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New Talent Fills CMA Awards, But Women Still Struggle to Break Through

Country music has always put a premium on marrying tradition to innovation, and this year’s crop of Country Music Assn. Awards nominees offers a good helping of new blood. For the first time in the history of the kudocast, four of the five nominees for New Artist of the Year are nominated in other categories, with Sam Hunt, Maddie & Tae, Chris Stapleton and Kelsea Ballerini nommed for male vocalist, female vocalist, vocal duo, album, single and song of the year.

As CMA CEO Sarah Trahern noted on nominations day, the nominees “represent the breadth and depth of the format — from first time nominees to revered members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

There are a number of reasons country ought to be excited about extending the breadth of its format, but there’s one metric that merits more attention than others. For the past few years, the relative dearth of women on country radio has reached something of a flash point, with country radio consultant Keith Hill putting the matter into sharp relief in May when he bluntly told trade paper Country Airwaves, “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out … I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%.”

Taking even a cursory glance at the country charts, it’s clear that the industry is some distance away from where it was 15 or 20 years ago, when the likes of Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks ruled the roost. In both 2013 and ’14, no women cracked the top 10 of the year-end country airplay chart, and translating critical acclaim — and awards show presence — into radio play is still very much a work in progress.

Nonetheless, in addition to evergreens Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, new artist nominees like Ballerini and Maddie & Tae, as well as relative newer faces like Kasey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe, the year’s nominees offer a glimpse at the sort of female talent on which the format has to draw.

One of the night’s multiple nominees, young singer-songwriters Maddie & Tae offered as thorough a musical rebuttal to country radio’s state of affairs with their satirical “Girl in a Country Song,” a skewering of “bro-country” tropes that hit the No. 1 spot on the Country Airplay chart last December.

“It wasn’t like we planned it to come out at this perfect time,” the group’s Taylor Dye says. “We just wrote the song because we knew what was going on with the format and we were kind of fed up with it. It just so happened to be the right song at the right time.

“And I think we both have seen a shift, with this wave of new women coming up in country like Cam and Kelsea, RaeLynn, Mickey (Guyton), all these women who are just very dedicated to what they do. We’re kind of pushing our way into the format, and that’s something that we’re proud to do.”

What:
CMA Awards
When:
8 p.m. (ET) Nov. 4
Where:
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
WEB: cmaworld.com

Nominees
New Artist
of the Year
› Sam Hunt
› Maddie & Tae
› Thomas Rhett
› Chris Stapleton
Kelsea Ballerini

Album of the Year
› “Old Boots, New
Dirt,” Jason Aldean
› “Pageant Material,” Kacey Musgraves
› “Pain Killer,”
Little Big Town
› “The Big Revival,” Kenny Chesney
› “Traveller,”
Chris Stapleton

Song of the Year
› “American Kids,” Kenny Chesney
› “Girl Crush,”
Little Big Town
› “Like a Cowboy,” Randy Houser
› “Like a Wrecking Ball,” Eric Church
› “Take Your Time,” Sam Hunt

Female Vocalist
› Miranda Lambert
› Kacey Musgraves
› Carrie Underwood
› Lee Ann Womack
› Kelsea Ballerini

Male Vocalist
› Dierks Bentley
› Luke Bryan
› Eric Church
› Blake Shelton
› Chris Stapleton

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