For a genre steeped in broken hearts and tear-filled beers, country loves its happy couples, those both real and duet-driven: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. On Wednesday's 45th CMA Awards at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, two chummy pairings — one make-believe, one newly hitched— will drive the action. For the fourth consecutive year, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley will host the gig together; they'll also perform their smash duet Remind Me.
Even cuter than those two are genuinely betrothed — and lovably rowdy — Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, each of whom is up for major hardware this year, including female and male vocalists of the year. Blake and Ran will win some shiny trophies, but not all of them. Herewith, an educated guess at some of the night's biggest categories:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: For the CMAs' top honor, Taylor Swift will go up against Shelton and three other big boys: Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean. I'm a huge Aldean fan, and Swift, who comes to the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, moves more product than anyone in popular music. But Shelton has dominated radio (Honey Bee was a No. 1 hit), TV (as a judge on The Voice) and the Internet (he's a Twitter beast!). I think this is his year. I also think his acceptance speech will be one for the ages — and the censors.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Lambert was between albums when voting went down; her new LP, Four the Record, just dropped a couple weeks ago. Plus she won last year, and repeating is tough. This was a great comeback year for Sara Evans, and Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood are perennial threats. But Swift's Speak Now was a monster seller, and she's now selling out arenas all over. You can only ignore the 21-year-old blond for so long.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: This one's going to be a tight race, too, especially since rowdy cult fave Eric Church is somehow eligible, even though the Kid Rocker has been around for awhile. The Band Perry scored a major hit with the navel-gazing If I Die Young, and Luke Bryan and Chris Young are the kinds of country hunks Nashville loves. Still, this night is all about the couples, so I'm going with the husband-wife team in Thompson Square and their single Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR: Honey Bee and If I Die Young are obviously the front-runners here, but I'm going to stick with today's lovey-dovey theme and go with a relatively major upset: Aldean and Kelly Clarkson's whopper throwdown Don't You Wanna Stay, one of the hottest duets in recent memory. After all, country loves its couples, especially when they sound like those two.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.