Will the Dixie Chicks Reign at the Grammys?

Politics and Liberal-Leaning Voters Could Seal the Deal

Editor’s note: The 49th annual Grammy Awards show airs live Sunday (Feb. 11) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

If you trust entertainment writers and Las Vegas oddsmakers, Carrie Underwood and the Dixie Chicks will be taking home trophies in the country categories at Sunday night’s (Feb. 11) Grammy Awards show in Los Angeles.

Underwood’s chances are undeniable. After winning the wildly-popular American Idol competition, she’s scoring No. 1 country singles and also has a debut album, Some Hearts, that has sold almost 5 million copies.

But what about the Dixie Chicks? How could they become Grammy frontrunners? After what they refer to as “the incident” — when lead vocalist Natalie Maines criticized President Bush at a London concert — they pretty much turned their collective back on country radio and, some have suggested, country fans, too. The Chicks and their album, Taking the Long Way, were totally shut out of the CMA Awards nominations in 2006. Just remember the Grammys and the CMA Awards are two very different animals.

Essentially, the Grammys are determined by a much more diverse and liberal collection of voters. While the CMA awards are decided by members of the Country Music Association, Grammy winners are determined by the Recording Academy’s voting members — from all over the world — who are music industry professionals with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks. These voters run the range from singers, songwriters and musicians to producers and recording engineers to art directors and those who write liner notes.

And while Grammy voters are bound by honor to vote only in the categories where they have expertise, not all necessarily acknowledge their own limitations, so personal feelings and politics could play a major role in the Chicks’ success at the Grammys. Indeed, the Chicks are widely predicted to win the overall album of the year award in a category that also includes Gnarls Barkley, John Mayer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Justin Timberlake.

As Associated Press entertainment writer David Bauder noted in a story that ran nationally Thursday (Feb. 8), “I think Grammy voters won’t resist making a political statement.” In a story distributed by Newhouse News Service, writer Kevin O’Hare expanded on the theme by noting, “Grammy voters may vote conservatively when it comes to their music, but they tend to lean slightly to the left when it comes to politics. And what better way to make a statement about the war, the Bush administration and everything that’s going on in the world then to give the Dixie Chicks their due?”

Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot predicts the Chicks will also win best country album honors in a field that includes Alan Jackson’s Like Red on a Rose, Little Big Town’s The Road to Here, Willie Nelson’s You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker and Josh Turner’s Your Man. As Kot notes, “The Chicks were snubbed by country radio, which should make this all the sweeter.” (And, clearly, the snub ultimately turned out to be mutual.)

Still, even if the Dixie Chicks don’t win, they already own eight Grammys — all in the country category. To put things into perspective, that’s a lot more than the two each that have been presented to Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and George Jones. Alan Jackson has only one Grammy win to his credit, and the list of those who have never won a Grammy at all includes George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Martina McBride and Brad Paisley.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.