<p>Taylor Swift at the CMA Awards</p>

Taylor Swift at the CMA Awards

Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

Will Taylor Swift's 'Red' enjoy another week atop the Billboard 200?

What happens with Meek Mill's debut album?

Taylor Swift keeps her room at the top of the charts next week as “Red” is poised to sell up to 340,000 copies on the Billboard 200.

It’s unclear how much Hurricane Sandy hurt album sales, but Hits Daily Double postulates that Meek Mill, who has a strong Northeast fanbase, likely  ends up with lower sales than he would have had there been blue skies and no power outages.  Even so, he’s still a lock for No. 2 as “Dreams & Nightmares” will sell up to 180,000 units.

In addition to rapper Mill, four other artists bow in the Top 10. Rod Stewart’s first holiday album, “Merry Christmas, Baby,” lands at No. 3. Toby Keith’s “Hope On the Rocks” likely starts at No. 6. Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “Psychedelic Pill” comes in at No. 8 with sales of up to 35,000, and Trans Siberian Orchestra’s latest Christmas opus, the “Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)” EP at No. 9.

Filling in the rest of the top 10 are this week’s No. 2 set, Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” at No. 4. Jason Aldean’s “Night Train” at No. 5, Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” at No. 7 and Pink’s “The Truth About Love” at No. 10.

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<p>Jason Aldean arrives</p>

Jason Aldean arrives

Credit: AP Photo

Live Blogging the 46th Annual CMA Awards

Will Taylor Swift capture her third Entertainer of the Year award?

7:55 p.m.  The CMA Awards will kick off in a few minutes. Who will take home the most trophies? If Taylor Swift wins Entertainer of the Year, she will be the only woman to have won it three times. Will Lady Antebellum take home group and album of the year? We'll be watching the show along with you.

8: Jason Aldean opens the show with a dedication to New York and New Jersey before launching into "The Only Way I Know," a tune off his new No. 1 album with Luke Bryan and Eric Church, who has the most nominations of all artists, with five. They are all dressed down as possible without coming out in pajamas. I know it's what they usually wear in concert, but it's a special night, guys. Have a little respect. Big names to open, but the performance is fairly standard as opposed to some kind of blockbuster one-of-a kind event.

8:06 Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley reunite to host again and come out with their now-familiar routine of coming up with a parody song, this time, they switch "Moves Like Jagger" to "Moves Like Haggard."  They then go into a bit busting on Taylor Swift breaking up with Conor Kennedy. Please note, and this may be a first, the camera does not pan to Swift during the bit. That shows you just how much power Swift has. 

8:08  Paisley just busted a move "Gangnam Style." Underwood follows suit. They are so relaxed with each other after a few years of doing this that they are willing to swing for the fences...whether it's galloping to Psy's horsey dance or making a motorboating joke. Another reason it works is because it reflects Paisley's goofy sense of humor.

8:12: Lisa Marie Presley is presenting Single of the Year. I predicted it will go to "Springsteen." She seems like she'd rather be anywhere but there and saying "Oh God," before she announces Little Big Town's "Pontoon" as the winner doesn't help. LBT, after toiling for years, finally landed their first No. 1 with "Pontoon," and this win feels like it's more for their career efforts than for this song, which is a fun trifle. Now they can go home and explain to their kids what "motorboating" means. Fun!

8:18:  Paisley and Underwood are back, and with a costume change for both, go into a bit about inducing labor on Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, who looks like she could bust any minute. Whether you think the humor works, there's no denying that their loose-limbed playfulness and chemistry is real. They throw to TIm McGraw, who's playing the new single to his forthcoming album, "Two Lanes of Freedom,"  and first for Big Machine after a protracted legal battle with Curb. "One Of Those Nights" is a straight-up-the-middle mid-tempo country song that is fine, but nowhere near McGraw's best. It doesn't matter. It will go straight to No. 1.

8:23  Thompson Square wins vocal duo of the year, stopping Sugarland's multi-year run. Yes, Shawna Thompson does talk about her "me-maw's mason jar... " You are not going to hear that phrase on the BET Awards, I'm guessing.

8:28 Reigning female vocalist of the year Miranda Lambert pushes the show into overdrive with a high-octane performance of "Fastest Girl In Town." Sadly, the cameraman seems way more infatuated with the guitarist, who's matched his shirt with his guitar, than Lambert, so we miss most of her twirling away. Best performance of the three so far.

8:32 Lambert's performance is about as energetic as country gets. You're not going to get the acrobatics and dance moves (something horrific like Luke Bryan's "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)' nonwithstanding) on the CMAs. instead, you're going to get acts that really sing. There's generally no lipsyncing allowed here. Zac Brown Band are the perfect example. They may as well be statues for how much they're moving, but the Eagles-like harmonies and playing are on "Goodbye In Her Eyes." 

