The 2023 nominees for the Grammy Awards' four country music categories semi-accurately reflect the range of artists and styles within an ever-shifting genre. Cultural icons (Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire), modern-day household names (Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs), pop-country pace-setters (Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini) and even a few old souls (Zach Bryan, Cody Johnson) dot the ballot, creating fun discussion points about what country songs and albums should or will get recognized by the Recording Academy. It's not a full picture, though, with minimal LGBTQ+ artists or songwriters represented and zero Black nominees-- an issue that's clearly not limited to country-specific awards shows.
As announced on Nov. 15, Lambert leads her country music peers with four nominations. She got her name called for Best Country Solo Performance ("In His Arms"), Best Country Album (Palomino), Best Country Song (Jesse Frasure co-write "If I Was a Cowboy") and Best Country Duo/Group Performance (Luke Combs duet "Outrunnin' Your Memory").
Nelson scored three nominations: Best Roots Gospel Album (The Willie Nelson Family), Best Country Solo Performance ("Live Forever") and Best Country Album (A Beautiful Time). In addition, Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton are up for Best Country Song as the co-writers of Nelson's "I'll Love You Til the Day I Die."
Combs and Maren Morris also got three nominations apiece.
Outside of the categories considered below, frequent Morris collaborator Laura Veltz ("Background Music," "Humble Quest") got nominated for a first-time Grammy category: Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical. Plus, Bill Anderson and Dolly Parton duet "Someday It'll All Make Sense (Bluegrass Version)" is in the running for Best American Roots Performance.
CBS will air the 65th annual Grammy Awards live on Sun., Feb. 5, from L.A.'s Crypto.com Arena. Read on for Wide Open Country's predictions for all four country categories.
Best Country Solo Performance
"Heartfirst," Kelsea Ballerini
"Something in the Orange," Zach Bryan
"In His Arms," Miranda Lambert
"Circles Around This Town," Maren Morris
"Live Forever," Willie Nelson
Ballerini's sunshiny pop-country stunner "Heartfirst" and Bryan's status quo-disrupting "Something in the Orange" deserve love from the Academy, yet either monarch-crowning result would be a monumental upset considering the rest of the field. The polished Palomino version of Miranda Lambert's "In His Arms," a song first heard as a campfire singalong on Marfa Tapes, is slightly less of a long shot, simply because of the respect that its singer and co-writer earned long ago from industry insiders. That leaves Morris' "Circles Around This Town," which succinctly recounts her journey from Nashville underdog to country-transcending celebrity, and Nelson's cover of dear friend Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" as likely winners. Expect Nelson to get his flowers a mere weeks before his 90th birthday.
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
"Wishful Drinking," Ingrid Andress and Sam Hunt
"Midnight Rider's Prayer," Brothers Osborne
"Outrunnin' Your Memory," Luke Combs and Miranda Lambert
"Does He Love You-- Revisited," Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton
"Never Wanted to Be That Girl," Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde
"Going Where the Lonely Go," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Fair or not, pop-country megastars like Hunt historically get overlooked for these sorts of awards, which eliminates Ingrid Andress collaboration "Wishful Drinking" from consideration. Awards shows treat Brothers Osborne way fairer than country radio ever has, so don't count out "Midnight Rider." And of course Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde's "Never Wanted to Be That Girl" might just be the best mainstream country duet of the young decade. The rest of the field should woo voters, though, based off star power. As mentioned above, Lambert gets her due outside of the country bubble, and Combs' selection to perform on the broadcast might signal his shattering of the crossover glass ceiling. Legends will reign supreme here, though, with McEntire and Parton's "Does He Love You-- Revisited" stealing some --but not enough-- votes from all-time Grammy favorites Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' "Going Where the Lonely Go."
Best Country Album
Growin' Up, Luke Combs
Palomino, Miranda Lambert
Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, Ashley McBryde
Humble Quest, Maren Morris
A Beautiful Time, Willie Nelson
This year's Best Country Album nominees run so deep that a good Nelson release barely measures up to the competition. McBryde's brilliant concept album would be a nice surprise winner, but it, too, will be outshone by the star power behind the three favorites. There's no bad choice between Combs, Lambert and Morris, making this the hardest category to predict. Ultimately, expect Combs' musical statement that he's been Growin' Up to get its due from the Academy.
Best Country Song
"Circles Around This Town," Ryan Hurd, Julia Michaels, Maren Morris and Jimmy Robbins, songwriters (Maren Morris)
"Doin' This," Luke Combs, Drew Parker and Robert Williford, songwriters (Luke Combs)
"I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor's Version) (From The Vault)," Lori McKenna and Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
"If I Was a Cowboy," Jesse Frasure and Miranda Lambert, songwriters (Miranda Lambert)
"I'll Love You Till The Day I Die," Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton, songwriters (Willie Nelson)
"'Til You Can't," Matt Rogers and Ben Stennis, songwriters (Cody Johnson)
The positive message of Johnson's "'Til You Can't" should score songwriters Matt Rogers and Ben Stennis a career-affirming moment. Sadly, that seems highly unlikely, considering the previously-mentioned industry love for not just Combs and Lambert but also Stapleton, co-writer of nominated Nelson cut "I'll Love You Till the Day I Die." Taylor Swift's inclusion likely steals away some votes, yet that shouldn't prevent Lambert from taking home at least one gramophone.
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