The 2023 CMA Awards are in the books. Lainey Wilson was the big winner, with wins in five categories. That ties the one-year record, first set by Johnny Cash in 1969 and later matched by Vince Gill (1993) and Alan Jackson (2002). This also sets a new, one-year record for a female artist.
Just one year after winning new artist of the year, Wilson won entertainer of the year. That ties Garth Brooks’ quick sprint from the horizon award (as new artist of the year was then called) in 1990 to his first entertainer of the year award in 1991. Wilson also won album of the year, female vocalist of the year and two awards she shared with HARDY – musical event of the year and music video of the year.
The show, co-hosted for the second year in a row by Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning, was held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday (Nov. 8).
Many of the awards went as expected. Chris Stapleton won male vocalist of the year for a record seventh time. Wilson won female vocalist of the year for the second year in a row. Old Dominion won vocal group of the year for the sixth year in a row. Brothers Osborne won vocal duo of the year for the sixth time in the past eight years.
Luke Combs’ “Fast Car,” which topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for four weeks, took single of the year, while the song, a pop hit in 1988 for its writer, Tracy Chapman, took song of the year.
But there were a few snubs and surprises, too. Take a look.
Snub: Morgan Wallen
The superstar went 0-3 for the night, losing entertainer of the year to Luke Combs, male vocalist of the year to Chris Stapleton and album of the year to Lainey Wilson. Wallen’s three studio albums have spent a combined total of 127 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, but Wallen has yet to win the CMA award for album of the year. Wallen’s sophomore album, Dangerous: The Double Album, which spent a record 97 weeks at No. 1, lost the award to Stapleton’s Starting Over. Now, his follow-up, One Thing at a Time, which has spent 28 weeks on top, lost to Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country.
Wallen won the CMA Award for new artist of the year three years ago, but he hasn’t won since. The 2021 incident in which he was caught on video using a racial slur nearly cost him his career. He survived, but it has almost certainly cost him some awards.
Surprise: Lainey Wilson
Everyone expected Wilson to do well, but the scope of her sweep was surprising. As noted, she became just the second artist in CMA history to go from new artist of the year to entertainer of the year in just one year. In that top category, Wilson beat Luke Combs, who had won the two previous years; Chris Stapleton and Carrie Underwood, who have yet to win, despite seven and six nominations, respectively; and Morgan Wallen, who lost it for the second time.
And Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country took album of the year.The album peaked at No. 9 on Top Country Albums. It’s just the fourth album that didn’t reach the top five on that chart to win this award. The three previous album of the year winners that didn’t crack the top five were Merle Haggard’s Let Me Tell You About a Song (1972, No. 7), Anne Murray’s A Little Good News (1984, No. 9) and Patty Loveless’ When Fallen Angels Fly (1995, No. 8). (Of course, it’s possible Wilson’s album will surpass its original No. 9 peak in the wake of the awards. Stay tuned.)
Snub: Zach Bryan
Bryan lost new artist of the year to Jelly Roll. That wasn’t a surprise. Both artists had tremendous years. But it is striking that an artist who has had two No. 1 albums on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart (American Heartbreak last year and Zach Bryan this year) and two No. 1 hits on Hot Country Songs (“Something in the Orange” last year and “I Remember Everything,” featuring Kacey Musgraves, this year) didn’t win in this category.
Bryan probably didn’t do himself any favors in terms of award wins, at least in the near future, by appearing to knock the CMAs last year. (“guys I don’t and will never want to be considered at the CMA’s,” he tweeted. “My pride is fine and I appreciate all the love and support and I say it with every ounce of respect to other country artists – establishments will always be weird”).
Surprise: Tracy Chapman
In one sense, it wasn’t at all surprising that Chapman’s “Fast Car” won song of the year. It’s a great song and Luke Combs turned it into a great record. But in another sense, it’s rather amazing that a 35-year old song won the award. The song was nominated for song of the year at the 1988 Grammys, but lost to Bobby McFerrin’s genial (but comparatively lightweight) “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”
Snubs: Ashley McBryde and Jordan Davis
Like Wallen, both of these artists went 0-3 on the night. McBryde was nominated for female vocalist of the year, album of the year for Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, and music video of the year for “Light on in the Kitchen.” She lost in all three categories to Lainey Wilson.
Davis was nominated for single of the year, song of the year and music video of the year, all for “Next Thing You Know.”