This has been an exciting year for country music. From the returns of acclaimed singer-songwriters like Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves to some massive chart successes for acts like Gabby Barrett, Walker Hayes, Luke Combs, and Morgan Wallen, it’s safe to say the genre is having a resurgence. With that in mind, the competition for even a nomination at the Grammys is tightening up, so let’s take a look at the likeliest contenders.
The biggest country players this year will likely be Musgraves and Stapleton. Both artists have previously swept the country field for their respective albums “Golden Hour” and “Traveller,” and both might go head-to-head this year with their current releases “Star-Crossed” and “Starting Over” — Musgraves could be slotted in pop, though, since “Star-Crossed” is more pop-leaning than her previous work. In Stapleton’s case, he’s likely to get performance and/or songwriting noms for one of his two country hits this year, the top-30 Billboard hit “Starting Over” or the newest single “You Should Probably Leave.” Musgraves will likely submit the single “Justified.”
One of the biggest question marks this season is the controversial Wallen. On one hand, his Album of the Year nomination at the CMAs puts him ina good position for a Country Album Grammy nomination at least. However, the recording academy are more careful about controversial figures than the CMAs or ACMs have been, and Wallen’s music in general is a little closer to bro-country, which has always struggled at the Grammys (consider popular artists like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, who have never won). However, Wallen might instead be seen as more of a Sam Hunt-type, and Hunt has gotten four nominations to date so far.
Another CMA Album of the Year nominee looking to have a big year is Eric Church. The country superstar could easily score across-the-board nominations with his hit “Hell of the View” and his album “Heart.” Fellow Album of the Year nominees Brothers Osborne are in the same boat, with their album “Skeletons” probably locked for a Grammy nomination. Expect them to also be very strong competition for a Country Duo/Group Performance win; they’ve been nominated for the past six years straight, and have yet to take the prize home.
Other big names will likely be present on nomination day, especially without the nomination review committees that have locked them out in the past. Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones” gave the singer her second smash and could get a nom after her shutout last year for “I Hope.” Likewise, another artist snubbed last year who could be redeemed this year is Luke Combs, with his hit “Forever After All” being a number-two hit on the Billboard Hot 100, a rare crossover feat for a country song.
Chris Young and Kane Brown also scored a pretty big country hit this year with “Famous Friends.” Thomas Rhett’s “Country Again: Side A” notched a couple of successful singles with “What’s Your Country Song” and “Country Again.” Finally, Walker Hayes’s “Fancy Like,” which could end up as the biggest country hit of the year, might be a safe bet for a Country Solo Performance nomination.
Still, the Grammys aren’t completely commercial, so you always have to watch out for the dark horses. Grammy favorite Brandi Carlile could score performance noms for her covers of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Run To Me,” the latter with The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb. Willie Nelson’s “Family Bible” could also make an appearance after the legendary singer surprisingly won Best Country Solo Performance in 2020. Reigning Best Country Album winner Miranda Lambert (“Wildcard”) is eligible again for her collaborative project, “The Marfa Tapes,” along with Jack Ingram and Joe Randall.
You might also want to keep an eye out on submissions from other respected perennial nominees like Vince Gill, Little Big Town, and Carrie Underwood. Finally, don’t underestimate newer artists who could score noms, like Tenille Townes, Tenille Arts, Jimmie Allen, 2021 Grammy nominee Mickey Guyton, and Hardy.
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