The biggest buzz at the 49th annual CMA Awards was about Chris Stapleton, yet most people watching the show across the country had absolutely no clue who he is, or why he swept three of the biggest awards of the night (New Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year).
Stapleton has been a prolific songwriter in Nashville for years, penning hits for superstars like Adele, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan. When he released his debut album, Traveller, earlier this year, the critical acclaim was instantaneous. Not only did the artists who he’d written songs for sing his praises, but he caught the attention of media and the country music industry. His soulful voice and well-crafted songs were a breath of fresh air to the often jaded Music Row.
Although SiriusXM radio has been spinning his music for a while (“What Are You Listening To” was released two years ago), the rest of country radio hasn’t quite caught on yet. In an era when a majority of country music’s presence still comes from radio, few people outside of the Nashville music scene knew him. Until this night.
Stapleton’s performance with pop star Justin Timberlake electrified the crowd inside Bridgestone Arena, and immediately caught the attention of television audience who was wondering why he was even there.
So what about all of those awards? Every category of the CMA Awards is voted on by members of Country Music Association – industry professionals who don’t always mirror what is commercially popular. The awards are more often a pulse on the status of Music Row, instead of what may be trending across the country.
The winners of this year’s awards covered both ends of the spectrum – from the unknown newcomer with critical acclaim (Stapleton) to the artists with huge commercial success like Luke Bryan (Entertainer of the Year) and Florida Georgia Line (Vocal Duo of the Year).
Other winners included Miranda Lambert (Female Vocalist), Little Big Town (Vocal Group, Song and Single of the Year for “Girl Crush”), Keith Urban and Eric Church (Vocal Event for “Raise Em Up”), and Maddie and Tae (Music Video for “Girl in a Country Song”).
Only time will tell if this year’s awards indicate a shift in the direction of the country music industry, but it has definitely piqued the interest of curious fans across the country.