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CMA AWARDS HEAVY
ON PURE COUNTRY


What started as a quiet shift toward pure country at the 2021 Country Music Association Awards has turned into a mandate. Upstart Lainey Wilson, who took Best New Female and Single of the Year at the 2022 ACM Awards in March, has earned six nominations for the 56th CMA Awards in her first appearance on the nominees’ list.

Wilson’s sweep of Album for Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, Female Vocalist, New Artist, Song of the Year for “Things a Man Oughta Know” and Vocal Event/Video of the Year for her Cole Swindell duet “Never Say Never” put the hard-working Louisianan in the rarified company of Glen Campbell, Brad Paisley and Kacey Musgraves. All debuted with six nods at their first CMAs.

Not only did Wilson’s straight-up country strike a nerve with voters, but what started with Carly Pearce’s Female Vocalist win last year snowballed into five nominations for Pearce—with mirror nominations for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” partner Ashley McBryde. Each woman picked up a Female Vocalist nomination, as well as Song, Single, Video and Vocal Event for their duet.

Also bringing home five nominations was perennial winner Chris Stapleton, whose soulful roots-country scored four awards last year: Album, Song, Single and Male. This year he’s nominated for Entertainer, Single and Song for “You Should Probably Leave,” Video for “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version)” with Taylor Swift and has earned his eighth nom for Male Vocalist, an award he’s won five times.

As impressive as Wilson’s six-nomination debut is, no-nonsense hard-country Texan Cody Johnson has also scored a terrific haul, following last year’s New Artist nomination with noms in four categories. Spurred by the breakout #1 “’Til You Can’t,” the Cris Lacy-championed Warner Music Nashville breakout picked up his first Single and Video of the Year nod as well as Male Vocalist—and a second shot at New Artist.

Like Johnson, HARDY, a genre-blurring Big Loud writer, is up for Best New Artist, along with his second Song of the Year nom for Morgan Wallen’s “Sand in My Boots,” plus Vocal Event as part of Dierks Bentley’s “Beer’s on Me” with BRELAND.

Midland, the hipster/fashion-forward trio playing various shades of ’70s California country, has scored yet another Vocal Group nod. Teaming with Jon Pardi for the high-timing, Big Lebowski-invoking Vocal Event and Video nominee “Longneck Way to Go,” the group seamlessly merges Eagles and Bakersfield.

That leaves two women with three key nominations apiece: fiery Texan Miranda Lambert, the most nominated woman in CMA history, and Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner who’s hosted this show a dozen times. Each has been nominated for Female Vocalist 16 times, with Lambert taking the crown seven times to Underwood’s five. Most notably—perhaps even more so than Lambert’s Album nomination for Palomino and certainly Underwood’s Vocal Event nod for the Jason Aldean duet “If I Didn’t Love You”—both are nominated for Entertainer of the Year, a prize neither has yet taken home.

Reigning Entertainer of the Year Luke Combs repeats in Entertainer, Male Vocalist and Album. The affable North Carolinian spent this year growing his sound and playing stadiums to keep his momentum growing.

Randy Goodman’s Sony Nashville owns four of the five Album nominees: Maren Morris’ sole nod for Humblequest, perennial Group of the Year nominee and four-time winners Old Dominion for Time, Tequila & Therapy, Combs’ aptly titled Growing Up and Lambert’s expansive Palomino. Wilson’s Jay Joyce-produced Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ is the only non-BBR label in the hunt, giving boss Jon Loba something to crow about.

This year's round yielded one true head-scratcher in Walker Hayes’ sole nomination for Best New Artist. After the wildly streaming “Fancy Like,” followed by the similarly robust and even more widely quoted “A.A.,” Hayes' shutout in Single and Song seems odd.

All that said, there’s not a serious pop-leaning nor hip-hop-fusing artist among the nominees. Jordan Davis, who took a John Prine-invoking intro for the populist philosophy “Buy Dirt,” teamed with Luke Bryan for his Single of the Year nod—and scored a prestigious Song of the Year nomination as well, his staunch country music striking a chord with the voters.

Intriguingly, after all the handwringing about Wallen, who had the biggest-selling album of 2021 in any genre, even as he spent most of last year out of the public eye, the vocalist from East Tennessee returns with both Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist nods. Perhaps the will of the fans has worn down the voters, but for Wallen, it appears all is forgiven (if not forgotten).

With so many back-to-the-various-roots-of-the-genre artists competing for trophies, this year’s CMA Awards stands to be the “countriest” in years. Airing 11/9 on ABC, the show will be a night to remember what sets the genre apart—and a return to what originally set country music apart.

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