Published April 06, 2016
There's bro country and pop country. There's traditional country, acoustic country and, arriving just now, metal country. All these faces of the genre — and more — will be on display Wednesday night during the Country Music Association Awards.
This will make it tough for millions of viewers to guess what's coming next when the awards air live on ABC from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
The young women of country music, who include top nominee Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, have dominated the awards show circuit for the past few years. Before that there was a run on the guys with the guitars. And there was the cowboy hat era.
"It's always gone in cycles, you know," said Keith Urban, who will perform the duet "We Were Us" with Miranda Lambert. "We haven't had bands for a long time. That might be the next thing. You've got guys, and girls, and bands and then hats and ball caps, and then girls' mid-riffs, we go through everything."
The 47th annual awards, hosted by Underwood and Brad Paisley, come at a time of transition in country music. Swift and newcomer Kacey Musgraves lead with six nominations each; Miranda Lambert has five. Swift is nominated for her third entertainer of the year award, the night's top honor, and already has two wins Wednesday with Tim McGraw and Urban after the CMA announced their "Highway Don't Care" collaboration won musical event and music video of the year.
Swift also is still up for album of the year and female vocalist. And though it won't show on her official tally for the night, the 23-year-old pop star will be presented with the CMA's Pinnacle Award. The award goes to artists who take country music to a worldwide audience. Garth Brooks is the only previous winner; he won in 2005.
Like Swift, Lambert has been a darling of the 6,000 CMA voters with seven trophies since 2010.
With smart songwriting, a progressive bent and a strong sense of self like country's other top women, Musgraves made an auspicious mainstream country debut this year with her album "Same Trailer Different Park." She's up for album, female vocalist, new artist and single of the year. And she scored two song of the year nominations for co-writing Lambert's hit "Mama's Broken Heart" and her own "Merry Go 'Round."
Lambert, who will be going for her fourth straight female vocalist win, is up for single of the year and shares three nominations with her Pistol Annies trio.
There's no safe money on the winners this year. But at some point voters will begin acknowledging the so-called bro country movement — typified by hunky dudes often wearing ball caps and tight pants. Platinum-tinged rising acts like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line rule the radio with coolers full of cold ones and good vibes.
Meanwhile, veteran George Strait is going for his third entertainer of the year award as he retires from the road, and Bob Dylan is the co-writer on song-of-the-year nominee "Wagon Wheel" with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show.
Voters could easily make an argument for any of the five entertainer of the year nominees. Strait is the sentimental choice. Swift's popularity has helped expand the boundaries and fan base of country music. Blake Shelton is a five-time nominee who only seems to get more popular. Jason Aldean is about due for the award as a major architect of country's modernization and a touring titan. And Bryan is arguably country's hottest star after winning the rival Academy of Country Music's entertainer trophy in April and putting out 2013's best-selling album in the genre.
All of the entertainer of the year nominees will perform with Strait, joining Alan Jackson to salute the late George Jones. The Zac Brown Band will be joined by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, Hunter Hayes has invited Jason Mraz to perform during the three-hour show and most of country's biggest stars will take the stage.
The CMA also will pay tribute to Kenny Rogers.