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As part of this year’s larger reduction in genre-specific awards, 2012 will see the country portion of the Grammys streamlined to just four categories: Best Solo Performance (which swallows Male and Female Vocal Performance), Best Duo/Group Performance (which swallows Best Duo/Group Vocal Performance and Instrumental Performance and Best Collaboration with Vocals), and Best Album and Best Song (which have been around since the beginning). This year, the last of those categories mixes old and new, split (along gender lines, as it turns out) between Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Martina McBride, who between them racked up 13 Female Vocal Performance nominations and four wins, and Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton, both up for the first time. Full breakdown below.
Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
What: Mr. Miranda Lambert sings of a lover who proves to be the soft and sweet to his hard and steady, the Louisiana to his Mississippi, the honeysuckle to his honey bee.
Pros: In their annual survey of DJs and dance instructors, the country dance club promotion company Marco Club Connection found “Honey Bee” to be 2011’s fourth-biggest country dance club hit, topped only by Luke Bryant’s “Country Girl (Shake it for Me),” Big & Rich’s “Fake I.D.” and Shelton’s “Footloose” cover.
Cons: I imagine that Grammy voters spent very little time in country dance clubs this year, and even less getting country dance lessons.
Remix featuring Ludacris: No.
Martina McBride, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”
What: A 38-year-old mother of three gets cancer; her husband (through McBride) tells her that he’s going to love her through it. The doctors remove the cancer, but have to remove much of her breast as well; he’s going to keep loving her through it.
Pros: McBride is more than due: Her nine Best Female Country Vocal Performance nominations put ahead of everyone but Tammy Wynette, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, and still she never won the award.
Cons: The song is surely the least known of the bunch—it barely cracked the Country Top 10 and stalled at No. 61 on the Hot 100.
Remix featuring Ludacris: That’d be something, right?
Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”
What: In this Colt Ford cover, Jason Aldean trades in his Big Green Tractor for a pick-up and a cold one, then reflects on the pleasures of rural living as he drives from one farm to the next, never touching pavement.
Pros: Reached No. 7 on the Hot 100; at the CMTs Aldean won best album for My Kind of Party and was nominated for single (“Don’t You Wanna Stay”), musical event (ditto), and song (“Dirt Road”).
Cons: Could split votes with “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” the Kelly Clarkson duet that might be the favorite in the comparatively weak Best Country Duo/Group Performance category.
Remix featuring Ludacris: Yes.
Carrie Underwood, “Mama’s Song”
What: Didn’t realize that Underwood had any new material out? Well, she doesn’t: “Mama’s Song” first appeared as Play On‘s lead promotional single in fall of 2009, then got its official single release in fall of 2010, only to get nominated the 2012 Grammys. Makes sense, right?
Pros: The Academy loves her: She won the award for Best Female Performance every year from 2007 through 2009.
Cons: Though sweet, “Mama’s Song” doesn’t compare with her previous winners like “Before He Cheats” and “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
Remix featuring Ludacris: No.
Taylor Swift, “Mean”
What: Country’s biggest star looks back in anger—or at least in spite—and remembers telling the bullies that someday she’d living big old city and that all they were ever gonna be is mean. “I can see you years from now in a bar/ Talking over a football game/ …Washed up and rambling about the same old things,” might be the most real talk on Speak Now, an album full of it.
Pros: The only nominee that’s also up for Best Country Song, which honors songwriting. Plus, she’s Taylor Swift.
Cons: Could split votes with that songwriting category.
Remix featuring Ludacris: No, but this happened.
FINAL PREDICTION: Aldean, if only because not enough voters will have heard the Colt Ford original to realize that they’re voting for the lesser version.