When the Water Sheds: What the 2012 CMA Awards Nominations Really Mean

Holly Gleason | September 12th, 2012

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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that it’s not just that truth, but the notion that many of the genre’s bedrock acts for more than two decades are now no longer valid at the table.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.

  1. Blake Boldt
    September 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

    The shelf life for a country star is much shorter now than it’s ever been. George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash, just to name a few, all had successful chart runs for over 20 years. Although sales for the big-league artists like Lady A, Carrie and Aldean far surpassed their more modest numbers, will this new crop be able to match that longevity even if their talents warrant it?

  2. Ben Foster
    September 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Kelly Clarkson with no single even shipped to country radio beyond her Aldean duet is a Female Vocalist nominee

    Not to nitpick, but there was “Mr. Know It All.” I think that country remix and #21 country hit was a major factor in Calarkson garnering her nomination, though her nod still baffles me to some extent.

    Great article. Very interesting reflection on this year’s crop of nominees, uninspiring as such may be.

  3. Mattb
    September 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

    “Mr. Know It All” was an official country radio single for Clarkson.

  4. Rick
    September 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    As Top 40 AirHead Country continues to gravitate more towards the pop (and sadly rap) side of the musical spectrum, it becomes more “pop culture” oriented every day. The fact both Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are pop culture icons cements this even further.

    Since pop culture revolves around change and the latest fads and fashions, its no wonder the shelf life of new country artists is shrinking. It seems both the music and the artists themselves are becoming ever more disposable and replaceable. This is all just academic to me as the whole scene fell far past my point of caring years ago. If the music ever turns “country’ again, I might start paying attention…

  5. scooter
    September 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    i wish there was a parallel universe where the more traditional artists could be rewarded and wouldn’t have to compete with all this pop crap. After Kellie
    Pickler, Ashton Shepherd, and Lee Ann Womack lost their contracts, I’m not feeling good about country music at all. Maybe the new Jamey Johnson album will cheer me up next month.

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