The nominations for the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards reflect the constant reinvention of a tradition-rich genre. Almost three years have passed since Chris Stapleton released his acclaimed debut album, Traveller, and took home multiple ACM honors including best new male vocalist, and he leads the 2018 field of nominated artists. Perennial favorites Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban and Little Big Town are also among the top nominees. But this year’s slate includes numerous acts getting their first ACM nod: new vocal duo/group winner Midland, LANCO, High Valley, Runaway June, Danielle Bradbery, Carly Pearce, Luke Combs, Devin Dawson and Russell Dickerson. Repeat nominee Brett Young is new male vocalist of the year. Below is a look at the artists who garnered the most nominations, and their most recent album releases.
From A Room: Volume 2
Eight nominations including male vocalist, album, single, song and entertainer of the year.
Stapleton knows how to stoke the momentum of his career. The artist followed up 2015’s Traveller with not one but two acclaimed albums in 2017: From A Room: Volume 1 and Volume 2. The Kentucky native swept the country categories at the Grammy Awards in January, winning best country song (“Broken Halos”), best country album for From A Room: Volume 1 and best country solo performance. In addition to his nominated works, Stapleton is featured on Justin Timberlake’s “Say Something” from Man of the Woods, and also co-wrote that album’s “Morning Light” and “The Hard Stuff,” and plays guitar on “Filthy.” Stapleton will hit the road again this summer on the All-American Road Show Tour that includes stops at New York’s Madison Square Garden and The Forum in Los Angeles.
Six nominations including male vocalist, album, vocal event and video of the year.
Life Changes is an apt album title for Rhett, the reigning ACM male vocalist who in 2017 welcomed two new daughters — Willa Gray, 2, by adoption, and Ada James, born last August to Rhett and his wife, Lauren — and released his third studio album. The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts and includes “Craving You,” a Country Airplay-topping collaboration with Maren Morris that has been certified platinum and earned him an ACM vocal event nod. The second single, “Unforgettable,” also reached No. 1 on Country Airplay, as did “Marry Me,” which became his 10th No. 1 single. Rhett will kick off his 30-city Life Changes Tour in Tulsa, Okla., on April 5, with ACM best new artist nominee Brett Young as an opening act.
Five nominations including male vocalist, song, vocal event and entertainer of the year.
Long a favorite of ACM voters, Urban is enjoying his eighth nod for entertainer of the year and his 11th for male vocalist. His 2016 release, Ripcord, has been certified platinum and sent three singles to No. 1 on Country Airplay: “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (which also spent 12 weeks atop the Hot Country Songs chart), “Break on Me” and “Wasted Time.” “The Fighter,” a duet with Carrie Underwood, earned him a vocal event nomination. Urban’s new album, Graffiti U, is coming this year (a release date has not been confirmed) and has already produced the timely single “Female.” At a surprise show in Nashville in January, Urban announced the Graffiti U Tour, which launches in St. Louis on June 15.
Five nominations including songwriter and single of the year.
McAnally’s versatility has made him Nashville’s most in-demand songwriter-producer, and his nominations this year stem from his work with Midland, Keith Urban and Sam Hunt as well as producing Old Dominion’s Happy Endings. Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” — co-written with Hunt, Zach Crowell and Josh Osborne — set a record for the longest run atop the Hot Country Songs chart, lasting 34 weeks. He also added “label executive” to his résumé earlier this year when Sony revived Monument Records and named McAnally co-president with Jason Owen.
Four nominations including female vocalist, and two nods in the vocal event category for “Dear Hate” (featuring Vince Gill) and “Craving You” (with Thomas Rhett).
A triple threat as a singer, songwriter and producer — and sought after as a featured artist — Morris took home the 2017 trophy for new female vocalist on the strength of her 2016 Columbia Nashville debut, Hero, which started at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart and peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The set included her breakthrough single, “My Church,” which won the Grammy Award for best country solo performance in 2017. Her collaboration with Zedd and Grey, “The Middle,” recently earned Morris her first top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Weight Of These Wings
Four nominations including female vocalist, song and video of the year.
The Texas-born singer-songwriter received her 12th nomination in the female vocalist category this year, and if she takes home the statuette, it will be Lambert’s ninth consecutive win. (She already holds the record for most wins in this category and is tied with Brooks & Dunn for most ACM wins in the history of the awards, at 29.) In 2017, Lambert performed the poignant “Tin Man” (penned with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram) at the ACM ceremony, and this year it’s up for song of the year. In July, Lambert will head out with Little Big Town on the Bandwagon Tour.
Three nominations including single and song of the year.
Hunt is taking his time delivering a follow-up to his 2014 debut, Montevallo, which yielded five hit singles, while his sole 2017 release, the smash “Body Like a Back Road,” proved that fans are eager for new music from the Georgia native. Penned by Hunt, Zach Crowell, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, the track set a record for the longest run atop the Hot Country Songs chart, spending 34 weeks at No. 1.
Little Big Town
Three nominations including vocal group, album and single of the year.
The reigning ACM vocal group of the year, Little Big Town earned its 12th nomination in the category this year, and if the foursome of Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet claim the prize again, it will be their fourth consecutive win and fifth total. Their eighth studio release, The Breakers, is a contender in the album category, bolstered by the success of “Better Man,” the Taylor Swift-penned hit that won Little Big Town a Grammy Award for best country duo/group performance in January.
On The Rocks
Three nominations including vocal group, new vocal duo/group (winner) and single of the year.
Midland’s Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson hit the top five of Hot Country Songs with debut single “Drinkin’ Problem,” which garnered them an ACM single of the year nod. On the Rocks, released last September, solidified the trio’s standing as one of the country format’s most formidable new bands.
This article originally appeared in the March 31 issue of Billboard.