The 55th Annual CMA Awards will be held tomorrow night and broadcast live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
It’s one of the biggest nights in country music, when the best artists in the industry get together to be recognized for the accomplishments in country music.
Well at least that’s what it’s supposed to be.
In reality, it’s record labels making deals with each other (and with other voters) to vote for certain artists to win certain awards, while a whole lot of deserving artists from both inside and outside the mainstream are left out.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the nominees (and I’m sure some of the winners) absolutely deserved to be nominated and deserve the trophy should they take it home.
But some of the nominees are just headscratchers – and so are some of the artists who were left out of the nominations.
I mean, Koe Wetzel could win Entertainer of the Year every year. Kip Moore is perpetually underrated, everything Cody Jinks touches is GOLD, same with the likes of Lori McKenna, Brandi Carlile, and Brandy Clark. But unfortunately, many of these awards are tied to mainstream country music radio so no matter how good your album is, if you’re not on radio, you’re not getting in.
Great format, isn’t it?
So with that, here are 14 artists who should have been nominated for CMA Awards this year. When coming up with this list we used the same eligibility criteria and time period that the CMA Awards used, and these are just a few of the well-deserving artists who were left out:
1. Tyler Childers
I think this one goes without saying, but Tyler is one of the biggest artists in country music right now and he’s never even gotten a look from the CMA Awards. He’s one of the hottest tickets in the game right now (he sold out two consecutive nights at Red Rocks), he dropped a surprise instrumental album, Long Violent History, and he’s inspired an entire new generation of country fans and artists. If that’s not Entertainer of the Year material, I don’t know what is.
2. Muscadine Bloodline
These guys are one of the hottest duos in country music right now – but they’re completely independent, so they don’t have a record label to push for them to be included in the CMA Awards. And while I love that they’re independent and are able to do things their own way, it’s a damn shame that they’re not nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year (especially when there aren’t a ton of vocal duos out there to begin with).
3. Lainey Wilson
There’s really no excuse for leaving Lainey out of this year’s nominees: She had one of the best debut albums that I can remember with Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ and already has a #1 song under her belt with “Things A Man Oughta Know.” The CMAs made a mistake when she didn’t get a nomination for New Artist of the Year, Single of the Year or Female Vocalist of the Year.
4. Zach Bryan
Zach Bryan is on a rocket ship right now – and for good reason. His gritty lyrics – and the grit in his voice – is winning fans over in droves. His first single, “Heading South,” was certified gold earlier this month, and if you look at his concerts they’re packed full of fans who know every single word to his songs. Oh, and his music has also been featured in Yellowstone. With a resume like that, how do you not nominate Zach for New Artist of the Year?
5. Parker McCollum
It’s been a breakout year for Parker with the release of his major-label debut album, Gold Chain Cowboy. He also notched his first #1 with “Pretty Heart” at the end of 2020, and he sold out the Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas, Texas – which holds 20,000 people – back in July. Parker should have been nominated for New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year, at the very least.
6. Hailey Whitters
Another absolute snub for New Artist of the Year was Hailey Whitters. Her single from last year, “Janice at the Hotel Bar,” was one of my favorite songs of the year, and she followed that up with an incredible debut album, The Dream. Couple that with her performances on the Grand Ole Opry, and her deluxe album released earlier this year featuring duets with Trisha Yearwood, Brent Cobb and more, and it’s been a monster year for Hailey – and one that she deserves to be recognized for.
7. Flatland Cavalry
I mean, come on. A quick look at the Vocal Group of the Year nominees and you’ll see a group whose biggest headline over the last year came when they stole the name of a black blues singer, and Little Big Town, who have released exactly zero new music during the eligibility period for this category.
Meanwhile, Cleto and the boys of Flatland Cavalry released Welcome to Countryland back in July of this year, and it even featured a song written by Entertainer of the Year Nominee Luke Combs. They’ve also been touring their asses off (like always), and recently made their Grand Ole Opry debut. Not only should they be nominated for Vocal Group of the Year, they should probably take home the trophy.
8. John R. Miller
Getting in just in time to make this year’s eligibility period was one of the best albums of the year, John R. Miller’s Depreciated. The songwriting on this album is absolutely incredible, featuring unique songs like “Fire Dancer,” which was inspired by the time he accidentally took DMT. It’s gritty, it’s introspective…it’s just damn good. And it should have easily been nominated for Album of the Year.
9. Randall King
If you’d ask me who I think is about ready to absolutely explode in the mainstream, it would be Randall King. He recently signed with Warner Music Nashville, but that hasn’t changed his honky-tonk sound. He’s got the endorsement of guys like Garth Brooks, and he released an absolutely amazing EP last December, a tribute to his late sister, Leanna.
He has a rabid fan base that’s pushing him more and more into the mainstream conversation, but I’ve said before that this guy is countrier than cow shit and that’s one thing that’s never changed about his music. And while he’s not entirely “new,” he more than meets the criteria to get the nomination for New Artist of the Year.
10. Cody Johnson
I don’t think I really need to even say much about this one. CoJo’s one of the biggest names in the Texas country scene, but he’s also starting to have a lot of success in mainstream country too. (His latest single, “Til You Can’t,” is absolutely flying up the charts right now). And while his Human: The Double Album was released too late to be included in this year’s awards, he still should have been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year – and hell, he even has a case for Entertainer of the Year too.
11. Mike And The Moonpies
Getting back to the absolute atrocity of the Vocal Group of the Year nominees – Mike and the Moonpies should have been included in this category too. They’ve had a huge year with the buildup to the release of their latest album, One to Grow On, and with their classic country sound, silky-smooth steel guitar and honky tonk jams, they’ve got a way stronger case for Vocal Group of the Year than a couple of the nominees.
12. Morgan Wade
Recently signed to Sony Music Nashville, Morgan is another one that’s poised to make a big splash in the mainstream with her grassroots fanbase and deep, powerful songwriting. With the jump that she’s been able to make into the mainstream this year, and her stunning album Reckless from earlier this year, Morgan was unfortunately overlooked for New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year.
13. Jesse Daniel
I can think of a few categories that Jesse is more than deserving to be nominated in. It’s probably a stretch to call him a “new artist,” but his latest album Beyond These Walls definitely made a lot of people sit up and take notice of what Jesse’s doing. “Gray” will absolutely stop you in your tracks, and “Clayton Was a Cowboy” and “Think I’ll Stay” are just fucking jams. But the whole album just happens to be one of the best albums that was released this year, and should have easily been nominated for Album of the Year.
14. Charlie Marie
Easily one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, Charlie Marie’s classic country sound is as endearing as anybody in the business right now. New Artist of the Year? Album of the Year? If only…
So there you have it. That’s our list of just some (keyword: SOME) of the artists who should have been nominated this year.
Of course, this list could go on and on and on with a zillion deserving candidates from every corner of the country music.
Who else should have been included in the CMA’s nominees?