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ACM NOMS: IN WITH THE NEW

When the Academy of Country Music Awards nominations were announced yesterday morning, the names called may signal a watershed for the genre. While Entertainer of the Year boasted the expected names—Broken Bow’s Jason Aldean, Pearl’s Garth Brooks, Capitol Nashville’s reigning Entertainer Luke Bryan, EMI Nashville’s Eric Church and RCA Nashville’s Miranda Lambert—the rest of the categories saw a significant number of first-time nominees.

Reigning and thrice-consecutive Male Vocalist of the Year Aldean is joined by Capitol Nashville’s Dierks Bentley and Bryan, as well as first-timers Brett Eldredge (Warner Nashville) and Chris Stapleton (Mercury Nashville). Six-time Female Vocalist of the Year (and ten-time nominee) Miranda Lambert shares the category with 11-time nominee Carrie Underwood (19/Arista Nashville) critic fave Kacey Musgraves (Mercury Nashville) and first-timers Kelsea Ballerini (Black River Entertainment/RED) and Jana Kramer (Warner Nashville).

For Stapleton, the dark horse who emerged with three CMA Awards for Album, Male Vocalist and Best New Artist of the Year in November, the ACMs see the outlier picking up a total of five nominations. Beyond Male, he is recognized as an artist and producer for Album of the Year with Traveller, New Male Vocalist and Vocal Event for “Hangover Tonight” with MCA Nashville’s Gary Allen.

Arista Nashville/RCA’s Cam picked up four nominations on the strength of “Burning House.” The song earned Single and Video nods, with Cam adding a second nomination for co-producing her #1 hit, as well as Best New Female.

Album of the Year has four first-timers in the category: Chris Young’s I’m Coming Over, Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up (Valory/BMLG), Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (Capitol Nashville) and Stapleton’s Traveller. Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood marks the only veteran nominee.

For RCA Nashville’s first-time nominee Chris Young, it’s a breakthrough year of five nominations. Nods in Male and Album are rounded out with Single of the Year for “I’m Coming Over.” He receives another pair of nominations for co-producing the Song and Single of the Year nominees.

Thomas Rhett scores a triple with Album, Single—for the #1 “Die a Happy Man”—and Top New Male. Sam Hunt doubled with nods for Album and Single— for the #1 “Take Your Time.”

Warner Nashville’s Chris Janson also earned a triple for Best New Male Vocalist and Single of the Year with “Buy Me a Boat,” which he co-produced. First-timer Ballerini saw a pair of nominations out of the box, matching her Female Vocalist nod with a Best New Female.            

Ditto writer-driven Old Dominion (RCA Nashville), Brothers Osborne (EMI Nashville) and Maddie & Tae (Dot/BMLG), who all duplicated that hat trick by matching their Best New Vocal Duo or Group with nods for Vocal Group, Duo and Duo respectively. That ability to be not just among the best of the new guard, but punching through the entire industry, defined this year’s nominees.

The old guard wasn’t toppled, but it feels like a new day. Church pulled in a total of five nominations; Capitol Nashville’s Little Big Town scored four, plus one with Karen Fairchild’s duet with Bryan, which picked up a Vocal Collaboration nod. “Girl Crush” has been unstoppable—earning a Single and Video nomination. The band was also recognized for Vocal Collaboration with Lambert for “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.”

For Eldredge, Kramer, Rhett and Young, these nominations mark recognition after multiple singles and albums, as well as significant career development. For Ballerini, Cam and Janson, the noms show a turn towards the new in these year’s categories.

What this means for the long haul remains to be seen. But for the bankable acts like Bentley, Brooks, Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville’s Kenny Chesney, Capitol Nashville’s Keith Urban with Eric Church and Underwood, as well as Big Machine’s Rascal Flatts and Varvatos/BMLG/Republic’s Zac Brown Band, they mark the only old guard nominees on the ballot. And with the exception of Bentley with Male and Video, each has a single nomination.

It’s especially interesting to see so many singular young women emerge, as Cam and Ballerini are joined in the Top New Female Vocalist category by Capitol Nashville’s Mickey Guyton and Voice alum RaeLynn (Valory/Republic Nashville). The impact of younger acts on the format is felt even more powerfully in Top New Male Vocalist where of Eldredge, Janson, Rhett, Columbia Nashville’s Chase Rice and Stapleton, only Stapleton—who’s topped the country albums chart—and Rice have not had a #1 single.

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