My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

A few thoughts on the CMA awards

shockedWe didn’t do too well with our predictions of this year’s CMA Award winners. In part, that’s probably because we gave the CMA way too much credit for artistic integrity. Next year, I’m going to take a look at the nominees and predict the very worst person in each category, and I suspect I’ll do better than I did this year.

None of us expected Taylor Swift to walk away with four awards, including Entertainer and Female Vocalist. After she delivered yet another poor live performance on the telecast, the Association looks like a set of idiots whose critical faculties have been drowned out by the jangle of cold hard cash. Yes, commercial success has always had an impact on CMA and other award voting, and that’s probably fair enough – it’s one of the factors that measures any artist’s impact on the genre. Carrie Underwood’s three wins as Female Vocalist were largely based on her high sales and radio play rather than her vocal prowess per se, but never, in my experience, to the degree that someone as poor a technical singer as Taylor, who doesn’t even sound good with ProTools, and whose vocals are truly horrific without them, is rewarded quite so generously with so little artistic merit. I wouldn’t have given her Album of the Year myself, especially when Jamey Johnson’s near-masterpiece was on the ballot, but at least there was some possible logic underpinning that decision. It is fairly widely agreed that Taylor’s main strength is in writing songs that appeal to young girls, rather than actually singing them, and this at least rewarded her for her body of work. And in this category, rewarding sales figures does make some sense. But Entertainer for a teenager who has only been recording for a few years and Female Vocalist for someone who manifestly has trouble singing in tune both bring the Association into disrepute. I said, “making her Female Vocalist would rightly attract derision, especially if she sings live on the telecast,” and after watching her performances on this year’s show, I feel I was absolutely right.

On a happier note, there was one award I was thoroughly pleased by – ‘In Color’ winning Song of the Year. It should have won Single too, as it was by far the best record in that category. It appears that the industry really likes Lady Antebellum, though. It was good to see them winning Group of the Year, if only because they aren’t Rascal Flatts. Lady A aren’t really country to my ears, but their music is pleasantly inoffensive melodic pop or AC– that’s a major improvement over Rascal Flatts, who make my ears hurt. I wasn’t very familiar with the Zac Brown Band’s work but I think I could get interested in them.

It was also nice to see the voters weren’t swayed by the sentimental thought of Brooks & Dunn breaking up. Perhaps they too realized that in all likelihood they’ll still be on the ballot next year. In fact, with a big farewell tour planned, they would be eligible for Entertainer of the Year next time around, and they could even win it. Of course it will be even more overdue for Brad Paisley then, but I’m starting to wonder if he ever will win this award, having lost out to Taylor this year.

Back to our predictions, and I am happy to report that Chris was the best predictor among the MKOC staff, with six accurate picks. His faith in Lady Antebellum and Sugarland paid off there. Meg and I got four each, and J.R. and Razor only managed two each. Congratulations, Chris!

40 responses to “A few thoughts on the CMA awards

  1. Bob November 13, 2009 at 8:59 am

    I wonder if TS realizes how bad she is.

  2. Razor X November 13, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I had a similar thought yesterday when I looked at my dismal performance in predicting the winners — that next time I’m going to take a “vote for the worst” approach and see if I can do any better. It certainly would have yielded better results this time around, since Taylor Swift was clearly the least deserving nominee in each of the four categories that she swept.

    I know that I shouldn’t care so much about these awards, which are largely political, but it just sickens me that the Entertainer of the Year award has been cheapened and debased by giving it to someone who is not only widely acknowledged to be a poor vocalist, but whose music is country in name only. Commercial success has always played a part in who wins awards, but there was a time when the CMAs would take a stand for artistry — such as when Vince Gill and Patty Loveless won Vocal Event of the Year for “My Kind of Woman, My Kind of Man”, despite the fact that it stalled at #27 on the charts. Or when “O Brother Where Art Thou” was named Album of the Year. Or when Alison Krauss won Female Vocalist of the Year, despite the fact that she sold less than any of the ladies she was competing against that year.

    This is the biggest travesty in CMA history, and unfortunately it is going to result in a lot of Taylor wannabes and copycats getting record deals and more lousy pop music on mainstream country radio. Not that I will be listening.

