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GRAMMY CHEW:
COUNTRY AND BNA (UPDATE)

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules about how the nominations work out—repeat after us: Grammy does what Grammy wants—but with 10 spots in the Best New Artist category, it’s quite possible two deserving country breakouts could make the list: an utter outsider and a Nashville favorite.

Zach Bryan, hailed as the leading exponent of so-called “red dirt country,” is not a Nashville act at all. The Oklahoma native and Navy veteran is signed to a West Coast label (Warner) and his raw, intimate songs are a million muddy miles from the genre’s mainstream. But he has connected strongly with audiences both on DSPs and on the road—so much so that Country radio, after ignoring him as long as it could, has begun to spin his single “Something in the Orange.” Bryan’s powerhouse material and authenticity have prompted comparisons to the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s heartland folk material.

And then there’s Broken Bow’s Lainey Wilson, a gifted singer and songwriter with a vibrant persona widely touted as Nashville’s next major female star. Wilson, who just won New Artist and Female Artist of the Year at Nashville's CMAs, broke through and garnered significant streams with “Things a Man Oughta Know.” She currently has two songs on the Country radio chart—“Heart Like a Truck” and, as a feature, on HARDY’s provocative “Wait in the Truck.” (This is not to say that having “truck” in multiple titles is indispensable for country stardom, but it doesn’t hurt.) Influenced by everything from Dolly Parton to southern rock, Wilson conveys charm, intensity, playfulness and passion. She’s a real arrival.

The notoriously influential Nashville branch of the Academy will likely make its views heard on the subject of Best New Artist; whom will its gatekeepers throw their weight behind? Most biz insiders believe Bryan is a must for a BNA nom, but as we well know, there’s no such thing as a lock in Grammyland.

A question to ask regarding any act under consideration for this category: If they are somehow excluded, are we likely to look back and feel that exclusion was a major error? In the case of Bryan and Wilson, there’s a strong case to be made.

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