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Why the Grammys Rarely Honor CMA/ACM Awards Winners

Zac Brown, Natalie Maines, Kenny Chesney
Vince Bucci / Kevork Djansezian / Ethan Miller, Getty Images

In the last 10 years, country fans have come away scratching their heads after the Grammys. Artists and albums that are ignored at the CMA and ACM Awards are honored at the all-genre ceremony that takes place each winter. Only twice in the last decade have the CMAs and Grammys agreed on Song of the Year. Only three times beyond that was the CMA Awards winner even nominated for a Grammy.

Predictably, artists tend to favor the ceremonies that favor them. After winning Country Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammys, Zac Brown Band’s Clay Cook expressed a common complaint about country music industry awards while expressing his gratitude for the honor at hand.

“Normally, in all of the country awards shows that we go to, we end up going zero,” he said backstage after the show. “We were up for 60 awards and I think we won like four or something, because we’re not really a part of the politics or the cliques in Nashville. There’s a lot of vote trading and all sorts of stuff going on. That’s what makes me think higher of the Recording Academy because I feel like people are voting with their real conscience.”

The counter-argument to Cook’s claim is that many Grammy voters may not know a country album from a piece of shoe leather. It’s up to each voter to decide if he or she is knowledgable enough in a category to vote in it, but no one is double-checking.

That said, it’s rare that a Grammy winner is undeserving. There’s just a tendency to honor albums and songs with more artistic appeal and stronger musicianship, but less radio airplay. Examples include Loretta Lynn’s ‘Van Lear Rose’ (winner in 2005) and Alison Krauss and Union Station’s ‘Lonely Runs Both Ways’ (winner in 2006). They topped blockbuster albums by Tim McGraw (‘Live Like You Were Dying’), Gretchen Wilson (‘Here for the Party’ featuring ‘Redneck Woman’) and Brad Paisley (‘Time Well Wasted’). Before last year, Tift Merritt’s 2004 nomination was the loudest gasp of “Who?” country fans ever synchronized. But anyone who listened to ‘Tambourine’ will tell you that the project was as sound as anything released that year.

Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ and George Strait’s ‘Troubadour’ mark the only two albums that the Grammys and CMAs have agreed on in the last decade. Yahoo pointed out in 2012 that it’s only happened three times ever! In the Song of the Year category (Best Country Song at the Grammys), the ceremonies have only agreed, twice — on Sugarland’s ‘Stay’ and Tim McGraw’s ‘Live Like You Were Dying.’ The ACMs have synced with the Grammys three times in this category.

The other important country Grammy categories don’t really have CMA or ACM counterparts, so it’s difficult to draw comparisons. But a peek at Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Country Solo Performance winners reveals something else startling about the Los Angeles-based awards show …

… At the Grammys, country women sort of rock!

Carrie Underwood, Alison Kruass, Shania Twain
Rick Diamond / Larry Busacca / Ethan Miller, Getty Images

The Best Country Solo Performance category has only been around two years, but women have won both years. ‘Mean’ from Taylor Swift won in 2012, while Carrie Underwood’s ‘Blown Away’ won in 2013. Similarly, female-fronted groups took home the trophy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance both years — the Civil Wars for ‘Barton Hollow’ in 2013 (another example of a song that mainstream country ignored) and ‘Pontoon’ by Little Big Town in 2012.

Let’s move over to Best Country Song — women have won seven straight times! Some may argue that Lady Antebellum (who won with ‘Need You Now’ in 2010) isn’t a true female-fronted act, as Charles Kelley shares vocals with Hillary Scott. That’s fair, but you couldn’t call them a male-fronted act, either. Go back even further in this category to find wins by Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Lee Ann Womack. At the CMAs, women have won just four of the last 10 Song of the Year trophies, but did have three straight until ‘I Drive Your Truck’ by Lee Brice won in 2013.

Women have pocketed 12 of 19 Best Country Album Grammys since the category was revived in 1995, and two others have been collaborative efforts featuring various artists. Spanning the last 20 CMAs, 13 men have won, compared to five women and two collaborative projects.

So what’s the solution to bridge this thought gap amongst the two different voting groups? Fan-voted awards? Not everyone likes those, either. After winning Entertainer of the Year at the 2008 ACMs — an award that was decided by fans – Kenny Chesney blasted that methodology.

“I think it’s a complete disrespect of the artist — what they’ve lowered us to, to get Entertainer of the Year,” he said. “Because of that, it really diminishes the integrity of the music that we’re making and how much work goes into it … As much as I love the ACMs and what they’ve done for my life, that’s how I really feel about it … And I can say that because I won tonight.”

Chesney has never won a Grammy.

In recent years, artists that have come from reality television competitions have dominated fan-voted awards categories, partially because they have an army willing to fight for them. So, that concept isn’t going to please everyone, either.

Having three unique voting panels actually ensures that great music gets recognized somewhere. Your favorite artist may not be the darling of the CMAs or ACMs, but the Grammys could recognize the effort. The Civil Wars didn’t get any love for their debut album, but those who’ve spent time with it know it’d be shameful if ‘Barton Hallow’ didn’t get an award from somebody. The same can be said of Lynn’s ‘Van Lear Rose’ and the Dixie Chicks’ ‘Taking the Long Way,’ a Grammy winner in 2007. They’re good enough to deserve something, even if the country establishment doesn’t embrace them any longer.

Country music is like politics, it seems. When there’s no longer any debate, something has gone horribly wrong.

Next: See a Full List of 2014 Country Grammy Nominees

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