2023 ACM Awards preview: Luke Combs domination? Zach Bryan redemption?

Alongside the Country Music Association Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards are the pinnacle of the country music scene, although they have a tendency to lean commercial and snub artists like Brandi Carlile and Willie Nelson who are currently less prominent on country radio. With this year’s nominations just around the corner and many artists potentially in the mix, let’s take a look at the best of the best in the world of country and whose names you should expect to see on nomination morning.

As with virtually every country music award show these days, if there’s someone you can bet will be nominated, it’s Luke Combs. The uber-popular singer-songwriter has been one of the biggest names in the genre, dropping some of the biggest hits of the past 10 years. This time around, he will be competing with his latest record, “Growin’ Up.” The album won the CMA for Album of the Year last fall and is currently nominated for Best Country Album at the Grammys. Combs’s album also produced the singles “Doin’ This” and “The Kind of Love We Make,” both country chart-toppers. So Combs is likely to show up across the board.

Another big seller is Morgan Wallen, who is still riding high from his 2021 release, “Dangerous: The Double Album” (it’s still in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 two years later), as well as from new singles he’s been dropping for his upcoming album, “One Thing at a Time.” Wallen seems to have been mostly forgiven by the country industry after his 2021 racial slur controversy; he even won Album of the Year at last year’s ACMs. This year he could be a player for his songs “You Proof” and “Thought You Should Know.” But while Wallen is for sure showing up somewhere, he might not be nominated across the board; even overlooking his past controversies, his music isn’t particularly acclaimed.

Other regular players will probably be on the list. You can expect Maren Morris to get in for her album “Humble Quest,” which featured the hit “Circles Around This Town.” Also a likely nominee is Miranda Lambert, for her record “Palomino.” Lambert is a perennial nominee, so don’t be surprised if she’s in multiple categories. Eric Church has a good chance of netting a fourth consecutive Entertainer of the Year bid for his work last year, and you can expect Thomas Rhett somewhere in the mix as well.

Carly Pearce is another name to look for. She could easily be in contention for another win for Female Artist of the Year. Likewise, Lainey Wilson has been a sensation in the country-sphere, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see her rock the nominations. But perhaps the most anticipated nominee is Zach Bryan, who has taken the charts by storm with his record “American Heartbreak.”

Bryan has underperformed this awards season — he only got one nomination at the Grammys and was goose-egged at the CMAs. However, all of that was during voting periods before his hit “Something in the Orange” had a significant presence on country radio. Now that it’s had more time to rise, it’d be egregious if Bryan isn’t at least nominated for Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Finally, keep an eye on names including Hardy, Cody Johnson, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard, and Ingrid Andress.

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