    • highwayman3 November 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

      Another stand for artistry came in 2003 when Faith Hill and Shania Twain didn’t get nominated for female, even though they were the most popular and the biggest ambassadors of country to the world. They instead went with Patty Loveless and Dolly Parton. I assume the reasoning was they were too pop, how the times have changed.

  3. J.R. Journey November 13, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I didn’t think Taylor would or should have swept the show like she did, but I’m not all that surprised. I think all the articles talking about the ‘changing sea’ in country music are very spot-on right now. The teens have taken over for the time being and there’s not much we can do about it aside from support every traditional act that comes along.

    I also think it’s kinda funny that most people are saying they don’t mind Swift being named Entertainer – our genre’s biggest honor – but are more peeved by her winning Female Vocalist because she’s not a good ‘vocalist’. My thoughts are if she didn’t deserve the Vocalist award, she surely didn’t deserve Entertainer.

    And as I’ve already said, none of the winners of Entertainer for the past decade have even been close to traditional, so the argument that Swift shouldn’t win because she ‘isn’t country’ just doesn’t work for me. The Entertainer of the Year hasn’t went to a truly traditional artist in 20 years. So why is Swift’s winning the biggest travesty? Personally, I would rank Chesney’s record-breaking number of wins in the category the biggest travesty in recent history.

    It was great to see Barbara Mandrell get some stage time regarding her Hall of Fame induction – and to see Martina and Strait get to perform (the entire song) in her honor. So the CMA finally got something right Wednesday night.

    • Razor X November 13, 2009 at 11:22 am

      also think it’s kinda funny that most people are saying they don’t mind Swift being named Entertainer – our genre’s biggest honor – but are more peeved by her winning Female Vocalist because she’s not a good ‘vocalist’. My thoughts are if she didn’t deserve the Vocalist award, she surely didn’t deserve Entertainer.

      I agree and said pretty much the same thing at Country Universe.

      And as I’ve already said, none of the winners of Entertainer for the past decade have even been close to traditional, so the argument that Swift shouldn’t win because she ‘isn’t country’ just doesn’t work for me. The Entertainer of the Year hasn’t went to a truly traditional artist in 20 years. So why is Swift’s winning the biggest travesty?

      It’s not a matter of her music not being traditional. It’s a matter of it not being country at all, as well as not being particularly good. I agree that Chesney didn’t deserve to win as many times as he did. And Alan Jackson won the award in 2002 and 2003, so a traditional artist has won within the past decade.

      • Leeann Ward November 13, 2009 at 11:34 am

        I’ll say this at Country Universe too: I actually don’t think vocal has to be a major part of Entertainer and I think it’s valid to separate it from the vocalist award. Back in the day, I would have supported a Kris Kristofferson Entertainer award, but not a male vocalist one. While I love Kristofferson (and even get his voice) and he’s a hell of a better songwriter than Taylor, I don’t think his voice is technically good. His live album, Broken Freedom Song, is wonderful though and I’ve heard great things about his live shows.

      • C_Bar_Dick November 14, 2009 at 1:40 pm

        The thing I remember about Jackson wining, was his comment about winning that award. Something to the effect, “I don’t know…. I just stand there and sing.” Amen brother!
        That was the last show I watched, as the music was head in a downward spiral.

  4. Tom November 13, 2009 at 11:15 am

    every award that talyor swift won a this year’s cma show was well deserved. no other country artist has a bigger global reach than her, at the moment. in fact, it bodes quite well for the genre as such that there was arguably a very valid alternative in each category that she won. her sweep was by no means a free ride. one reason, why people love country music is that there have always been excellent vocalists female or male performing this music. this time round it may not be such a clear case but in my ears taylor swift’s vocals go magnificently with the material she writes. it comes across very credible – an almost perfect match. hence, even this much disputed result is by no means undeserved. The only real drawback from wednesday night will be that labels will feel encouraged to churn out more artists of the quality of lady a, BOMSHEL, gloriana, etc., believing that they are the flavour of the month. for the foreseeable future we’ll have to live with increasingly pop-sounding country on the radio. then again, chris young might be the first shy sign of change. not that i’m too confident about that, however. but who knows?

