By SEAN DALY,
© 2012 Tampa Bay Times
Modern country music, perhaps like never before, is split between nuance and knucklehead, sly ballads and beer-bong anthems, all of which will be on disparate display during tonight’s 47th annual CMA Awards (8 p.m., ABC).
The biggest storylines going in to“country’s biggest night” are (1) Luke Bryan, the spring-breakin', cliche-ridin' backwards-ballcap-wearin' corporate prince; and (2) contemplative folkie Kacey Musgraves, whose leading six noms are a good sign that Nashville craves more free-thinking originals a la Miranda Lambert.
That doesn’t make handicapping the CMAs any easier, of course. When it comes to this homey genre, fans come first, and Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood have a ton of them. With that in mind, here are a few expert guesses on who'll take the top categories:
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: This one should be a slam-dunk for Bryan, the only artist in the 10-year history of Tampa’s outdoor amphitheater (whatever it’s been called) to sell out back-to-back shows. That’s 40,000 people who dig his chummy, boozy Mad Libs party jams about drinking“real good feel good stuff” and taking his tipsy ladies down to the river for a catfish dinner. His competition is BIG, though: Shelton is omnipresent on radio and TV; Aldean only makes hits; Swift is the biggest star in any genre; and“King” George Strait is royalty nearing the end of his career. I’m hearing whispers about Strait winning this, especially since Zac Brown (who will perform with Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl) ripped Bryan for being an empty-headed party boy . Still, Luke Bryan is having one of those Swift-sized crossover years you can’t ignore.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR: Musgraves’ Merry Go ‘Round is a universal heartbreaker about the dizziness of life, but it has a better shot winning song of the year, a songwriter’s award. (She also co-wrote Lambert’s Mama’s Broken Heart, also up for top song.) Instead, the CMAs will make sure Florida Georgia Line, a good-time duo with an ear for a hook, get their props for hip-hop-influenced Cruise, the second-most downloaded country single of all time. (First? Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now.) By the way, Florida Georgia Line will also win vocal duo of the year, but I’m pulling for the since-disbanded Civil Wars if only to see if they take the stage together.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Kacey Musgraves is a 25-year-old Texan with an indie vibe but major-label chops. She’s smart, funny, beautiful a marketer’s dream. She’s going to win best new artist and female vocalist of the year. She should also take this category for near-perfect breakout LP Same Trailer, Different Park. (If you’re wondering about Tay-Tay, she'll win music event of the year, for Highway Don’t Care, her so-so duet with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. That said, country still claiming Swift as one of their own is as silly as country claiming Kelly Clarkson, who’s up for female vocalist.)
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: The best male singer at the CMAs just might be Darius Rucker, who could take home hardware for the Bob Dylan-penned Wagon Wheel, a rollicking old-school road song. But alas, Hootie is inexplicably not up for this one. Eric Church, who is nominated here, is the second-best singer, but save for a concert swing with Kenny Chesney, Church was fairly dormant this year. Nope, this one is all Luke Bryan, too. He’s a likable fella who can reference Conway Twitty and T-Pain in the same song and not come off like a complete dope. And that’s not easy to do.
Watch it, y'all
The CMA Awards start at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.