While Morris’s bounty was certainly not a surprise, there were plenty of other “What the heck?” moments when the names were read.
Below are some notable snubs and surprises.
SNUB: Kane Brown, one of the hottest stars in country music, earned no nominations. We can’t consider this a surprise, because Brown has never received a CMA Award nomination…not even for new artist of the year. For some reason, CMA voters tend to nominate the same group of artists over and over and worthwhile artists like Brown or Chris Young (who’s only previously been nominated for new artist and musical event) get left out.
SURPRISE: After receiving no nominations in any category since 2015, it’s a welcome and deserving surprise to see Blake Shelton nominated for single of the year for “God’s Country,” his strongest song and performance in years. The tune, written by Devin Dawson, Jordan Schmidt and Michael Hardy, is also up for song of the year. The song has reinvigorated Shelton’s career and kicked off a new chapter for the superstar.
SNUB: For the first time since 2012, Luke Bryan missed an entertainer of the year nomination. He’s won twice (in 2015 and 2016) and is one of the few country artists who can fill stadiums. Maybe the fact that his most recent tour stopped mainly at amphitheaters instead of stadiums swayed voters or maybe it was just someone else’s turn.
SURPRISE: Garth Brooks’ nomination for entertainer of the year was no surprise: he’s been nominated 12 times before and won six — the most of any artist. What is surprising is his nomination for “Dive Bar,” his duet with Blake Shelton, a fun romp that is still climbing the charts. It’s his first nomination in the category (formerly known as vocal event of the year) since 2002 when he and George Jones were nominated for “Beer Run.” He took home the trophy in 1993 for being one of 10 artists who joined Jones on “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”
SNUB: Artists like Jimmie Allen and Russell Dickerson, both of whom broke through in a large way in 2018 and 2019, being left out of the new artist of the year category. Acts can get nominated twice for new artist — hence Midland being in the category again after being nominated in 2018 (similarly, Kelsea Ballerini, Old Dominion, Lauren Alaina, Brett Young and Luke Combs were all nominated in consecutive years recently). We say you can only be “new” once. Change the rule and open the category up.
SURPRISE: After being passed over for single and song of the year (and apparently not even making it to the final ballot in those categories), “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus did manage to get some love in the musical event of the year category.
SNUB: Just as the Grammys have opened up album, single, record and best new artist of the year to eight nominees, maybe it’s time for the CMA Awards to follow suit because it’s nothing short of criminal that Little Big Town’s “The Daughters” — one of the strongest statements ever recorded by a country act — didn’t receive a song of the year nomination. Same with Ashley McBryde’s “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” Having said that, there’s nothing I would take out of the category that got a nod.
SURPRISE: After being nominated for single of the year in 2018, Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” gets a nod for song of the year this year. How can that be? For song of the year, a tune has to have some chart activity (with no regard to rank) in the eligibility period and since “Tequila” was such a long-lived smash and was still on the charts, it qualified into the 2019 eligibility period (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019) even though it came out in January 2018.
The 53rd annual CMA Awards air Nov. 13 on ABC.