Each year, the CMA Awards nominations manage to please the fans of some artists, while confounding others. Miranda Lambert's followers, for instance, have a lot to be thankful for, with another record-setting nine nods for the Platinum superstar, including a mention — as the only woman — in the top category, Entertainer of the Year. Fans of Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley, on the other hand, are crying into their moonshine today.
For every obvious inclusion, the nominations inspire more than a few fist-pumping moments, and a few head-scratching ones as well. Here are this year's biggest surprises, snubs and here-we-go-agains.
Entertainer of the Year: Nominated for the past three years (but coming up empty in the win column), Jason Aldean missed out on even being a contender in the top category this year. Keith Urban, on the other hand, returns to the category for the first time since 2011 on the strength of both his Light the Fuse and Raise 'Em Up tours, as well as his stellar Fuse album (and clever quips on American Idol, no doubt).
Female Vocalist of the Year: Although her inclusion here is likely to get more than a few knickers in a twist, it's important to remember that Taylor Swift had yet to make her marked transition from country to pop by the time the nomination voting closed. Shake it off, people. What's really worth watching is the potentially record-breaking win that could either go to Lambert or McBride, giving one of them a fifth victory in the category.
New Artist of the Year: Dark horse Brandy Clark, who has received virtually no support from terrestrial country radio, nevertheless scores one of the most surprising nods of the year on the strength of her critically acclaimed album 12 Stories (released on a tiny indie label), her songwriting prowess (she's also a nominee for Song of the Year for Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow") and regular SiriusXM airplay. She could also make history as the first openly gay artist to ever win a CMA award.
Male Vocalist of the Year: Admittedly, this is always one of the most competitive categories, but the most shocking omissions here would have to be Jason Aldean (again) and Brad Paisley. Still, that's good news for Dierks Bentley, whose last mention in the category was in 2010.
Single of the Year: Why Luke Bryan's million-selling, multi-week Number One smash "Play It Again" wasn't included here is a mystery. Still, Bryan is a strong contender in three categories: Entertainer, Male Vocalist and Album of the Year.
Album of the Year: The nominees themselves aren't shocking at all, but with an award that goes to artist as well as producer, it's interesting to see a total of 10 producers nominated (including the artist himself) for Keith Urban's Fuse.
Vocal Group of the Year: With the very same nominees here for three years in a row, the winner for most stagnant category goes to… A come-from-behind win for Eli Young Band or Zac Brown Band would truly be a shocker. (But don't hold your breath).