The 52nd annual Grammy Awards show Sunday night (Jan. 31) became a validation for two avenues of country music’s future: the introspective pop-country exemplified by Taylor Swift and the confident, rootsy, adventuresome trad-country-centered music championed by the Zac Brown Band.
The 20-year-old Swift solidified her hold on country music after a year of firsts, ranging from CMA awards to CMT awards to an MTV VMA award, Saturday Night Live appearances, international touring and record-breaking sales. Her total of four Grammys trailed Beyoncé’s haul of six trophies, but Swift significantly snared the all-genre album of the year prize for Fearless, her second album, which continues to set sales records. Amid the flash and swirl of Pink’s Cirque-like aerial gymnastics and Beyoncé’s and Lady Gaga’s flamboyant theatrics, Swift’s relatively restrained demeanor provided an elegant example of understatement.
But, in a very telling moment of television, in the middle of Taylor’s duet with the veteran Stevie Nicks on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” it became very apparent that Swift was in charge there, taking total command of the performance. It was a very polished and mature performance.
And Swift underlined the rapid ascent of her career and unknowingly emphasized how her instincts and gambles have paid off in her young life. When she and co-writer Liz Rose accepted the Grammy for country song for “White Horse,” she described her early days in Nashville. In the pre-telecast awards ceremony, Swift talked about how, in her early teen years before she had a record label, when she was a complete unknown on Music Row, she had approached the proven songwriter Liz Rose and asked her to co-write songs with her. Rose took the chance, and it paid off in droves for both of them.
The ZBB’s first-ever Grammy culminated a breakout year in which the Atlanta-based band made giant strides in music. In another telling moment, the members of the band — in accepting the all-genre award for best new artist — first thanked members of their marketing and management team. That’s the realities of music these days. Part of the ZBB’s appeal to non-Nashville music fans — Grammy voters have told me this, in many versions — is that they have undeniable country roots and country appeal, but they are decidedly not a product of Nashville’s music factories. Even so, they didn’t get to where they are today without considerable marketing and management efforts and skill. These days, just the music alone often isn’t enough.
Carrie Underwood’s tradition-based duet with the country veteran Randy Travis on a re-recording of his 1988 No. 1 hit song “I Told You So” won a Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals and proved again that the worth of country music’s heritage is lasting and profound.
The young trio Lady Antebellum solidified its stature as the group of the future with their award for duo/group performance, supplanting the longtime dominance of Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts and Sugarland. Similarly, Keith Urban, with his win for male country performance, established his primacy as leading contemporary male country figure.
Steve Wariner’s triumph in winning the best country instrumental performance category proved that attempts by Grammy voters to reward musical excellence sometimes pays off. His win was for “Producer’s Medley” from his album saluting his mentor, Steve Wariner, c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins. It was Wariner’s fourth Grammy and paid homage to his superb career as guitarist, singer and songwriter.
And the doyenne of Grammy winners, Nashville’s bluegrass ace Alison Krauss, won her 27th Grammy (for playing on Yo Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy & Peace) to tie her with Quincy Jones for the all-time Grammy record.View CMT.com’s comprehensive coverage of the 52nd annual Grammy Awards.