Yay, it’s CMA Awards time! The 51st edition of what’s truthfully advertised as “country music’s biggest night” takes place Wednesday, 11/8, with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosting the proceedings for a 10th consecutive year. I dearly love the down-home pomp of the evening, and especially the performance-crammed telecast — which, I might add, never ever goes over its allotted three hours, unlike almost every other televised awards show. The performance roster this year is awfully impressive; they actually got Garth Brooks to commit to performing this year, along with Alan Jackson (I presume to highlight his recent Hall of Fame induction), Reba McEntire (with Kelsea Ballerini), and damned near every current hitmaker, from Tim & Faith to Kane Brown and from Little Big Town to Thomas Rhett. Miranda Lambert leads the noms with 5, and I fully expect her to be crowned queen of the evening yet again. To wit:
Entertainer: Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban. Because apparently only boys matter, or something. Where the fuck is Lambert? Church and Stapleton don’t make sense to me here — they’re not that big — while former winner Bryan hits the sweet spot of huge radio hits + big tour receipts. But I suspect that the reigning EotY, King Garth, will win again thanks to his a) massive touring numbers and b) massive industry gladhanding.
Female Vocalist: Ballerini, Lambert, McEntire, Maren Morris, Underwood. All-time champ Lambert won this 6 years in a row, 2010-15, but last year hadn’t had any industry presence and thus handed the trophy back to Underwood, who won 2006-08. Ballerini and Morris’s noms are “welcome to the big leagues” awards, and Reba’s is a “welcome back, we liked your gospel album” (she last won this award 30 years ago). Expect it to return to Lambert.
Male Vocalist: Dierks Bentley, Church, Rhett, Stapleton, Urban. Worth nothing that Bryan doesn’t show up here, and neither does shut out Blake Shelton, who won this from 2010-14. (Is Nashville pissed that he left Lambert for pop tart Gwen Stefani?). Urban and two-time reigning Stapleton are the only previous winners here, and it feels like it could be a toss-up. Bentley seems due, and the only topline award he’s won is Best New Artist, way back in 2005. Church is likely to be one of those stars who wins practically every award except the vocalist trophy. Rhett might still be seen as too young to take this, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he did get it this year. Bentley could, too. I feel like Stapleton’s last album, even though it’s up for the Album prize, was too much of a non-starter for him to threepeat here. And Urban had another big year. I’m gonna go with the beloved Mr. Nicole Kidman in a photo finish over Rhett.
Duo: I do not understand why the CMAs insist on separating duos from groups, still. But they do. Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, LOCASH, and Maddie & Tae are the nominees, and I see no reason why last year’s shocker winners Brothers Osborne won’t repeat here; if they don’t, expect FGL to take it back from ’em.
Group: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band. LBT have won this 5 years in a row, taking over after Lady A won it themselves for 4 years, prior to which Rascal Flatts took the prize for 6 years. So assume it’s one of those three, and even though The Breaker was a bit of a commercial disappoint, its lead single “Better Man” did hit #1 and is up for both Single and Song. Plus, everybody loves them, so expect LBT to tie Rascal Flatts’ mark of 6 in a row, this year. (They’d certainly get my vote.)
New Artist: Brett Young, Jon Pardi, Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Old Dominion. New traditionalist Combs is riding very high with back to back airplay #1s at the moment; the timing is right for him. Old D could sneak in here, but I expect that Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” peaking at radio during final balloting tips this for him. And apart from pretty boy Young, I’d be happy with any of this crew winning. (Already hoping for Midland for 2018.)
I don’t care about the awards for Music Video or Musician, to be honest.
Musical Event, aka collab by people who don’t normally collab together (with one notable expection): “Craving You” (Rhett feat. Morris), “Funny How Time Slips Away” (Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson), “Kill A Word” (Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens), “Setting the World on Fire” (Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk), “Speak to a Girl” (Tim & Faith). So it’s funny that Tim & Faith have a duet album coming shortly; I wonder if that could sneak into the Album field next year. I’d love for that to take this, but I think that the veterans’ vote goes to Campbell/Nelson (who I fear take this in a sympathy vote). If it doesn’t go in that direction, “Craving” could be the CMA’s opportunity to award both Rhett and Morris for having impressive years (Morris won New Artist last year), though I’m hesitant to dismiss the Chesney/P!nk collab, which like “Craving,” hit #1. (“Kill” only wins if MacArthur Grants are much more impressive with the voters than I suspect they are.) I think “Craving” wins here.
Song and Single feature the exact same set of nominees: “Better Man” (Little Big Town), “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Urban), “Body Like A Back Road” (Sam Hunt), “Dirt On My Boots” (Pardi), “Tin Man” (Lambert). As for the songwriters’ award, Hunt’s and Pardi’s songs have no chance, and while “Better Man” was written by Taylor Swift, I suspect that the CMA voters aren’t exactly eager to reward Swift for by and large turning her back on country music. Which leaves “Blue,” another career record in a career of career records for Urban, and Lambert’s “Tin Man,” still scraping its way into the airplay top 25 (but just barely). I tend to think that as has happened in the last couple years, these two categories split, and “Blue”‘s superbly understated lyrics and music win that award. Single-wise, it could easily be Hunt’s record-setting longest-#1-ever-now-that-Billboard-fucked-up-the-country-chart. Otherwise, artistry might win in the form of Lambert.
Album: The Breaker (Little Big Town), From A Room, Volume 1 (Stapleton), Heart Break (Lady Antebellum), The Nashville Sound (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit), The Weight of These Wings (Lambert). First of all, let me just say: FUCK Isbell and his country-come-lately-ness; he doesn’t belong here. Lady A’s album is strong but not amazing, and Stapleton’s is all smoke and no fire. My vote goes for the hushed Breaker, the best work of LBT’s career, and they’d take this in most other years. But never bet against Lambert, who went ultra-ambitious with a great double album (which I find a touch too long, but the strong stuff is killer). She’ll win this in a cakewalk, joining other three-time winners Ronnie Milsap and Johnny Cash. Only George Strait, with 5, has won more.
Even if all she takes home is Album and Female Vocalist, I think that alone will be enough to write a narrative of “Queen Miranda” — especially because no woman has ever won Album 3x. (Or even twice!). But I wouldn’t be surprised if “Vice” won for Video, and/or if Lambert wins Song and/or Single, then: wow. And hopefully some day she’ll get nominated for, and win, Entertainer.