As soon as the CMA Awards nominations are announced, pundits begin dissecting the selections for obvious omissions or shocking selections.
This year’s slate, announced Tuesday morning (Sept. 1), comes with a bit of a disclaimer. Once the pandemic hit in March, tours got canceled and releases got delayed so that a number or acts who would have put our sets during the eligibility period will now have an early jump on next year.
Unlike some other award shows, though, the disruption to this year’s CMA potential nominees was not as severe as it could have been: The CMA Awards’ eligibility period of July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 means the COVID-19 lockdown affected only one-fourth of the eligibility period. Still, there were plenty of snubs and surprises.
Snub: The Highwomen’s eponymous debut album. As a solo artist Maren Morris scored three nominations, but her other project, the critically adored The Highwomen (Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires) failed to garner an album of the year nomination despite ending up in the higher reaches of most 2019 Best Of lists.
Surprise: Both Miranda Lambert , the year’s top nominee, and Carrie Underwood were nominated for entertainer of the year, marking the first time in 10 years that the CMAs have nominated more than one woman in the category. Award watchers have to go back to 2010 to find the last time two female-inclusive acts landed in the final five when Lambert and Lady Antebellum were nominated. And then go back to 2000 for the last time it happened before that when the Dixie Chicks won and Faith Hill was a nominee. Hopefully, the next time isn’t 2030. Both Underwood and Lambert have been previously nominated, but never won.
Snub: The world waited almost six years for Sam Hunt’s followup to 2014’s Montevallo and when Southside arrived in April, it soared straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. It included his 2017 monster hit (and triple CMA Award nominee), “Body Like a Back Road,” as well as No. 1 “Kinfolks,” but this year Hunt received no nominations.
Surprise: Ashley McBryde, the reigning CMA new artist winner, continues to see her star ascend for good reason, but few had predicted she would land an album of the year nod for her sophomore set, Never Will. First single, “One Night Standards,” continues climbing at radio as it slides to No. 13 in its 42nd week on the Country Airplay chart.
Snub: Dierks Bentley has been nominated the past six consecutive years for male vocalist, but was left out of the category this year despite hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in November with “Living.” Also left out of the nominations? His alter ego, Doug D. Douglason, leader of ‘90s throwback band Hot Country Knights.
Surprise: Similarly to Lambert and Underwood’s deserved nods for entertainer of the year, women also scored mightily in the single of the year category. Three songs performed by solo females as the lead act (not feature) or female-fronted acts are competing for the first time since 2010 when Lady Antebellum won for “Need You Now” and Lambert had two contenders. This year, Lambert is up for “Bluebird,” Morris for “The Bones” and Gabby Barrett for “I Hope.” At a time when women are still facing an uphill battle at country radio, the nominations are validation of the quality material female artists are consistently bringing. Added plus: all three women co-wrote their entries.
Snub: Kelsea Ballerini, who put out some of the most emotionally rich material of her career with “Homecoming Queen?”, as well as a duet with Halsey, “The Other Girl,” failed to receive a nomination for female vocalist after five consecutive years of landing a nod.
Surprise: Rascal Flatts, who announced they were calling it quits after 20 years together, landed their first vocal group of the year nomination since 2017. They certainly have spent their time collecting hardware in the category, winning vocal group of the year six times in a row from 2003 to 2008.
Snub: After seven-time winner Garth Brooks took himself out of contention for entertainer of the year, he said he would still love to be considered for any awards for “Dive Bar,” his upbeat collaboration with Blake Shelton. While it seemed like a sure bet for a musical event of the year nod, it was left out of that category, as well as music video of the year.
Snub: Not only did Shelton get aced out of a musical event of the year nod with Brooks, “Nobody But You,” his Country Airplay chart topper with girlfriend Gwen Stefani, also failed to gain a nomination one year after he won single of the year for “God’s Country.”
Assistance on this story provided by Paul Grein.