When the Water Sheds: What the 2012 CMA Awards Nominations Really Mean
In a world where faster, better, louder and especially newer matters, the 46th Annual Country Music Association Awards nominations speak eloquently to that truth. But as the dust from the nominations settles, the realization that it’s not just that truth, but the notion that many of the genre’s bedrock acts for more than two decades are now no longer valid at the table. Is it a matter of true discernment, or more of a dispose of the past, don’t look back, burn the cornfields and raze what was? After all, if you don’t remember you don’t have to be bound by the history, the legacy or – arguably – the quality of what was.
With Eric Church being the leading nominee, it would appear to be a mandate for voices of conviction, singularity of being who you are, possibly even a reflection of the (sub)urbanization of working America versus the rural reality so much of country emerged from. Or else it’s momentum. Too many of the same superstars doing the same work – or pale Xeroxes of what they’d already done. Look at who’s missing: George Strait, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw only with Kenny Chesney, but Chesney only in gratuity categories (Vocal Event, Video) and Entertainer, which as the only true stadium-sized headliner it would’ve been a gaffe not to include a man who did in 23 dates what most acts tour all year to hope to accomplish. Even Keith Urban only saw a Male Vocalist nod and Carrie Underwood Female.
Is the new guard ready? The proof will be in the ratings. Has the rap trickle-down and pop/singles reality created a disposability for country music that makes it not so “must see” TV? After all, in the past three weeks, we’ve seen Colt Ford debut at Number One on the Country Album chart with a meager 31,000 albums, followed by Dustin Lynch topping out with only 21,000. This is not – sadly – a mandate.
Still, Jason Aldean is a freight train. His music is loud, aggressive, and to the point. Not quite “we’re mad as Hell,” but more a secessionist blue collar truth that echoes Hank Williams, Jr. circa “A Country Boy Can Survive.” If ever there was a song that spoke of not buying in, but standing out and standing true, it’s Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” a perfect synthesis of urban, aggression and living beyond the strive for more city aspirationalism.
Blame it on release schedules, the political primaries taking the attention. Country tours sold tickets, lots and lots of cheap tickets… and yet. If The Voice and American Idol are what’s driving artist development – Blake Shelton scored big, Kelly Clarkson with no single even shipped to country radio beyond her Aldean duet is a Female Vocalist nominee – are they going to create stars to last?
Certainly Miranda Lambert packs to wallop of the Dixie Chicks. Strong, defined, musically gifted and after three straight Album of the Year wins at the Academy of Country Music Awards, looking at repeating Female Vocalist and possibly taking home another Album of the Year Award.
Here on the fault-line, it appears the old guard may be getting sent home. They have had good runs, but the trick of re-invention is elusive. Just like for the ones poised to take the prize need to create a realm beyond the hit single – as Lady Antebellum’s noted cooling sizzle factor suggests – or like too many pop acts, they won’t reap the long term success that has always made country music a genre that’s build to last.
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