    • Razor X November 13, 2009 at 11:24 am

      Any country act can have a huge commercial impact by releasing a pop album. That is nothing new and it does not promote or help the genre in the long run; it weakens it by further blurring the lines between country and pop.

  5. Razor X November 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

    @ Leeann —

    I agree that Kristofferson is not and never has been a good vocalist. I actually wouldn’t have chosen him for Entertainer of the Year, either. He’s deserving for an award honoring his achievements as a songwriter, but not as a performer, IMO.

    Being a good vocalist is not necessarily a prerequisite for Entertainer of the Year, IMO, if the nominee is an otherwise good musician. Roy Clark, who won back in 1973 falls into that category — not a great singing voice, but an excellent and versatile musician. If Taylor were able to pick like Roy does, I might not have a problem with her win, although I tend to agree with Wynonna that it is too soon to be giving her such an honor.

  6. Tom November 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    @ razor x

    not any country act can have global commercial success by releasing a pop-album. here in europe only dolly parton, shania twain, the dixie chicks (to a certain degree) and now taylor swift were successful. faith hill failed. any other? – i can’t think of any, actually. it’s even more bleak when you look at male country artists making a noticeable impact over here (outside the insider-scene). you end up with garth and johnny cash, only. big hitters like rascal flatts, brooks & dunn, chesney, mcgraw even george strait or alan jackson are just: who?

  7. Razor X November 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Leave it to the folks at Farce the Music to sum things up perfectly:

    http://www.farcethemusic.com/2009/11/rip.html

  8. Bob November 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Leeann said: I actually don’t think vocal has to be a major part of Entertainer and I think it’s valid to separate it from the vocalist award. Back in the day, I would have supported a Kris Kristofferson Entertainer award, but not a male vocalist one. While I love Kristofferson (and even get his voice) and he’s a hell of a better songwriter than Taylor, I don’t think his voice is technically good.

    I agree. Garth is a great entertainer but he was never a great singer. Likewise, Brad Paisley. Garth has the charisma, Brad the sense of humor. I guess it’s even remotely possible that Jamey Johnson could develop into a good entertainer but a great vocalist – no. His vocals are as bad as Kristofferson and Bob Dylan. Of the new artists, I think Chris Young sounds the best (at least on cd. i haven’t heard him perform live) however great singer does not necessarily translate into great entertainer. The best example I can recall was seeing the Carpenters over 30 years ago. Karen Carpenter’s vocals were perfect but they had zero personality. Sadly, her medical condition may have been a contributing factor. (Sorry I couldn’t think of a country example of great singer with no presonality. Maybe other readers can.)

    Loved the tombstone at farcethemusic.

    • Razor X November 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm

      Conway Twitty didn’t have a lot of personality onstage. He rarely even spoke to the audience, saying that they were to hear him sing, not speak.

  9. Claudia November 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    “Fearless” has been a huge album, at a time when the music industry really needs it. Since Taylor writes and produces, its win for Album of the Year is ok with me. It’s a real accomplishment, regardless of what you think of it.

    No problem with Video. “Love Story” was well-done.

    Let’s face it, no entertainer in any genre has had a bigger year. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. I understand her show is really good, and she certainly has represented the genre well, putting out a positive image. Isn’t that part of the criteria for the award? I have no problem with it. Like Shania in 1999, it is simply her year, like it or not.

    The Problem: Female Vocalist. She doesn’t sing well. A vocal coach would really help her. She writes for her range, and can’t really venture out of it with any success. Truth be told, she probably shouldn’t have been nominated. It is ridiculous to see Reba, Martina, Carrie, & Miranda ignored for this award. They are all wonderful vocalists. It was a travesty. Perhaps, like the Grammys, a vocalist should be nominated for a particular performance. As it stands now, this seems to be the award for The Female Singer Who Had The Most Successful Year. That’s different from a “vocalist” award, which this should be.

    • Razor X November 13, 2009 at 4:37 pm

      The problem is two-fold: not only does she not sing well, her music is not country. No amount of commercial success can change either one of those things.

