NEAR TRUTHS:
MUSIC CITY HALL

With first-round Grammy voting complete, all eyes are on the Nashville branch, where some of the most notorious horse-trading has gone on. Which of the genre’s most influential acts have been, um, booted into pop or other categories because they’re likely to win if nominated? We revisit the sagas of Kacey Musgraves—whose album was kicked into pop for being “not country enough” in 2021 even though one song (“Camera Roll”) was included in two country categories—and Gabby Barrett, who earned exactly zero noms despite having one of the biggest songs in any genre with “I Hope.” Then there’s Luke Combs, a 2019 BNA contender and indisputably one of the genre’s top stars, who’s since earned just one nomination as a solo artist.

It’s worth noting that such sparse recognition from the Academy shows real disregard for the country organizations’ celebration of top talent. Combs won CMA and ACM Album of the Year awards in 2020, while Barrett was nominated for both orgs’ New Artist and Single of the Year honors that year; the CMA also nominated her for Single and Song in 2021.

Maren Morris, who began her career as a Grammy darling with four noms in 2017 (including BNA) and five in 2019, hit a roadblock with her female-empowerment album GIRL in 2020 (the “year of the woman,” as you may recall), thought to be a lock for multiple noms. It’s believed that Morris got into a contretemps with a member of the Nashville cabal, and as a result her only nom was for a duet with Brandi Carlile (about whom more in a moment). She apparently made nice with the offended party and subsequently earned three nominations.

Carlile has become a force to be reckoned with since her 2019 noms for Album, Song and Record. In the last Grammy round, she was nominated for ROTY and received two noms in SOTY. And genre veteran Tanya Tucker, whose album Carlile penned, earned a SOTY nom and won both Country Album and Song in 2020 (the same year Morris was snubbed for GIRL). That Tucker’s album had minuscule commercial impact was the source of much chatter.

The Academy makes much of its focus on subjective attributes (“quality”) rather than objectively provable ones like marketplace relevance and cultural visibility, but critics have asserted that such a stance often makes it possible to put the cabal’s pet projects ahead of ones that they probably wouldn’t be able to beat. Will the skullduggery be brought under control this year? The music world is watching.

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