Whether it's a well-worn cowboy or a fresh-faced newbie, Nashville takes care of its own. Loyalty thrives on Music Row, and unlike the pop marketplace, artists are still built for the long haul. It's an incredibly successful, albeit increasingly rare, business model that will be on full display during tonight's very blond 44th annual CMA Awards.
Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band are five of 2010's bestselling acts — in any genre, mind you — and they'll no doubt get more air time (and awards) than most. But the country music community never fails to promote and propel its royalty, too, which means Reba McEntire, George Strait and Martina McBride will be treated as vital artists, too, not just Hall of Famers wheeled out for kicks.
That makes the CMAs one of the chummier awards shows, especially as country music proves to be slump-proof at a time when the music biz is in the outhouse. Of course, you could question whether Swift actually qualifies as country music — and you wouldn't be alone. A lot of folks were steamed when Swift, the crossover queen of the 21st century, was crowned last year's CMA entertainer of the year, the youngest performer to ever win the show's biggest prize.
No worries this year: Swift — whose new album, the just-released Speak Now, sold more than a million copies in its first week — wasn't nominated for the top hardware in 2010; her last album is too old, her new album is too new. But she could factor into a few other categories. Here's a peek at the trophy chase:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Brad Paisley, who will co-host the CMAs along with Underwood, is a heck of a picker and a fiendishly clever songwriter. He'll win male vocalist of the year for sure. But his nom here is merely a thank you for a great 2010. Same goes for Keith Urban. Jammy newcomer the Zac Brown Band won't triumph, either, but it's a shoo-in for the next prize on our list. And although the ferociously gifted Miranda Lambert deserves every award she's nominated for — including this sucker — she'll watch someone else take entertainer of the year: Lady Antebellum, whose 2010 album Need You Now sold more than 3 million copies on the strength of catchy singles and Charles Kelley's all-world voice.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: No offense to Luke Bryan, Easton Corbin, Jerrod Niemann and Chris Young, but, well, nooooo. The Zac Brown Band — pretty much the Dave Matthews Band of Music Row — is an absolute lock for new artist.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: McBride and McEntire are down-home goddesses, but these are basically respect nods for them. Instead, it will come down to Underwood (whose Play On was a critical dud but commercially solid), Swift (who gets a nod 'cause she's the bestselling star on the planet) and Lambert (whose Revolution, with hit single The House That Built Me, will win album of the year). I'm going with Lambert, if only because she's a slap to Nashville's staid tendencies, plus girlfriend knows how to fire a crossbow — and hit things.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.