Here are my predictions for the 47th annual show, airing next Wednesday on ABC. Do you agree/disagree? As always you can check out the nominations, here.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
A solid list of well deserving nominees, minus Carrie Underwood, whose lack of a nomination has already incurred my wrath. Taylor Swift may be the biggest star here, but the Country Music Association deserve credit for keeping their traditional edge alive and including George Strait, whose in the middle of his final tour.
Should Win: George Strait – he won back-to-back in 1989 and 1990 and deserves his third win this year, while he’s half way through his two year goodbye to the road
Will Win: Luke Bryan – he’s the biggest male artist in country music right now, selling huge amounts of albums and ranking up hit after hit. He’s on top and here to stay, which a win in this category is going to prove.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
A surprising yet diverse list of nominees with Florida Georgia Line’s behemoth squaring off with Darius Rucker’s mainstream reading of an underground smash going up against Kacey Musgraves’ critical favorite, and Miranda Lambert’s best dose of angst since “Gunpowder & Lead.” I only wish The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” was here in place of “Highway Don’t Care.”
Should Win: “Mama’s Broken Heart” – the fourth single from Four The Record was album’s best and proof that artists who get complacent should put down their own pen and let the professionals take over.
Will Win: “Cruise” – It’s the #1 song in country music history with a rap remix that also made it relevant in pop, and more than five million digital downloads. Is there any other single of the year?
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Taylor Swift’s first (but likely not last) foray into pop is up against Kacey Musgraves’ critical smash and Little Big Town’s coming out. Underwood’s album is just okay and Shelton’s should’ve been replaced with Ashley Monroe’s Like A Rose.
Should Win: Same Trailer Different Park – the best album of the bunch comes from a 24-year-old who pours more life experience into her twelve songs than all the other nominees combined. One of the strongest major label debuts in years.
Will Win: Red – name recognition alone will endear her to voters, who’ve been handing this award to the biggest star for the past several years. Not even the fact it’s a pop album will hurt her.
SONG OF THE YEAR
The artistic category, with more than just artists who wrote their own singles nominated. Bob Dylan is a curious inclusion, but his nomination will play out like Roger Miller’s (1998 for Brooks & Dunn’s “Husbands and Wives”) and Randy Travis’s (2008 for Carrie Underwood’s “I Told You So”) before him. I’m all for the Brandy Clark/Shane McAnally/Musgraves team, though, who are the best writers in all of Nashville right now.
Should Win: “Merry Go ‘Round” – a Matraca Berg throwback, McAnally, Musgraves, and Josh Osborne have crafted one of the strongest tales about small town life to hit the country top 10 in many, many years.
Will Win: “I Drive Your Truck” – of all the nominees in this category, this was the least surprising. I don’t understand the hoopla over this song, but it seems to have struck an emotional core that only the best country songs can.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Isn’t it ironic that the biggest star here is Swift, the only nominee that didn’t come from a reality singing competition? Clarkson and Underwood won American Idol while Musgraves and Miranda Lambert were Nashville Star finalists. It’s also worth noting that Martina McBride, who’s been inactive this year, is absent from this list for the first time in fourteen consecutive years.
Should Win: Carrie Underwood – a sold out tour, four #1 hits, and that voice. She’s more than earned her first trip back to the podium in five years, and fourth trophy overall.
Will Win: Miranda Lambert – She’s won the past three years and I don’t see that changing this year. It’ll be a yawner, but she’ll get that fourth trophy hands down.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
How Keith Urban scored a nomination here, in place of Dierks Bentley, I’ll never know. He’s had a great year, but what’s a guy have to do to earn some affection from the industry?
Should Win: Luke Bryan – his material may be the equivalent of dog dung on a shingle, but he’s without a doubt the strongest male vocalist of these nominees.
Will Win: It’ll be interesting to see if Bryan falls into the Kenny Chesney/Garth Brooks trap of winning Entertainer but being shut out here. Blake Shelton will probably take it home yet again, anyways.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Isn’t it amazing how quickly Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band (who’s never won) have faded into oblivion? This is essentially a two-way race, with Little Big Town on a collusion course with The Band Perry, with about equal chance either of them could come out on top.
Should Win: Zac Brown Band – isn’t it about time they were finally recognized? This may not have been a breakout year for them, but on pure musicianship alone they have earned this trophy.
Will Win: Little Big Town – “Pontoon” is up for Song and Tornado is in the album race. They’ll win their second and final trophy, making way for The Band Perry’s first of many consecutive wins in this category starting in 2014.
VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR
I could justify the tie in the voting, which lead to this nonsensical six-nominee race, if all the acts were worthy. But how did Sugarland and Big & Rich squeak in when they had little to no activity during the eligibility period?
Should Win: The Civil Wars – they crafted their second album amidst their bitter break-up and came out on top when it hit #1 on the Billboard 200. They are the critical darlings and deserve recognition here.
Will Win: Florida Georgia Line – no other act had as big a year as they did, not even Thompson Square, who won last year.
MUSICAL EVENT OF THE YEAR
When I was anticipating who would be nominated, I fully expected “Boys ‘Round Here,” and “The Only Way I Know” to score nominations in the Single and Song race. That didn’t happen, thankfully, but they show up here, along with Kelly Clarkson’s somewhat creepy love song with Vince Gill, Tim McGraw’s best single in years, and “Cruise” featuring a guest vocal by Nelly, a rapper.
Would it really have been that awful to nominate “Bruises,” Train’s duet with Ashley Monroe? I mean, if Nelly could squeak in…
Should Win: “Don’t Rush” – it’s the best song here
Will Win: “Highway Don’t Care” – the Aldean/Bryan/Church duet won at the ACMs in April, but CMA voters are going to find McGraw and Swift teaming up too hard to resist
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR
The list is solid, with cinematic level clips that elevated the songs to new heights, from Underwood’s take on the Wizard of Oz to Little Big Town’s revenge anthem, and McGraw’s ode to drunk driving. Only the Lambert piece is silly, a lazy excuse from an artist who clearly didn’t have time to make something better.
Should Win: “Highway Don’t Care” – a creepy love song between a 45-year-old man and 23-year-old woman becomes an ode to drunk driving, where Swift is the song on the radio distracting the driver, not McGraw’s lover. Shane Drake has turned in one of the best music videos in years, a piece that elevates the song like only the best music videos can.
Will Win: “Blown Away,” “Tornado,” or “Highway Don’t Care” – the three best videos in this race, all powerful in their own ways, and all bait for the voters. Any of these could walk away the winner, but Underwood will most likely take it so the CMA can look like they gave her something, since chances aren’t great she’ll win Female Vocalist or Album.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR
This is an interesting list, where artistry (Musgraves) collides with commercial viability (Florida Georgia Line). They’re the frontrunners, although Kip Moore and Brice, with multiple consecutive number one hits between them, are the dark horses and shouldn’t be counted out.
Should Win: Kacey Musgraves – in the battle of the frontrunners, she’s the only one with two nominations for Song of the Year – one for her own single and one for a song she gave away. She’s an artist as well as a writer, and the only nominee with true artistic potential.
Will Win: Florida Georgia Line – one massive novelty single isn’t enough to prove your worth as an artist, but they’ll “Cruise” to the podium anyways
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Always the hardest category, with five very deserving nominees
Should Win: Paul Franklin – based on the success of Bakersfield alone and wouldn’t it be a statement if a steel player wins in a climate where steel guitar is always regulated to the background?
Will Win: Mac McAnally – he’s the voter favorite who seems to win every year. I won’t count him out this go around.