Election 2000: When More Than a Presidency is at Stake

The election season is upon us again, with its dizzying array of candidates, profusion of special-interest groups, feverish sloganeering and blatant displays of unregulated spending. We refer, of course, to the campaign for Country Music Association (CMA) awards.

At this point, CMA members are completing their second round of voting (ballots are due July 26). It will narrow the field of nominees to five finalists in each of 12 categories, ranging from Entertainer of the Year to Music Video of the Year. The third — and final — round of voting will take place Aug. 11 to Sept. 11. Winners will be announced Oct. 4 on the 34th Annual CMA awards show on CBS-TV.

Since television exposure tends to sell albums, record companies are eager for their artists to appear on this highly rated show. Finalists will have a good chance to perform, while those who fail to make the final-five cut will be lucky to get a “presenter” slot. That being the case, record labels are mailing CMA members all sorts of glossy entreaties to persuade them to vote the “right” way.

The most aggressive campaigner at this point is the BMG Music Group, whose labels include RCA, BNA and Arista. The mailing piece for Martina McBride is designed like an awards envelope with the phrase “and the award for Female Vocalist of the Year goes to … ” printed above the seal. Inside the envelope is a list of McBride’s nominations and a nine-cut CD compilation of her hits. The pitch for Kenny Chesney, who recently had a well-publicized run-in with the law, is a “Wanted” poster in old-style block lettering. He is wanted, it says, “For CMA Male Vocalist of the Year.”

There are a lot of superlatives emblazoned across these campaign pieces. Brad Paisley is identified as “the most awarded new artist of 2000″ and “country’s favorite son.” McBride is called “the most powerful voice in country music.” Lonestar’s “Amazed” is proclaimed “The No. 1 Love Song of All Time” (on the strength of a USA Today poll). Andy Griggs is (or was) “the most played debut artist on country radio in 1999.” To convey the full wonderfulness of Clint Black, RCA simply labels him as “writer, entertainer, director, producer, musician, actor, vocalist.”

In a particularly cunning display of one-upmanship, the Brooks & Dunn mailer features a rousing endorsement from Montgomery Gentry, B&D’s most formidable opponent for the Vocal Duo of the Year award. “We learned so many valuable lessons watching these two legends,” Montgomery Gentry burbles. “These guys are a class act.”

Epic Records’ booster shot for Billy Gilman (“Country’s Next Superstar”) quotes many voices — 15, to be exact — in praise of “One Voice,” the 12-year-old’s only single to date. Key words in this thicket of quotes — “overwhelming,” “No. 1 selling,” “most requested,” “huge” — are highlighted for the voters’ convenience.

DreamWorks’ pitch for Toby Keith, sent out as a postcard or as a slipcase, around a copy of his most recent CD, asks “How do you like me now?” and helpfully points out the four categories in which one might express one’s affection.

We understand there’s a presidential election coming up, too.