Tonight is country fans’ kind of night — the 47th annual CMA Awards air on ABC at 8 p.m. — but will it be Luke Bryan’s?
That’s one of the questions on every Nashville executive’s mind this morning (along with speculation about how much hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will have to say about the Luke Bryan/ZacBrown/pickup-truck feud).
This year’s CMA match-ups are particularly tough to predict, but hey, let’s give it a try anyway:
Entertainer of the Year
SHOULD WIN: George Strait — I’d give this distinction to Taylor Swift if her excellent LP Red weren’t so distinctly pop. As for the dudes, I can’t in good conscience say that Shelton, Bryan, or Aldean deserve the honor, as all three seem to be coasting creatively instead of pushing. That leaves Strait, who recently scored his 60th No. 1 single at 60 years old. But let’s be real: Carrie Underwood probably should be the winner of this award.
WILL WIN: Blake Shelton — He’s still charming, still cranking out chart toppers, and still everywhere thanks to The Voice. He also still isn’t touring all that much (though he did fit shows in this year), which could be a problem, but I think he’s built up enough goodwill to hold off Luke Bryan (for one more year, anyway).
Male Vocalist of the Year
SHOULD WIN: Eric Church — He didn’t have a new album out this year, but Church crafts excellent songs (new single “The
Outsiders” notwithstanding) and “Like Jesus Does” was one of the most underrated singles of the past 12 months. The other four noiminees’ latest albums are, frankly, just not that good.
WILL WIN: Blake Shelton — He’s had five straight No. 1 singles, and although Bryan is the hotter star right now, Shelton doesn’t have to face bro-backlash from “That’s My Kind of Night.” Still, I won’t be surprised if Bryan and his tight jeans wind up winning the award and taking the stage.
Female Vocalist of the Year
SHOULD WIN: Miranda Lambert/Carrie Underwood — The back-end of Lambert’s Four The Record era has been infinitely more interesting than its first run of singles. “Mama’s Broken Heart” is arguably the best song of the year, and “All Kinds of Kinds” is a welcome reprieve from the constant stream of tailgate tracks dominating radio. Swift’s tour is hard to ignore, but again, it was primarily a pop show. Kacey Musgraves is a critical favorite, but in a genre that rewards years of hard work, she may need to pay her dues a while longer. And I certainly won’t begrudge CMA voters if they choose to award Carrie for her great Blown Away Tour and singles like “See You Again.”
WILL WIN: Miranda Lambert
Vocal Duo of the Year
Big & Rich
Florida Georgia Line
Love and Theft
The Civil Wars
SHOULD WIN: The Civil Wars — Their self-titled sophomore disc is a master-class mix of vulnerable melancholy and simmering rage. Unfortunately, their extended hiatus rendered them almost invisible this year.
WILL WIN: Florida Georgia Line — Commercial appeal can’ be denied, and like it or not, FGL had one of the biggest singles of any genre this year. They’ll “Cruise” to an easy win in one of the less competitive categories.
Vocal Group of the Year
Eli Young Band
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band
SHOULD WIN: Zac Brown Band — I’m tempted to say this belongs to The Band Perry for their likably ambitious album Pioneer, and I’m also tempted to say it belongs to Lady Antebellum for their underrated disc Golden, which saved them from the boring “Need You Now” phase. ZBB has probably struck the best balance between touring and enjoyable single output of any group this year.
WILL WIN: Little Big Town — Now that the quartet has a few awards under its belt, they’re a safe, respectable choice in a category with no clear frontrunners. Even if “Your Side of the Bed” couldn’t climb out of the sheets and up the chart, the group’s indelible harmonies make them easy to root for.
New Artist of the Year
Florida Georgia Line
SHOULD WIN: Kacey Musgraves — Sassy, smart, and a superb songwriter, the “Merry Go Round” singer’s Same Trailer Different Park garnered well-deserved acclaim. She’s one of the freshest voices to arrive in music in years.
WILL WIN: Florida Georgia Line — And herein lies the central commercial/creative debate currently happening in country music.
Album of the Year
Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story
Carrie Underwood, Blown Away
Taylor Swift, Red
Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park
Little Big Town, Tornado
SHOULD WIN: Honestly, anyone but Blake Shelton. Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away is a cohesive, belty effort and a win would make up for her EotY snub. Taylor Swift’s Red is a pop-leaning tour-de-force. (Though probably a little too pop.) Little Big Town’s Tornado is an excellent collection of brassy harmonizing and fresh grooves. And Musgraves’ Same Trailer… is a plaintive, honest, terrific album.
WILL WIN: Blake Shelton, for its middle of the road appeal.
Song of the Year
Lee Brice, “I Drive Your Truck”
Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”
Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Darius Rucker, “Wagon Wheel”
SHOULD WIN: “Mama’s Broken Heart” Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, and Kacey Musgraves penned a darkly humorous and totally rollicking jam about the ugly side of breaking up, and Miranda’s manic delivery made it a crowd favorite.
WILL WIN: “Mama’s Broken Heart”
Who are you rooting for tonight? Stay tuned to EW for full CMA Awards coverage tonight!