Female artists fuel Nashville's resurgence with Grammy nominations in top categories
Kacey Musgraves talks about Loretta Lynn and how much she means to her
After being shut out of the major categories last year, Nashville music will bounce back in a big way at the 2019 Grammy Awards – and female artists are leading the charge.
Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves are among Music City’s top nominees, along with Brandi Carlile, who made her latest album at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A with super-producer Dave Cobb.
Both Carlile and Musgraves are up for the Album of the Year prize, while Morris’ crossover smash “The Middle” is nominated for Record and Song of the Year.
The nominees for Best New Artist also include two Nashville musicians: independent country favorite Margo Price, as well as country chart-topper Luke Combs.
Country's women lead the way
For country's female artists, the girl-powered list stands in stark contrast to the lesser recognition they received during November’s CMA Awards.
Morris is a leading nominee with five nods – including two duo or group mentions, an all-genre category and country nods for song and solo performance. Musgraves is up for four awards. In addition to her all-genre Album of the Year inclusion, she’s also nominated for Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Album and Best Country Song. At the Country Music Association’s awards, the women had two nominations each.
The Recording Academy included Kelsea Ballerini and Ashley McBryde in its Best Country Album category, along with Musgraves – a first for the women who were shut out of the grouping at the CMA Awards. And Loretta Lynn scored a nomination with Best Country Solo Performance for “Wouldn’t It Be Great.” Her name was absent from Nashville’s recent CMA Awards.
For President/CEO of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow, having a unique list of country nominees is “a badge of honor.”
“I don't see it as a negative,” he said. “That's not to say that commercial is a dirty word, or that something that is successful isn't excellent."
The strong showing for female country artists comes at a time when country radio is unarguably dominated by male artists. This week, for the first time in the history of Billboard's Country Airplay chart, there are no female artists in the Top 20.
The Grammy Awards themselves came under scrutiny earlier this year for a lack of female winners and nominees in several major categories at the 2018 ceremony. Asked to comment on the matter, Portnow called for women in the industry to "step up," and was roundly criticized.
These are the top 4 artists that didn't get love (or not enough love) during the Grammy nominations. USA TODAY
In response, the Recording Academy launched a "task force" focusing on "diversity and inclusion." It held forums in several cities to examine "barriers and biases" faced by women in the music industry.
"We did hear lots of stories of women in and from Nashville about that as a serious issue," Portnow says. "Particularly as it relates to radio and airplay and not having a level playing field there. That's something that from an industry perspective, really needs and deserves attention."
McBryde’s nomination for her debut album is her first – a milestone that also belongs to Combs, Dan + Shay and Florida Georgia Line. Cole Swindell’s “Break Up in the End” is up for Best Country Song, the first time his music has been recognized by the Recording Academy. The category celebrates songwriters, so if the heartbreak ballad wins, the trophy will go to Jessie Jo Dillon, Chase McGill and Jon Nite.
Some of country music’s first-timers are also multiple nominees. Dan Smyers from Dan + Shay is nominated with the duo and as a songwriter on their hit “Tequila.”
Chris Stapleton, who has 10 nominations over the course of his career, adds three more with Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Justin Timberlake.
Stapleton’s producer Dave Cobb has four nods, three of which are for work done with Carlile.
Tons of Americana, less rock and pop
As expected, Nashville is all over the American Roots Music categories, between nods for Lee Ann Womack, Mary Gauthier, The Travelin’ McCourys, Anderson East and The Wood Brothers.
Songwriting master John Prine, fittingly, has two of his songs nominated for Best American Roots song. Both stem from his acclaimed “The Tree of Forgiveness,” which is up for Best Americana Album.
Aside from a deserved nomination for Nashville-based, female-fronted band Halestorm, it’s a quiet year for the local rock scene. Pop music didn’t fare much better: Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” project is glaringly absent from the all-genre categories, though it is up for Best Pop Vocal album, along with Kelly Clarkson’s “Meaning of Life.” And on the classical front, the Nashville Symphony and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero are taking a rare year off as nominees.
Christian and gospel are steadfast
Nashville's strong Christian music community (and industry presence) continues to shine in this year's list of nominees.
Lauren Daigle, MercyMe and For King and Country are among the artists and songwriters up for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song.
Daigle's "Look Up Child" is nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, as is Michael W. Smith's Surrounded.
Former winner Jason Crabb and previous nominees The Isaacs are back in the running this year, this time as nominees for Best Roots Gospel Album.
The 61st annual Grammy Awards will take place Sunday, February 10 at Los Angeles' Staples Center.