With Brad Paisley and a pregnant Carrie Underwood set to host for the seventh straight year, and all the usual suspects set to perform, you’d think business would run as normal. But you’re wrong. Not only will this mark the first CMA telecast without Taylor Swift in nine years, pop starlet Ariana Grande is set to perform with Little Big Town while Meghan Trainor will sing her hit “All About That Bass” with Miranda Lambert. Few other surprises have been announced, but God only knows why Trisha Yearwood has been regulated to a presenter’s slot and not given prime exposure to sing “PrizeFighter” with Kelly Clarkson.
At any rate, here are the nominees. You’ll find my Should Win / Will Win perdictions below. Do you agree/disagree? Sound off in the comments.
Entertainer of the Year
Blake Shelton and Keith Urban have one trophy apiece while George Strait is nominated the year he gave his final concert. Only Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert, who are on their second nominations, have yet to win.
Should Win: George Strait – The Country Music Hall of Famer and country music legend wrapped his Cowboy Rides Away Tour a year after beating his younger competition to win this award for the first time in 24 years. When all is said and done, the CMA would be foolish to deny Strait his rightful place as an all-time category winner (four wins), along with Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney.
Will Win: George Strait – Prissy Luke Bryan can have his turn with his third consecutive nod next year. Strait, who’ll never be eligible for this award again, will go out in style.
Female Vocalist of the Year
A milestone year, as Martina McBride and Miranda Lambert go for their record fifth win and Taylor Swift makes what’ll likely be her final appearance in the category. No artist has won five trophies; only Reba has as many as McBride and Lambert, so it’ll be very interesting to see how the Country Music Association votes this year.
Should Win: Kacey Musgraves – a year after winning Best New Artist and scoring two Grammy Awards, the only nominee who hasn’t won should emerge victorious with just her second nomination.
Will Win: Miranda Lambert – stranger things have happened, but the artist with the most nominations usually walks away with at least one major award. It’s definitely time to spread the wealth, but that likely won’t come this year, thus helping Lambert make CMA history.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Jason Aldean has never been much of a compelling singer, but his radio and touring success should’ve earned him his fourth consecutive nomination. Dierks Bentley is back four years after his last nod, correcting a major oversight, and Keith Urban shows up for the tenth consecutive time.
Should Win: Bentley – it’s a race this year between Bentley and Luke Bryan, both of who deserve first time wins. But Bentley gets the edge thanks to seniority, and it’s about damn time, too.
Will Win: Blake Shelton – the reining champion is about the only one who can stop Bentley’s momentum. His material is getting weaker and his shtick ever more tiresome, but he’ll endure himself to voters anyways.
Vocal Group of the Year
Finally we have a category where the presence of each nominee is equally justified. I fully expected it to be The Band Perry’s year, but releasing their version of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” as their new single proves Republic Nashville is having trouble deciding what to do with them.
Should Win: Zac Brown Band – they’re on their sixth consecutive nomination without a win. Despite no new album or hit single this year, their string of hits and sold out concerts should be justification the CMA needs to correct their erroneous snub.
Will Win: The category looks to be a race between Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum, with the latter bouncing back with big career hits following a creative slump. I’m giving a slight edge to Lady A, who’ll be taking home their fourth trophy should they win.
Vocal Duo of the Year
I’ve long been a fan of combining the Vocal Duo and Group awards to create legitimate competition between nominees who’ve at least proven themselves at radio, retail, and on the radio. How can a category be taken seriously when a nominee (Love and Left) recently lost their record deal?
Should Win: None of the nominees have shown enough artistic promise to truly deserve this award
Will Win: Florida Georgia Line – the bro-country stalwarts may’ve only been nominated for one CMA this year, but it’s in the lone category where they’ll win in a landslide
New Artist of the Year
Brandy Clark makes history as the only nominee in CMA history to score a nod as an artist without ever charting on Billboard’s Hot Country Song or Airplay Charts. She’s in weak company – two bro-country stalwarts, a singer/songwriter having trouble launching his sophomore record, and one legitimately talented rising star.
