Could a pop song win a CMA? Song cat­e­gories are a hard bet

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - People - BY KRISTIN M. HALL As­so­ci­ated Press


The midterm elec­tions are over, but the con­test for the year’s best coun­try songs is just around the cor­ner at the 2018 Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Awards.

The two cat­e­gories – song of the year and sin­gle of the year – look sim­i­lar with three songs nom­i­nated in both, but the writ­ers be­hind the hits say these awards are hard to pre­dict.

Nom­i­nees in­clude a mon­ster pop song that went coun­try, coun­try songs that went pop, a mes­sage song for the #MeToo era and, of course, drink­ing songs.

Song of the year is awarded to song­writ­ers, while sin­gle of the year goes to the artist, pro­ducer and mix­ing en­gi­neer.

The CMA Awards will air live on Wed­nes­day from Nash­ville, Ten­nessee. Here’s a look at the sin­gle and song of the year nom­i­nees.

“Drowns A the Whiskey” by

Ja­son Aldean fea­tur­ing Mi­randa Lam­bert, nom­i­nated for sin­gle and song of the year:

This song was orig­i­nally pitched for coun­try singer Tyler Farr, ex­plains Josh Thomp­son, who co-wrote the song with Bran­don Kin­ney and Jeff Mid­dle­ton. When it didn’t make Farr’s al­bum, Aldean grabbed it and turned it into a No. 1 hit.

The three writ­ers were on the road in 2013 when they wrote it, stay­ing up un­til 4:30 in the morn­ing while drink­ing whiskey to fin­ish it, Thomp­son said.

“I am huge believer in the idea that you’ve got to get in the char­ac­ter of your song,” he said.

Thomp­son said the twist on a whiskey song and the open­ing line make it unique, but the pro­duc­tion and turn­ing it into a duet made the song sound like a new clas­sic.

“It feels mod­ern and time­less at the same time and the smoky Mi­randa notes in there just send it through the roof,” he said.



Ha­los” by

Chris Sta­ple­ton, nom­i­nated for sin­gle and song of the year:

Mike Hen­der­son has writ­ten with Sta­ple­ton for years, long be­fore they were both in the blue­grass band The Steeldrivers and way be­fore Sta­ple­ton broke out with his 2015 solo de­but, “Trav­eller.”

“I was read­ing Keith Richards’ bi­og­ra­phy and he had a chap­ter called ‘Bro­ken Ha­los,' and as soon I saw it, I was like, ‘Whoa, song ti­tle,” Hen­der­son said.

The track won the best coun­try song Grammy ear­lier this year, mak­ing it a strong con­tender in both CMA cat­e­gories, and the emo­tional way Sta­ple­ton sings the song makes it a fan fa­vorite.

“We’ve had a lot of folks say that the song had a re­ally spe­cial mean­ing for them – peo­ple that have lost a loved one, who had been through some per­sonal tragedy,” Hen­der­son said. “It does seem to touch peo­ple, which as a song­writer, you’re try­ing to do.”

“Tequila” by Dan +


Shay, nom­i­nated for sin­gle and song of the year:

Dan Smy­ers and Shay Mooney gen­uinely love tequila. They drink it on tour and at home, but the duo wasn’t re­ally look­ing for party song about get­ting drunk.

“So we flipped that,” said Smy­ers. “Tequila was ba­si­cally the trig­ger that took you back to a cer­tain place, so it’s a nos­tal­gic heart­break song, which is kind of Dan + Shay’s wheel­house.”

The song, co-writ­ten with Ni­colle Ga­lyon and Jordan Reynolds, crossed from coun­try to pop ra­dio, even peak­ing at No. 21 on Bill­board’s Hot 100 chart. Smy­ers said he’s sees the cross­over suc­cess as an ad­van­tage in build­ing fans among peo­ple who don’t tra­di­tion­ally lis­ten to coun­try mu­sic.

“This could be their gate­way into coun­try,” Smy­ers said. “They hear that song and say, ‘I love that,' and flip over to the coun­try sta­tion.”

“Meant to Be” by Bebe A

Rexha and Florida Ge­or­gia Line, nom­i­nated for sin­gle of the year:

It’s the song that has dom­i­nated coun­try mu­sic for all of 2018. The in­escapable, record-break­ing mon­ster hit has sur­passed 1 bil­lion streams, achieved four-times plat­inum sta­tus and reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart.

Song­writer David Garcia wrote the song in Los An­ge­les with Rexha, FGL’s Tyler Hub­bard and song­writer Josh Miller and it was orig­i­nally re­leased on Rexha’s 2017 EP, “All Your Fault: Pt. 2.”

