The trend of songs being written by committee has made its way to Nashville. For the first time in the 53-year history of the Country Music Awards, each of the five song of the year nominees was written by three or more songwriters.
This year’s contenders in that marquee category are Luke Combs‘ “Beautiful Crazy” (which he co-wrote with Wyatt B. Durrette III and Robert Williford), Maren Morris‘ “GIRL” (which she co-wrote with Sarah Aarons and Greg Kurstin), Kacey Musgraves‘ “Rainbow” (which she co-wrote with Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally), the Dan + Shay smash “Tequila” (which the duo’s Dan Smyers co-wrote with Nicolle Galyon and Jordan Reynolds) and the Blake Shelton hit “God’s Country” (co-written by Devin Dawson, Jordan Schmidt and Michael Hardy).
When the CMAs originated in 1967, most country songs — like most pop songs — had just one or two writers.
The first 10 CMA song of the year winners, from the Jack Greene hit “There Goes My Everything” (Dallas Frazier, 1967) to the Glen Campbell classic “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Larry Weiss, 1976) were written by just one songwriter.
The first song of the year winner that was written by two writers was the Kenny Rogers smash “Lucille” (1977), which Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum co-wrote. The first song of the year winner that was written by three writers was the Willie Nelson classic “Always on My Mind” (1982). Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James co-wrote the timeless ballad (which won again in 1983 for reasons understood only by the CMA).
It took another 16 years for the next song of the year winner that was co-written by three songwriters. The Faith Hill smash “This Kiss” (1999) was co-written by Robin Lerner, Annie Roboff and Beth Nielsen Chapman.
And then it started happening much more frequently, as this became the new normal. The 2009 winner was Johnson’s “In Color,” which he co-wrote with Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto.
The 2013 winner was the Lee Brice hit “I Drive Your Truck,” which Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary co-wrote.
The 2015 winner was the Little Big Town smash “Girl Crush,” which Liz Rose, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey co-wrote.
This year’s song of the year winner will be the eighth song (the ninth winner) that was co-written by three writers.
The last time all five CMA song of the year nominees were written by just one or two songwriters was in 2004.
The trend to songs being written by larger groups of writers crosses genre lines. The 2017 Grammy song of the year winner, Bruno Mars‘ “That’s What I Like,” had eight co-writers, which set a new record in that category. The 2018 Academy Award winner for best original song, “Shallow” from A Star is Born, had four co-writers, which tied the record for the winner in that category with the most credited songwriters.