Point: The Grammys Reward Forward-Thinking (and Women)
The avant-garde and defunct Civil Wars have three Grammys to Reba McEntire's two and George Strait's one. In 2005 Loretta Lynn topped Keith Urban and Tim McGraw's epic Live Like You Were Dying album with Van Lear Rose, an experimental masterpiece that was celebrated commercially only slightly more than albums in the spoken-word categories. Blake Shelton has never won a Grammy. Luke Bryan has never been nominated. The Band Perry have one — a win in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category in 2014 for their cover of Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind."
Urban (four Grammys in 18 tries) and Carrie Underwood (seven Grammys out of 18 nominations) run counter to this insinuation that radio airplay is bad for Grammy luck, but they do point to a difference in how Grammy voters think and how voters for country-only awards shows consider their champions. The Grammys reward progressives, while the CMA and ACM Awards reward sounds that stay true to a genre rooted in tradition. Three chords and the truth will rarely earn you a Grammy statuette.
But first, what about this other point about women? In a wider conversation about women in country music, it's easy to declare the Grammy Awards a more gender-neutral prizegiving, but that's not necessarily true. Thirteen of the last 20 Best Country Album Grammys have gone to females (or groups with a female lead vocalist), but so have 11 of the last 20 CMA winners. All six of the Best Country Duo/Group Performance Grammys have gone to acts that are at least partially female (the award has only been around since 2012), but so have 11 or nine of the last 20 CMAs in the Single of the Year or Song of the Year categories.
Women get a fair shot come awards season, which has been great for artists like Kacey Musgraves (two Grammys) and Maren Morris (one Grammy, but a nod in 2018). Both have fared well at the CMAs too, as has another celebrated voice who struggles at radio, Chris Stapleton (two Grammys with three nods in 2018). Between this group there wasn't a No. 1 country radio hit until this month, but they have enough hardware to melt down for a fleet of gold guitars. The one thing women do more as a whole is push the boundaries of the genre, something we explored earlier in declaring "the next Chris Stapleton."
Think about it: when was the last time you heard a female artist call for a return to traditional country music? Go ahead, take your time. Here's a list of snubbed artists to consider before we pick back up again:
2018 Grammy Nominations Snubs and Surprises
Kelsea Ballerini (Best New Artist nominee in 2017) is on the leading edge of pop-country. Morris admits her debut album Hero was almost genre-less, and credits that for her success and appeal to pop headliners like Niall Horan. Stapleton's soulful voice is a blues and country hybrid that fans of any genre of music can embrace. He is a traditionalist, but like Midland (one nomination in 2018), he's a traditionalist in a very retro way. These two acts recall Waylon Jennings or Dwight Yoakam (two each), not Toby Keith (no Grammys) or early-oughts Chesney. Like peg-leg jeans and vinyl records, their style is old enough to be cool once again. If you want to be a throwback, you'd best throw it way back.
Brothers Osborne are becoming Grammy darlings with a sound that leans against the more jagged, rock edges of country music, although they're 0-2 heading into this year's show. Lambert has 16 nominations and two wins and is proof that sometimes you can just throw all theories out the window because a song is just so dang good. "The House That Build Me" won in 2010, because anything short of that would have been criminal!
What does this mean for the 2018 Grammy Awards on Jan. 28? Bet on Midland or Little Big Town (two lifetime wins), but not more centered artists like Chesney or Thomas Rhett. Lady Antebellum (five wins) could resurface, as they have music that both pushes the genre forward and are fronted by a woman. Sam Hunt would be considered a favorite except he was shut out of the Big 4 categories, somewhat inexplicably. Is "Body Like a Back Road" too country?
That's a funny thought for many, but should he win he'll have one more than Chesney, Church and Aldean. Pentatonix on the other hand have three Grammys, including a win in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category in 2017, over the previously mentioned Chesney and Brothers Osborne, plus Dierks Bentley and Chris Young, all of whom have yet to catch their reflections in that famous shine.
The 2018 Grammys will air live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on CBS on Jan. 28.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point/Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Feb. 20 for another installment.
The All-Time Snubbed List? It Has to Be These 5 Country Men