The relationship between Texas and the country music establishment has long been uneasy (there’s even a major exhibit running for the next three years at the Country Music Hall of Fame documenting that uneasy relationship!). We’ve produced some of the biggest and greatest stars the genre has ever seen—but when it comes to what sells in Nashville, Texans tend to be outsiders and outlaws more than celebrated members of the mainstream.
At least, that’s true for the fellas. When it comes to the women of country music, Texans are killing it. The nominees for the Country Music Association Awards were announced Tuesday, and three of the five nominees for female vocalist of the year are from right here: Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, and Miranda Lambert.
All three artists have had a good past twelve months. Musgraves has been the most active in the year that the award show covers—her fourth album, Golden Hour, a critically acclaimed breakthrough that reflects a new maturity in songwriting, was released in March—while Morris and Lambert have spent the past year touring behind and releasing new singles from their 2016 albums.
But what albums they are! Morris’s Hero earned her new artist of the year honors at the 2016 edition of the CMAs, and an album of the year nomination at the same ceremony. Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings, meanwhile, earned a nomination at the 2017 CMAs and platinum certification from the RIAA.
Hero, as Morris’s major label debut, represented the emergence of a significant new voice in country music. She’s quickly proven herself to be one of the biggest stars in the format, with a whole lot of staying power—”Rich,” the fourth single from the album, was released in February, more than two years after the album’s first single was released. She’s also established herself as a potential crossover artist. Her collaboration with EDM producers Zedd and Grey, “The Middle,” peaked at number five on the Billboard 100, after she edged out Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Carly Rae Jepsen, Charlie XCX, and other pop superstars for the nod.
So it makes sense that Morris scored herself a female vocalist of the year nomination for the third consecutive year—she’s one of the highest-flying and most relevant stars in country music, with a bright future ahead of her whenever she releases her much-anticipated sophomore album.
Lambert, meanwhile, is a perennial contender for the award. The country music establishment struggled to identify exactly what to make of her chart-topping smash debut album, 2004’s Kerosene—she wrote her own songs, and those songs were anything but demure. After the release of her 2007 follow-up, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Lambert became a fixture in the female vocalist of the year category—this nomination represents her twelfth consecutive nod in the category, and since winning for the first time in 2010, she’s taken the prize home with her every year except 2016.
That 2016 ceremony featured the same five women as the 2018 list does: Lambert, Morris, Musgraves, Carrie Underwood, and Kelsea Ballerini. That’s not exactly a surprise. The vocalist of the year categories at the CMAs are less about any artist’s accomplishments in the past year and more of a snapshot of who the most popular and relevant artists working in the industry are at the time. As such, the category doesn’t change a whole lot. Musgraves spent 2013-2016 as a nominee (she was briefly replaced by Reba McEntire, who’s been a recurring presence in the category since 1983), and Morris’s three-year tenure among the nominees indicates that the faces who make up the most important female vocalists in country music are fairly established. Underwood hasn’t missed a nomination since her debut album was released in 2006, and Ballerini has been a fixture since her breakthrough in 2015.
The CMAs don’t actively work to shake up their nominees, or to surprise fans by seeking out an unexpected name—rather, in the spirit of the genre’s populism, they reflect the biggest and most relevant stars country music has to offer. In the male vocalist of the year category, that’s a lot of bros from Nashville. When it comes to the ladies, though, Texas women are the queens of country.