Female vocalists may not be dominating country radio, but they’ll be front and center at this year’s biggest country awards show.
More than a week before nominations were announced for the 53rd CMA Awards, the Country Music Association revealed plans to turn the night into a celebration of women. When Ashley McBryde, Jimmie Allen, Morgan Wallen and Midland shared the nominees Wednesday morning, the prestigious list was largely a celebration of all things “GIRL.”
Maren Morris, whose female anthem “GIRL” topped country radio charts earlier this month, earned six nominations to make her the leading nominee going into the Nov. 13 awards show.
“GIRL” is Morris’ third No. 1 hit and the first song by a female vocalist to land at the top of Billboard’s country airplay chart in more than a year.
“The title of the song alone feels like poetic justice breaking this year-and-a-half streak of a woman not having a No. 1 … so let’s be hopeful we never see that dry spell again,” Morris told Billboard.
Carrie Underwood, who will host the 53rd CMA Awards alongside guest hosts Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton, received three nominations: Album of the Year for “Cry Pretty,” Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year — the first time a woman has been included in the category since she was last nominated in 2016. To round out the top female triumvirate, Kacey Musgraves is also nominated for three awards: Song of the Year, Music Video of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year.
“I think it’s a great time for females,” said Carly Pearce, who is nominated for New Artist of the Year alongside McBryde, Morgan Wallen, Midland and Cody Johnson. “The fact two of us are in the category, I think it’s slow but steady. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But have we come a long way even in the two years since I’ve been out? Absolutely. I cannot believe that Ashley and I are both in the category. That’s amazing.”
“CMA nominations are huge,” McBryde said. “Awards aren’t something we chase after, but anytime you are recognized by your peers, it’s always really good feeling, especially with the other artists in this category.”
Only once before in the last decade — 2016 — have two female vocalists been nominated for New Artist of the Year. In addition, Blake Shelton’s fiddle player Jenee Fleenor earned the distinction of the first female ever to be nominated in the Musician of the Year category.
“I feel so blessed,” Fleenor said. “I hope that if there’s any little girls out there dreaming of doing this, that they’re going for it.”
Other leading nominees include reigning Vocal Duo of the Year Brothers Osborne with four nods (Single of the Year; Vocal Duo of the Year; Musical Event of the Year; Music Video of the Year) and a host of artists with three. Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Dan + Shay and Blake Shelton all have a trio of nominations.
Songs performed by Shelton and Dan + Shay are included in the song of the Year category — an award that goes to the song’s writers and not the artists who performed them.
For Dan + Shay, the nominations are particularly poignant. The country duo was among the most nominated at last year’s CMA Awards, and the string of mentions shows career consistency.
This year they picked up a Single of the Year nod for their multi-week No. 1 “Speechless,” landed their sixth nomination for Vocal Duo of the Year and an album nod for their self-titled third album. While the duo has won trophies from the prestigious Recording Academy, the Academy of Country Music and more, they have yet to be recognized by the Country Music Association.
The duo’s Dan Smyers, who is also nominated as a producer on “Speechless,” a producer on the album and a songwriter for the second time for their hit “Tequila,” said to be recognized for different songs in the same year is “surreal.”
“It’s one more thing to hang our hats on,” Smyers said. “The competition is pretty stiff … but we’ve had an incredible run. We’ve won a lot of awards. We checked off a lot of bucket list items, but we still haven’t won a CMA. Honestly, to win anything would be a super cool thing for us.”
The nominations are a new benchmark for Shelton, who hadn’t heard his name called from the CMA since 2015. This year, his music stretched across five categories. The singer’s “God’s Country” earned recognition for Single of the Year, Song of the Year and Video of the Year. His “Dive Bar” duet with Garth Brooks is listed in the vocal collaboration category. Add in Fleenor’s history-making Musician of the Year inclusion, and Shelton couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s just a good feeling to still be in the game,” said Shelton, who earned his first CMA nomination in 2003. “Whenever it ends, it’s going to be fair enough. But to still be in, it literally blows my mind.”
Shelton said he’s possibly more excited for Fleenor, the songwriters recognized for writing “God’s Country” and his vocal collaboration nod with Brooks than he is the nominations he carries alone.
“I was running up and down the hallway about (Fleenor’s) nomination,” he said. “Those ‘God’s Country’ writers, they’re all kids to me. That’s a big deal. It’s just a different honor when you get thrown into that (Song of the Year) category. The duet with Garth, to have a nomination with him and the idea that there’s a chance that we could be handed a trophy to represent that moment, I would probably push all my other ones to the side to put that one in the middle.”
Shelton’s nominations at the 53rd CMA Awards bring his career total to 28 with the awards show. However, there’s a long string of singers who are first-time nominees.
“God’s Country” co-writers Devin Dawson, HARDY and Jordan Schmidt are on the list, as are Lindsay Ell, Cody Johnson, McBryde, Pearce and Morgan Wallen, along with record-setting Lil Nas X and Trent Reznor of “Old Town Road” fame.
“This year, we have the privilege of honoring country legends, new and emerging talent and even artists from outside our genre,” said CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern in a statement. “The breadth of country music’s landscape is evident in this year’s nominations, and we can’t wait to celebrate our deserving nominees in November.”
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, email@example.com or on Twitter @CindyNWatts. Dave Paulson contributed to this story.
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