Counterpoint: Grammy Awards Voters Love Progressive, High-Brow Country
Let's use a food analogy to sum up the differences between the country music lauded at the Grammy Awards vs. that honored at the CMA Awards and ACM Awards: If the latter is Hattie B's famous hot chicken, the former is Momofuku Noodle Bar's take on the dish.
Both sets of winners are, in their purest forms, delicious versions of a tried-and-true Southern staple ... but (sorry, Hattie B's!), you feel just a little bit classier eating the Momofuku dish. Similarly, while the CMAs, ACMs and Grammys all award some of the top names in country music, the Grammys' honorees tend to be on the progressive, high-brow end of the genre.
The Grammys, by default, honor a wider swath of country subgenres: The all-genre awards show features separate categories for Americana, American roots, bluegrass and folk music in addition to its country categories. But the inclusion of those categories isn't what makes the "Grammy Awards type" lean left of center; after all, in addition to the CMA Awards and ACM Awards, the Americana Music Awards and the IBMA Awards are also handed out yearly.
No, it's specifically the nominees and winners in the Grammys' country categories with which this hypothesis is concerned. Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton have won in those categories, but Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton never have. Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves are country Grammys holders, yet Tanya Tucker and Martina McBride are not. Alison Krauss is the awards show's most-lauded female artist, of any genre, while Luke Bryan has never even been nominated at the Grammy Awards.
Simpson, Stapleton, Morris, Musgraves, Krauss: All five have earned an immense amount of critical acclaim. Sometimes commercial success has come, too (Stapleton had the two best-selling country albums of 2017, and Morris recently scored her first No. 1 song), but not always, and certainly not to the same extent as, for example, Shelton. Grammys voters aren't looking for the most popular -- they're looking for the artistic best.
While the CMAs, ACMs and Grammys all award some of the top names in country music, the Grammys' honorees tend to be on the progressive, high-brown end of the genre.
Not that this theory is perfect: In 2011, Dierks Bentley's bluegrass album, Up on the Ridge -- an adventurous, unexpected and critically acclaimed, if not particularly commercially successful, project from the mainstream star -- lost out on Best Country Album to Lady Antebellum's smash-hit of a sophomore album, Need You Now. Eric Church, one of country music's most daring stars as of late, is 0-7 at the Grammys, and his Mr. Misunderstood album was completely overlooked, earning not a single nod from the Recording Academy.
This theory has, however, been harder to argue with in recent years. When "bro-country" was at its height, you wouldn't have guessed by looking at the Grammys nominees (no, Florida Georgia Line have never been nominated either). Women are still struggling to get played on country radio, yet, as nominees, they have outnumbered the men in the Best Country Solo Performance category since 2016. And although we can't predict it for sure, there's a good chance that Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" -- the biggest country song, hands down, of 2017, and one of the most successful in recent years -- won't end up winning either of the categories its nominated in at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
A big reason for the disparity in CMA and ACM winners and Grammy Awards winners is who votes: Whereas CMA and ACM voting members include label staff, radio industry members and media, only artists, musicians, songwriters and producers are eligible to vote for the Grammy Awards. That difference, at least partially, helps explain, for example, why the Dixie Chicks won all five of the awards they were nominated for at the 2007 Grammy Awards even though they'd been blacklisted in country music because of Natalie Maines' comments about then-President George W. Bush.
Just as there's room for both Hattie B's and Momofuku's fried chicken in the culinary world, country music has proven that it's vast enough to support all sorts of sounds. But it's also encouraging to see, on Music's Biggest Night, some of the genre's more unique and daring offerings recognized.
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 60th annual Grammy Awards will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Jan. 28. The televised ceremony will begin at 7:30PM ET on CBS; the pre-telecast Premiere Ceremony will be available to stream online earlier in the evening.
The Boot will be staying up late covering the most buzzed-about country winners, fashion and moments at the 2018 Grammy Awards. Readers can watch along with us by checking back to TheBoot.com for the latest Grammys headlines, liking The Boot on Facebook and following The Boot on Twitter.
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