“There is a lit­tle more merg­ing of L.A. and Nash­ville now more than ever,” Garcia said.

Garcia said while he’d love to see the song win, he’s not putting any bets down. He at­tributes the song’s suc­cess in part to Rexha’s huge stream­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

But it’s also a po­lar­iz­ing con­tender with many ar­gu­ing it’s not a true coun­try song and its cross­over suc­cess could turn off some more tra­di­tion­ally-minded CMA vot­ers.

Garcia said he doesn’t con­cern him­self with those crit­ics.

“I be­lieve we’re in an amaz­ing place where the fans and the lis­ten­ers de­cide what their fa­vorite songs are,” he said. “I think the song is un­de­ni­able in what it is.”

“Body Like a Back


Road” by Sam Hunt, nom­i­nated for song of the year, and “Drinkin' Prob­lem” by Mid­land, nom­i­nated for sin­gle of the year:

Both songs were cre­ated in part by the song­writ­ing­pro­duc­ing power duo

Shane McA­nally and

Josh Os­borne, but they are on dif­fer­ent spec­trums of the genre.


Hunt’s 2017 hit crossed to pop and be­came a five-times plat­inum suc­cess with a catchy, fin­ger-snap­ping rhythm. But even McA­nally ad­mits to be­ing a bit sur­prised about see­ing it pop up on the nom­i­nee list again af­ter it lost last year in the same cat­e­gory (“Bet­ter Man,” writ­ten by Tay­lor Swift for Lit­tle Big Town, won the prize).

Even though it was not re­leased in the el­i­gi­bil­ity pe­riod, Hunt’s song made the sec­ond bal­lot be­cause it re­mained a Top 5 coun­try sin­gle. The fact that “Body Like a Back Road” hasn’t won any CMA Awards, de­spite be­ing nom­i­nated three times, sug­gests that pop crossovers might not be the key fac­tor to win­ning.

“There’s a five-way race for this one,” McA­nally said of the song of the year cat­e­gory. “There’s not a ‘Girl Crush' that feels like a steam­roller. I just don’t know who could win.”

Mean­while, Mid­land broke out as a neo-tra­di­tion­al­ist band with “Drinkin' Prob­lem,” a George Strait-style throw­back.

“I would love to see it win sin­gle of the year be­cause of its tra­di­tional sound,” McA­nally said. “(Sin­gle of the year) is about com­mer­cial im­pact, but I’ve al­ways thought about it as the sound of the record.”

“Drunk Girl” by Chris A Jan­son, nom­i­nated for song of the year:

Most coun­try singers steer away from po­lit­i­cally charged top­ics, but dur­ing the #MeToo move­ment, Jan­son had a pointed mes­sage for men. “Take the drunk girl home,” he sings, and walk away.

Jan­son said he wrote the song with Tom Dou­glas and Scooter Caru­soe long be­fore #MeToo spread vi­rally last year, but with Brett Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings this year, the song was rel­e­vant enough to gain a nom­i­na­tion.

“I am not re­ally a soap­box guy,” Jan­son said. “I just write what I write and sing what I sing. I do be­lieve in the mes­sage very pow­er­fully and I am glad that it is con­nect­ing.”

CMA vot­ers do like mes­sage songs: Tim McGraw’s “Hum­ble and Kind” and Kacey Mus­graves’ “Fol­low Your Ar­row” both won be­cause they had some­thing im­por­tant to say. But the blunt­ness of the song has given some crit­ics pause, most no­tably when a New Yorker col­umn called it a “#MeToo mis­fire.”

But Jan­son says he’s not try­ing to ap­peal to ev­ery­one.

“I’ve never re­ally tried to sell this song to any­body or shove it down any­body’s throat,” he said.

CHRIS PIZZELLO In­vi­sion/AP file

Tyler Hub­bard, right, and Brian Kel­ley, left, of Florida Ge­or­gia Line, and Bebe Rexha, cen­ter, per­form ‘Meant to Be,’ nom­i­nated for sin­gle of the year for the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Awards.

CHARLES SYKES In­vi­sion/AP file

Dan Smy­ers, left, and Shay Mooney from the band Dan + Shay’s ‘Tequila’ is nom­i­nated for sin­gle and song of the year for the Coun­try Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Awards.


Car­rie Un­der­wood, left, and Brad Pais­ley will serve as hosts for the 11th straight year dur­ing the 52nd an­nual CMAs.

Chris Jan­son

Ja­son Aldean

Chris Sta­ple­ton

Sam Hunt

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