, Fly, Brand New Man, and Golden Hour can credit their commercial success for putting them over the top.

One Thing at a Time is the only megahit album nominated, and the ACM likes to reward the same artists over and over again in this category anyway. Wallen will win in a walk.  

JK: Here we have four very good to spectacular albums and an album that is the musical equivalent to the idea that Taco Bell has the best tacos because they sell the most tacos. And there are enough people who believe that argument when it comes to music that there is a non-zero chance that Wallen could win, especially if the other four nominees simply split the vote among people who give half a damn about what it is they’re purportedly voting for.

Optimistically, Johnson’s multiple nominations this year suggest that voters are bullish on him. And, like Miranda Lambert before she truly started running the table on the awards circuit, I think it’s his album that is most likely to earn him his first “big” prize. It’ll be well-deserved, too: Leather was one of 2023’s finest records, a standout even among the solid work from Stapleton and Combs and a career-best effort by Ballerini.


Single Record of the Year

“Burn it Down,” Parker McCollum

“Fast Car,” Luke Combs – KJC, JK

“Last Night,” Morgan Wallen – JK

“Need a Favor,” Jelly Roll – KJC

“Next Thing You Know,” Jordan Davis

KJC: Jelly Roll needs to win somewhere, and this seems like his best shot. “Fast Car” is so many light years ahead of the other four efforts here artistically, it’s not even funny, but “Need a Favor” hits that substance/success sweet spot that the ACM often favors in this category. 

JK: This is the category I think is most likely to go to Wallen, since some voters may view it as a vote for the single itself and not as a vote for him. Sort of how Grammy voters sneaked “Last Night” into the Best Country Song category as a way to recognize its popularity without having to nominate Wallen, who wasn’t among its 7248 co-writers, for the award himself.

Combs should win for his Tracy Chapman cover, and it’s not even close.


Song of the Year

“Fast Car” – KJC, JK

Written by Tracy Chapman

Recorded by Luke Combs

“Heart Like a Truck”

Written by Trannie Anderson, Dallas Wilson, and Lainey Wilson

Recorded by Lainey Wilson

“Next Thing You Know”

Written by Jordan Davis, Greylan James, Chase McGill, and Josh Osborne

Recorded by Jordan Davis

“The Painter”

Written by Hunter Phelps, Jordan Schmidt, Michael Hardy, and Renee Blair

Recorded by Cody Johnson

“Tennessee Orange”

Written by David Fanning, Megan Moroney, Paul Jenkins, and Ben Williams

Recorded by Megan Moroney

KJC:  “Fast Car” being nominated means one of the best country songs of the last few years (“The Painter”) is competing with one of the best songs of all time from any genre. So unless voters prioritize the Year over the Song, I think this is an easy win for Chapman and Combs. 

JK: Certainly none of the other songs are even in conversation with “Fast Car” as a composition. In a different year, I’d be fine with “The Painter” getting a win for Song Of The Year, but against Chapman’s iconic song? Nope.


Visual Media of the Year

“Burn it Down,” Parker McCollum

“Human,” Cody Johnson  – JK

“In Your Love,” Tyler Childers – JK, KJC

“Next Thing You Know,” Jordan Davis – KJC

“Tennessee Orange,” Megan Moroney

KJC: Man, this category used to have such epic music videos.

Now we’ve got Parker McCollum singing in front of trash can fires, Cody Johnson riding a horse, Jordan Davis cribbing off “This is Us,” and Megan Moroney playing dress up.

The only videos with actual narratives are the Davis clip and the period piece by Childers. The latter would hardly be considered ambitious by nineties standards – Tracy Lawrence used a time traveling conceit to string together multiple period pieces back in the day – but it’s head and shoulders above the rest here.

I just doubt enough voters have seen it to give it the edge over Davis. 

JK: If “In Your Love” was sufficiently on voters’ radar that it made the line-up here, then it stands to reason it ought to have made the final ballot for Song Of The Year, too, in lieu of the laughable carryover nomination for “Heart Like a Truck.” The idea of Childers as an ACM winner seems almost too good to be true, so I’ll say Johnson picks this up, too, but I could also see this being a bone that they throw to Davis, who’s unlikely to win elsewhere.

Music Event of the Year

“Can’t Break Up Now,” Old Dominion & Megan Moroney

“Different ‘Round Here,” Riley Green featuring Luke Combs

“I Remember Everything,” Zach Bryan featuring Kacey Musgraves – JK 

“Man Made a Bar,” Morgan Wallen featuring Eric Church

“Save Me,” Jelly Roll with Lainey Wilson – JK, KJC

KJC: I don’t like any of these songs. I assume Roll/Wilson will win based on their strength across the ballot. 

JK: I don’t love “I Remember Everything” the way some folks do, but it’s the best real collaboration among this line-up. I do think they have a shot at this, if the other radio hits siphon enough votes from the collab between the two current awards-magnets.


Songwriter of the Year

Jessie Jo Dillon

Ashley Gorley – JK, KJC

Hillary Lindsey

Chase McGill

Josh Thompson

KJC:  Ashley Gorley wrote a dozen songs with Morgan Wallen this year. 

JK: I don’t have a dog in this fight, quality-wise. Gorley continues to amass a catalog of #1 hits that impresses for its sheer volume, if nothing else, so I assume he’ll win based on that metric.


Artist-Songwriter of the Year

Zach Bryan – JK


Hardy – KJC

Chris Stapleton JK, KJC

Morgan Wallen

KJC:  Hardy seems to be the industry darling these days, and I think this category is going to be used primarily to reward songwriters who are trying to become singers. Wish it was around in the Matraca Berg/Gretchen Peters/Kim Richey days. 

JK: Just a baffling category. Even reviewing the eligibility criteria, I have no idea what this is supposed to be about or why it exists, other than to perpetuate the false belief that singer-songwriters are inherently superior to artists who rely on outside songwriters. I say give this to Stapleton if only because I wouldn’t want him to go home empty-handed in a year when he put out quality work. As to who will win? Bryan benefits from a split vote?

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