2015 CMA Awards Nominations Analysis: Will This Be the Year of the Newcomers?
As she helped announce the 2015 CMA Awards nominees live on Good Morning America on Wednesday (Sept. 9), the surprise on Kelsea Ballerini's face (and her reaction behind the scenes) was likely shared by numerous country artists and fans alike. The "Love Me Like You Mean It" singer, along with fellow country music newcomers Chris Stapleton, Maddie & Tae and Sam Hunt, each garnered multiple nominations in major categories -- and they could give established artists such as Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton a run for their money come November.
All four artists, along with Thomas Rhett, are up for New Artist of the Year -- a category that's likely to be a major battleground, given the accomplishments of all of the nominated newbies thus far in their careers. However, it will be more interesting to watch them stand with the big dogs in categories such as Female Vocalist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Vocal Duo of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Single of the Year and Music Video of the Year. (Yes, only four CMA Awards categories do not contain a "newbie" nominee: Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Musical Event of the Year and Musician of the Year.)
Ballerini is competing for Female Vocalist of the Year against Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Underwood and Lee Ann Womack. Her self-titled debut EP cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and her debut album, The First Time, hit No. 4. Ballerini's debut single, "Love Me Like You Mean It," became the first debut single from a solo female artist to reach No. 1 on the Mediabase country radio singles chart since Underwood's “Jesus, Take the Wheel” landed at No. 1 in 2006; it also became the first debut single from a solo artist, male or female, to reach No. 1 since Hunt's “Leave the Night On.” Her second single, "Dibs," is currently at No. 28 on the Billboard Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts.
More importantly, however, is the promise that Ballerini shows: She's animated and bubbly on stage, has a sweet voice and is ready to bring a little "girl power" to country music, along with fellow up-and-comers such as Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn.
"The cool thing about the group of girls that’s launching right now is that we’re all super-different. Our musical styles are all really different, and I think that it’s almost undeniable for whoever thinks that there’s no girls in country. It’s like, ‘Here we are, we’re coming!’" Ballerini tells The Boot. "And it’s cool to see country radio really support that. It’s a visible thing, and to see they’re playing girls back-to-back on the radio, that’s so cool, and I’m so excited to be a part of that happening again.”
Stapleton, meanwhile, faces Dierks Bentley, Bryan, Eric Church and Shelton in the Male Vocalist of the Year category, and Jason Aldean, Musgraves, Little Big Town and Kenny Chesney in the Album of the Year category. His debut solo record, Traveller, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned a Top 20 spot on the Top 200 (No. 14), but he's also previously had success as the writer behind songs by George Strait, Tim McGraw and pop singer Adele, among others.
"You always hope for the best when you put something out and try to make the best music you can make, but you can’t control what happens after that," Stapleton tells The Boot of his solo effort, calling its positive reception "a great, wonderful surprise" -- that now includes major awards nods.
The artist's own singles may not have had the success at radio that a song such as Bryan's "Drink a Beer," which Stapleton helped pen, has -- in fact, his name may be largely unknown as an artist to country radio listeners -- but his critical and industry reputation could make Stapleton a dark horse in these races.
Country newcomers Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Stapleton, Maddie & Tae and Sam Hunt each garnered multiple nominations in major CMA Awards categories -- and they could give established artists a run for their money come November. All four artists are up for New Artist of the Year, but it will be more interesting to watch them stand with the big dogs in the other categories.
Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye have had a crazy 14 months since the release of their debut single, "Girl in a Country Song," and its laugh-out-loud funny music video, catapulted them to country stardom. Maddie & Tae admit that they never would have come up with the clip's concept on their own, but they tell The Boot that director TK McKamy's concept "fit our dream video so well" — well enough, in fact, to resonate with tons of country music fans and earn a CMA nod.
"Girl in a Country Song" hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart in December, making Maddie & Tae the first female act to earn that spot in more than two years and the first female duo to break into that chart’s Top 10 since 2007 — but the young women aren't one-trick ponies. Their second single, "Fly," shows off the killer harmonies that make Marlow and Dye Vocal Duo of the Year material, and their freshman album, Start Here — and the process of making it — is a testament to the girls' wisdom beyond their years.
“It’s never an argument. It’s always a creative discussion,” Dye explains of her and Marlow's working relationship. “I think people think because we’re two young girls that we just cat fight all the time. If something’s wrong, we talk about it … But we always find a compromise. It’s always meeting in the middle and making sure that she’s happy and I’m happy and we’re both comfortable with whatever we’re doing.”
Finally, there's Hunt, who has been racking up No. 1 singles, platinum songs and gold records -- not to mention crossover success -- since the release of his X2C EP and full-length debut, Montevallo, in late 2014. "Take Your Time," which is up for Song of the Year and Single of the Year, has been certified double platinum and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts, as well as No. 20 on the Hot 100. He, too, earned previous success as a songwriter, but success as an artist, Hunt explains, feels different.
“As I’ve pursued an artist career, I’ve sort of slowly gathered up a team of guys who have invested in me, invested their time, their energy ... I’m able to celebrate with a team of guys who I really, really respect, and I’m really appreciative of the hard work they’ve put in," he says. "It’s just really fulfilling to celebrate with a group of folks, a team, than it is personally [when you're a songwriter]."
Thanks to its intriguing lyrics and Hunt's slick delivery, "Take Your Time" is a massive hit -- one that could easily earn Hunt and his co-writers and producers a CMA trophy, despite his newcomer status.
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