Country music awards return spotlight to men, tradition

Sunday, November 2, 2003

— The nominees for this week's country music awards are a bit more old school than some predecessors -- and a lot more brawny.

For the first time in some 20 years, male singers took all five slots in both the entertainer of the year and newcomer categories.

Some say the nominations reflect a shift from pop-leaning, crossover acts such as Faith Hill and Shania Twain to the more male-dominated, traditional sounds of Joe Nichols and Buddy Jewell.

"I think the pop crossover songs are going to be out there. It's still an important part of the overall picture of the country music format, but the difference now is those songs will have to be phenomenal to cut through," said Joel Burke, program director for Denver country station KYGO-FM.

The Country Music Assn.'s 37th annual awards show airs live from the Grand Ole Opry House at 7 p.m. Wednesday on CBS.

This year's nominees -- chosen by 5,000 industry insiders who belong to the CMA -- include a few classic country artists and several others who continue that tradition. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Johnny Cash are up for awards, as well as newcomers Jewell, Nichols and Gary Allan.

Toby Keith, who's had a string of testosterone-charged hits with "Who's Your Daddy," "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue" and "Beer For My Horses," leads all artists this year with seven nominations.

"We see that pendulum we're always talking about swinging again," said Ed Benson, the CMA's executive director. "In the last year or so, there's been a return to traditional country in sound and production. And I think the voters are trying to recognize a more real, traditional side."

Men are leading the way. During the first six months of this year, female artists accounted for only four of the 34 top 10 hits on Billboard magazine's country singles chart, according to Billboard. Only the Dixie Chicks managed a No. 1 hit.


AP File Photo

Willie Nelson, left, joins Toby Keith as they sing "Beer for My Horses" during the 38th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on May 21 in Las Vegas. The nominees for the Country Music Assn. Awards -- to be held Wednesday -- reflect a shift from pop-leaning crossover females to the more male-dominated traditional country. Keith leads all performers with seven nominations, and country legend Nelson has several nominations.

Benson thinks the trend toward men began with a spate of patriotic anthems after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Country artists -- men, mostly -- were among the first to capture the mood in song.

Benson also believes males have became a larger share of the country music listening and buying audience.

Whatever the reasons, "the state of the female country singer is a little scary right now," said Dawn Michaels, assistant program director at country station WYGW-FM in Cincinnati.

In this year's CMA female vocalist category, Loveless and Parton are nominated with Terri Clark, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss. But Hill and Twain received not a single nomination.