      You said that she represents the genre well. I’m more inclined to say that she misrepresents it. Take a look at her first performance the other evening and tell me what was country about it.

      • Claudia November 13, 2009 at 4:51 pm

        “Representing the genre” in the sense that she projects a positive image, I believe that is what the criteria for the award talks about…putting the genre in a positive light.

        Was the opening number Country? Well, is that based on the instruments? Pedal steel, dobros, banjos, etc? Subject? It certainly was about emotions. Are emotions Country? Does it have to be about drinking, trains, mama, and prison? I always remember the guff Shania took along these same lines. Today, her stuff, especially “The Woman in Me” is more traditional than 90% of what’s on the radio. So, I guess, it’s Country 2009 style.

      • Steve from Boston November 13, 2009 at 6:45 pm

        You nailed it here Razor:

        The problem is two-fold: not only does she not sing well, her music is not country. No amount of commercial success can change either one of those things.

        You said that she represents the genre well. I’m more inclined to say that she misrepresents it.”

        A perfect encapsulation here, well said.

        Like Carrie before her, Taylor * mis*represents country music to a very wide audience.

  10. Razor X November 13, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Was the opening number Country? Well, is that based on the instruments? Pedal steel, dobros, banjos, etc? Subject?

    You can base it on whatever you like. I’m interested in hearing why you think it was country.

    Are emotions Country?

    Not necessarily. All genres of music deal with emotions.

    Does it have to be about drinking, trains, mama, and prison?

    No.

    • Claudia November 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm

      Defining “Country” is hard. Taylor is writing and singing about her real life experiences. Lots of her contemporaries relate, as they’re going through similar things. Older people have a harder time…who really remembers what it was like to be 15? As she gets older, what she writes about will change, as her experiences change. But for now, she’s writing about her life. That’s not a bad definition of Country music. It’s not Traditional Country, either in instrumentation or subject matter, but it’s not just silly Pop fluff, either. She ain’t Hank, but then, who is?

  11. Bob November 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Taylor has “Swift-Throated” country music.

  12. Leeann Ward November 14, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Steve,
    Since you brought up Carrie, I don’t consider her to be any less country than Faith Hill, Martina McBride (after 1994) or even current Sara Evans for that matter. I have a post on this topic swishing around in my head that I just may write someday.

    • Steve from Boston November 14, 2009 at 1:25 pm

      True, but Carrie has been the dominant face of Country for the ladies for the past few years now. Sara’s voice, however, is inherently more country sounding, more “mountainy” than the three you mentioned, including Carrie. And I blame Faith and Martina for leading Sara astray .;)

      I just see Taylor’s acendancy as the next logical progression after Carrie..I’m a little surprised that Taylor’s sweep has taken so many by surprise ..the trend has been favoring younger and younger, and more and more pop sounding female artists for the past few years at least.

      • Steve from Boston November 15, 2009 at 1:03 am

        Also, the difference between Carrie vs.Martina and Faith is that Carrie brought in a much younger demographic, than these others, and these young folks found someone even younger, and more pop sounding than Carrie that they could relate to in Taylor.

        Martina and Faith blurred the lines between pop and country, paving the way for Carrie. Carrie blurred those lines even further, imo, and made Taylor’s acendancy almost inevitable.

  13. Paul W Dennis November 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I didn’t watch the CMA awards as I suspect what actually unfolded. My only knock against Taylor Swift is that she can’t sing, but she’s no more or less country than many acts of the past including much of what artists such as Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle and John Denver recorded.

    As far as Entertainer of The Year, it might slip past Paisley, in the same way that it slipped past Randy Travis. Then again Ernest Tubb was a terrific entertainer, even into the mid 1970s and never even got nominated .

    • Leeann Ward November 14, 2009 at 11:56 am

      Ah…ET is another person who may have deserved Entertainer, but not vocalist. I think the two awards can be separated.

      • Razor X November 15, 2009 at 1:38 am

        I’d be interested in hearing why some people who concede that Taylor is a poor vocalist still think she’s a good entertainer. What does she really have to offer — as a performer, not a songwriter? Her head-banging performance Wednesday night was an embarrassment, and I think that is a charitable description.

