Could pop song win?

CMA Awards preview

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 Wednesday (8 p.m., ABC) from Nashville, Tenn. Here’s a look at the single and song of the year nominees.

“Broken 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.”

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.

“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.

“Meant to Be” by Bebe 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.

It’s 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.

“Drowns 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.

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.

“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 songwriting-producing power duo Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, but they are on different spectrums of the genre. Sam 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.

“Drunk Girl” by Chris 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.