Should Win: Brandy Clark – The Country Music Association went to the trouble to nominate a singer/songwriter with little radio appeal, based solely on artistic merit. That speaks volumes.
Will Win: Brandy Clark – Kacey Musgraves won over Florida Georgia Line last year, making a statement about artistry over commercial appeal. That conversation will continue this year, and deservedly so.
Single of the Year
It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find substantive songs to nominate, especially when radio plays a crucial role in determining nominees. Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, and McGraw/Hill turned out excellent records while Blake Shelton’s entry is filler and the Dierks Bentley song is too novelty to be taken seriously here.
Should Win: “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” – In a rare showing of good taste, both Tim McGraw and country radio scored with an excellent lyric about home and our place in it
Will Win: “Automatic” – Miranda Lambert displays grace and maturity and shows why she deserves her place as the genre’s lone female on one of her finest singles
Song of the Year
A strong list with Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, and Miranda Lambert turning in three high quality lyrics.
Should Win: “Follow Your Arrow” – The CMA need to make a statement and give the team of Kacey Musgraves / Shane McAnally/ Brandy Clark a much deserved win in this category. They’re one of the best songwriting trios in Nashville today.
Will Win: “Automatic” – it’s been three years since a record (“If I Die Young”) took both single and song honors. The lead single from Lambert’s fifth LP stands the best chance of breaking that drought.
Album of the Year
A weak and unexciting list, with MCA thinking Gill/Franklin would stand a better chance of winning Musical Event than Album. None of these are career albums for their artist nor do any truly deserve this distinction. Where is Brandy Clark and Twelve Stories when you need it?
Should Win: Platinum – It’s as wildly uneven as Eric Church’s set but more sonically cohesive and less experimental. It may be Lambert’s most mainstream record yet, but it’s still filled with top-notch material.
Will Win: Crash My Party – Blake Shelton (2013), Eric Church (2012) and Jason Aldean (2011) have been the previous three winners. The CMA will go for four and add another mainstream male singer with a hit-filled album to the list. It’ll be Luke Bryan’s first CMA win in the process, too.
Musical Event of the Year
A substantial category, with Vince Gill & Paul Franklin’s Bakersfield vying to become the first album in 23 years to take home this trophy. A win for McGraw/Hill would give McGraw five wins, the most ever by a single artist while Dolly and Kenny would be winning for the first time, as the category was introduced five years after “Islands In The Stream.”
Should Win: Bakersfield or “You Can’t Make Old Friends” – Both records feature Country Music Hall of Famers and country legends that will probably cancel each other out (sadly).
Will Win: “Something Bad” – awarding fresh collaborations, from artists who’ve never teamed up, is a category specialty. The Lambert/Underwood duet is a foregone conclusion.
Music Video of the Year
Kacey Musgraves and Dierks Bentley score their first nods while Miranda Lambert, the only nominee to previously take the award home, earns her fifth and sixth nods.
Should Win: “Follow Your Arrow” – Musgraves created the most adventurous video of the bunch, with a western theme that might have little to do with the song, but works well with her personality.
Will Win: Drunk On A Plane – If Miranda Lambert cancels herself out, the Country Music Association will go with Bentley, who’ll be given the second trophy of his career as a consolation should he loose the other four awards for which he’s nominated.
Musician of the Year
Mac McAnally has taken home this trophy for the past six years and is currently tied with Mark O’Connor for most wins overall. This is yet another chance for the Country Music Association to make history this year.
Should Win: Paul Franklin – The steel guitarist scores his 22nd nomination the year he also competes in the musical event category for his duet project with Vince Gill. This category is in desperate need of fresh blood, and of all the nominees, this is Franklin’s year.
Will Win: Mac McAnally – when forced to make a call, I’m more than likely to go with the conventional choice. Why would I bet against the guitarist who’s won the past six consecutive years?