  14. Razor X November 15, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Martina and Faith blurred the lines between pop and country, paving the way for Carrie. Carrie blurred those lines even further, imo, and made Taylor’s acendancy almost inevitable.

    I think Taylor would have arrived on the scene with or without Carrie. There’s not a lot of overlap in their fan bases, based on the ongoing feud between the two camps.

    • Steve from Boston November 15, 2009 at 2:51 am

      I think the feud represents the most vocal of the two camps, but the young demographic as a whole, a silent majority, supports (or supported, perhaps sequentially, ) both artists, I’m almost certain of that. But I could be wrong.

      On the other hand, I think a lot of fickle youngsters may have jumped camps when they found someone even younger, and even more pop sounding, in the person of Taylor Swift.

  15. Tom November 15, 2009 at 11:09 am

    @ razor x

    why should performers be rewarded by the country music industry for releasing pop albums?

    easy answer – over here, taylor swift is almost always labelled as “country star”, ” young country singer”, “country music sensation” in the media. although, there isn’t really such a big hype yet. moreover, outside the usa she’s been single-handedly turning more attention to country music lately than all the other stars that could be seen at the cma awards, together. on top of everything, since there are hardly any pure fm country radiostations in europe, her music still sounds pretty country compared to the rest that’s played all day long, here.

    • Razor X November 15, 2009 at 11:20 am

      Europe is a bit different since there isn’t any country music infrastructure (i.e., radio stations, etc) to speak of. Taylor is being marketed as a pop act there, and competing with other pop acts. I’m not sure how her popularity benefits country music as a whole. If there were country radio stations there, as there are here in the States, and more people were listening to them because of Taylor, then that would be a valid point. But are people really inspired to go out and buy albums by other country artists after hearing Taylor on a pop station? I don’t know.

      • Erik November 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm

        As someone who lives outside of the US, I can tell you that Taylor IS getting a lot of attention here. I hear “Love Story” wherever I go. Yet, nobody knows that she’s a country artist. They consider her to be just as pop as Hannah Montana.

  16. Pingback: » Cma Awards 2009 Winners Cma Award Winners Third Watch

  17. Claudia November 16, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Haven’t seen Taylor’s show, but this review of her Madison Square Garden appearance gives some insight into what it’s like.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/08/28/taylor-swift-plays-madison-square-garden-brings-her-own-princess-castle/

  18. Tom November 16, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    @ razor

    i don’t know either for sure. but if the past is any guidance, then it can be safely argued that she won’t do any harm, either.

    in the seventies the bellamy brothers, a duo, that i always considered being more pop than country had a big hit here in europe with “let your love flow”. on the back of that melody, german “schlager” (hit) – singer, jürgen drews, recorded the song with german lyrics – “ein bett im kornfeld” (a bed in the cornfield). last year, this song was votet by audience phone-in: biggest german schlager-hit of all time, during a saturday night tv-show that could be seen in germany, switzerland and austria.

    around the same time in the seventies, don williams had a major radio-hit over here with “some broken hearts never mend”. there’s a youtube-clip showing him performing the song live in the then very popular weekly german tv-show “disco”. a programme that mostly featured british pop-bands at the time. having said that, tanya tucker also had an appearance there around that time.

    in the eighties kenny rogers and dolly parton were the voice of country music on the radio over here.

    during this decade it was up to shania twain and ex- boy band member, ronan keating, who scored big hits with covers of garth’ “if tomorrow never comes” and keith whitley’s “when you say nothing at all”.

    actually, when it comes to keith whitley songs, just by cutting back a little on fiddle and steel, their melodies appeal to all sorts of contemporary music audiences anywhere with remarkable ease. so, it is by no means a new phenomenon that audiences outside the die-hard country environment enjoy melodies and lyriks of country music. stripping the songs of some of the twang is like cutting off the fat from your steak – but hey, if someone likes it better that way, no real harm’s done.

    on that note, let’s just see what ms. swift is going to achieve globally in the future. i’m very courious.

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