HITS Daily Double
Music City

By Holly Gleason

See the full list of nominations here.

In spite of the obvious—Luke Combs has eight nominations across six categories, including Entertainer, Album, Song and Single of the Year; Morgan Wallen receives six in six categories, including Entertainer, Album, Single and Male; Chris Stapleton takes five, including Entertainer, Album and Male; and Jon Loba’s wildly impactful, color-outside-the-lines signings Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson dominate the major categories with four and five nominations, respectively—the story of the Academy of Country Music Awards 2024 nominees is the emerging artists. Beyond the seemingly ubiquitous Jelly Roll being a first-time nominee, four more new names score multiple major nominations, and two serious Nashville outliers are on the list.

Megan Moroney marks country music’s first serious out-of-the-gate female impactor since Maren Morris exploded with “My Church.” A songwriter with a tart way of twisting the truth, with her mid-century sex appeal, social-media savvy and willingness to spill her own vulnerability, the Georgia-born breakout receives the most female nominations with six. Moroney lands both Female Artist and New Female, as well as the highly coveted Song of the Year as artist and performer for “Tennessee Orange.” In addition, “Tennessee Orange” snags a Visual Media nom, and her duet with six-time Group of the Year Old Dominion, “Can’t Break Up Now,” is competing for Music Event.

Warner Nashville’s Cody Johnson, Cris Lacy and Ben Kline’s breakout hardline Texas country force—and recent HITS cover victim—is right behind with five noms. Beyond Male Artist and his first Entertainer of the Year, Johnson’s Leather earns an Album nod, and “The Painter” receives a prestigious Song slot, while “Human” lands in Visual Media.

Jordan Davis, the perennially likable everyman from Louisiana, pulls a creative trifecta. He scored Single, Song and Visual Media nominations for his life-spinning, life-spanning “Next Thing You Know,” which shows the power of a song that hits people in the heart.

Parker McCollum, an ACM New Male Artist winner, also connected with voters from the creative space. His sensuous, antihero country is epitomized by “Burn It Down,” which took home both a Single and Visual Media nod for the smoldering tension-builder.

On the outlier tip, Zach Bryan keeps making his presence felt with fans and voters without courting the traditional gatekeepers. The 2023 New Male—who’s been playing stadiums and seeing Wallen-level streaming numbers—is nominated in the Artist-Songwriter category against Stapleton, Wallen and Big Loud’s other cornerstone forces ERNEST and HARDY. Equally seismic, his Grammy-winning duet with Kacey Musgraves, “I Remember Everything,” competes in Music Event, demonstrating the impact one can have without terrestrial radio.

Tyler Childers, a hard country/bluegrass outsider, saw eschewing the traditional industry path as a way to preserve his integrity. With three Grammy nominations, including the only country-leaning clip in Best Music Video, “In Your Love” struck a chord as both a classic wedding song and as a love-who-you-love-affirming video, which portrays two coal miners tentatively finding each other. Co-produced by acclaimed author and environmental/LGBTQ+ activist Silas House, the clip, which earns a Visual Media nom, shows the humanity of two men in the South facing impossible odds, self-acceptance and a death from black lung disease.

Powerful stuff.

But that has been a signature for the Academy from its beginning. Started as a rebuke to Nashville’s more proper Country Music Association Awards, the West Coast-based organization was more honky-tonk, Texas/Bakersfield and rough-edged. Many performers won their first—or only—major awards with the organization, which was founded by Bill and Fran Boyd, stewarded by producer-director Gene Weed and delivered to networks by Dick Clark. In keeping with that tradition, so many deserving artists are emerging as serious contenders.

It’s also worth noting shifts in several categories. Female, which remains a trouble spot at radio and a topic of conversation for nearly a decade, sees truly unique individuals in the category. Whether it’s blue-collar strength siren Wilson; breakout Moroney; pop-excavating Kelsea Ballerini, whose Rolling Up The Welcome Mat (For Good) is the sole female Album nominee; genre-smearing international favorite Musgraves; or hardscrabble journeywoman Ashley McBryde, each nominee is a world-class writer telling her truth in a way that speaks for women in all phases of the struggle of just being female. Equally powerful is their ability to be singular in a cookie-cutter industry determined to roll baby dolls off the conveyor belt.

This year Male shares some of that deep individuality. Jelly Roll’s ardent emo-traditional take on the genre is as much Haggard as it is absorbing hip-hop rhythms into the flow. Between Wallen’s updated Bro-country, Combs’ Every(young)man, Johnson’s resolute Texas and Stapleton’s Southern rock/soul that feels like Adele’s Kentucky cousin, the nominees easily stand apart.

There are still hiccups. Wondering why or when Kane Brown, who earns his second Entertainer nomination, will be recognized as the force he is, seeing Duo of the Year nominee The War And Treaty being the only other Black artists nominated or Tracy Chapman’s seminal “Fast Car” in Song as a Black woman creator in the competition and realizing as country music moves in so many directions, it’s clear progress is a process.

Much will be made of stats, streams, weeks at #1, all the analytics people embrace to quantify something that defies why country matters, especially at the Academy of Country Music. Always an outlier, the org has long focused on the artists and songs hitting the sweet spot for people often derided or dismissed by the media centers. Offering big swagger after a long week, deep commiseration after a pounding heartbreak or a rebel yell when the job was done, the unthinkable achieved or the girl said yes, it was a different lingua franca. ACM country was brash, bold and unrepentant. Hopefully enough to lure Beyoncé, who’s also exploring and blurring some of these realties, to the show.

As a true witness to a musical style that has long been America’s biggest niche—and largest radio format—the Academy often held the line for those even the country institutions weren’t sure about. With its move to Amazon’s Prime Video, making it country’s first livestreaming awards show, the ACM has moved into new realms. In its second year at the Dallas CowboysFord Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, new ground can and probably will be broken.