Tonight are the CMA Awards, the country equivalent of the Grammys. I didn’t grow up on country music, although there was a fair amount of crossover during the late '70s due to the much maligned Urban Cowboy phenomenon.
Then when I interned at Billboard’s country bureau while at Vanderbilt in Nashville, I started to venture into it. I was a bit hopeless. I just didn’t have any built-up memory since I’d been a pop baby, so I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up ever since especially on the greats like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or Hank Williams (senior, not junior).
Country music feels like it’s in a bit of a transition period and I think we’ll see that changing of the guard some tonight on the awards telecast through performers like Kacey Musgraves, who represents an updated twist on traditional country, and acts like Florida Georgia Line, who are blending rock and pop (their producer produced Nickelback, by the way).
Just as a number of journalists have written lately, include Vulture’s Jody Rosen, who helped really get the ball rolling, way too much of country radio is dominated by men. Women are having a tough time breaking through. Many of the songs by the men deal with trucks, fields, girls in short shorts or sundresses wearing boots, and beer. It’s a list of tired tropes that you can check off in your head as you listen to each song roll by, often indistinguishable from the next. Some pundits have posited that the female artists are aiming higher lyrically and that may be why they’re having trouble. To be sure, there’s a big difference in the dysfunctional family dynamic that punctuates Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the somewhat rote pick-up truck/moonlight/beer/best girl motif of Luke Bryan’s “That My Kind Of Might.” The latter, by the way, set a record for longest run at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Songs chart in 50 years, so it is clearly resonating with people...lots and lots of them.
I just find that more and more when I listen to mainstream country radio, I’m hearing way too much of the same thing, but I know the pendulum will swing back around...and I also know there’s plenty of country music that’s not getting played on the radio that is absolutely wonderful.
But I’m eager to see tonight’s awards and see who is newly anointed.
I will say this for country artists, they are tremendously generous with their fans and with their dollars. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is one of the biggest beneficiaries of country music artists, who support the Memphis hospital, in part, due to its proximity to Nashville. A number of country artists are also supporting the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. That wasn’t there when I went to school at Vandy. In fact, every time I go back, I’m astonished at how much the medical school has expanded. Rascal Flatts, a group who has never won a CMA Award, by the way, donates a huge amount of time and dollars to Children’s Hospital, so much so that the pediatric surgery center has been renamed after the group. I’ve already given to St. Jude’s, so tonight I’m donating to Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital.
Now I have to go see if I picked tonight’s winners correctly!