8:40  Dierks Bentley's so laid back on "Tip It On Back" that he might just topple over. What's with the fog machines, dude? It's a song about drinking with some sly sexual innuendo.  It's good, but there's something really sexy abut the recorded version on his current album that this performance doesn't capture.

8:45 We're getting lots of first live performances of new songs tonight: first McGraw and now  The Band Perry with "Better Dig Two," the first single from their sophomore album. Reid Perry is rocking a cowboy hat that just looks silly. The set is filled with lasers, which don't fit the song's western, old-timey vibe, but at least they don't have the dirt smudges on their faces that they have in the ads for the single.

This rolls right into Church performing "Springsteen," and no, there is no chance that Bruce is coming out to join him.  In fact, we've never heard any reaction from The Boss about the song. My goodness, Church is injecting a very-slowed down version of "Born To Run" into the song. Yeah, baby.. tramps like us, you know what we were born to do.

8:50 And now straight into Eli Young Band singing "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," which is up against "Springsteen" and three others for Song of the Year. Kellie Pickler, whose hair is growing out adorably after she cut it off to support a friend undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and Darius Rucker. The winner is "Over You," a song Blake Shelton co-wrote about losing his brother in a car accident when Blake was 14 years old.  Shelton talks about how his dad told him he should write a song about his brother. Now Shelton's dad is dead, but Shelton says "he's still right." Lambert, who co-wrote and sang the song, is too choked up to get out more than a few words. There's not going to be a more sincere, beautiful acceptance speech of the night. It's a lovely, bittersweet moment.

9:02: The second hour opens with Paisley, alone on stage, playing the theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show," while photos of Griffith from that TV show through his appearance in Paisley's "Waiting on a Woman" video clip appear behind him. Nice. As a North Carolina girl, I sure wish Andy were still around.

9:05 Taylor Swift recreates the Paris scenery of her video for "Begin Again" as she debuts the song on the show. As you know, "Red" sold more than 1.2 million copies in its first week, the best of any album since Eminem in 2002.  It's a low-key understated performance that suits the song. It's nice how the background shifts from day to night (or maybe our screen is just going dark). She gets a Standing O, but it's not for that performance, it's for pretending she's still a country artist and showing up. I have no problem with that.

9:11 LBT is performing newly-minted single of the year, "Pontoon," on what look like four individual boxes, but it turns out it's a pontoon boat. Clever lighting takes us onto the water for a little motorboating. It's a lifeless performance. Can I demand a re-vote? OK, that's a little harsh, but LBT has so many songs that show off their gorgeous harmonies better and are much more interesting, but I'm not going to begrudge them this win... for long.

9:18: Like Bryan's bringing it on his ode to goodbye sex, "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." While I'm not always a fan of his songs, he's developed into an engaging performer. Oh.. there goes the cap flip. Is it written in his contract that he has to switch his cap from brim in the front to backwards every song? I'm just being churlish. It's one of the evening's strongest performances.

9:21: A still-pregnant Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are presenting album of the year. My prediction is for "Chief."  Yay! Got that one right! Church must have been sweating it there for a moment after "Springsteen" lost both single and song of the year. "I spent a lot of my career wondering where I fit in... too country, too rock.. I want to thank y'all for giving me somewhere to hang my hat," Church says. You mean he takes that thing off? We've never seen him without it or the sunglasses.  When he finally changes his looks it's going to cause as much excitement as when Shelton got rid of his mullet.

9:33 Faith Hill is performing her new single, "American Heart. "  When it doubt, throw in images from sea-to-shining-sea into a song for that pan-geographic appeal. Sadly, Hill is struggling to get her career back on track but this song may do it. It's No. 31 in its sixth week on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.  You can feel the room rooting for her.  This segues into Brantley Gilbert singing his first No. 1, "Country Must Be Country Wide." He may tip the scales to baseball caps over cowboy hats for the heat topper of choice. His vocal mix is horrible. As my colleague Holly Gleason noted on Facebook, there's a certain irony to having Gilbert name-check "Cash, Hank, Willie, and Waylon" in a song before naming the radio station winners. Don't make us point out why that's ironic.

9:47: Following a spirited performance by Keith Urban and Zac Brown, last year's new artists of the year, The Band Perry, present the award to Hunter Hayes.  "Wanted" has been a huge hit that's starting to cross over, and the feeling is that he could grow into a strong artist. It some ways, it's a little premature. It's take a few years to see if the voters' faith is rewarded.

9:51:  I am a major Brad Paisley fan, but his vocals are off tonight on new single, "Southern Comfort Zone." The song, however, is another reason I love Paisley. There is no other country artist out there right now who embraces the typical country tropes of trucks and sweet tea, but also addresses such topics as civil rights (as on "Welcome To The Future") or, in this case, realizing there's a big wide world out there and it's okay to want to see it all. My only problem with this song, and it's not a small one, is the incorporation of "Dixie." For too many people, it's a song that's linked to slavery,  in the same way the Confederate flag is. We know that's not  Paisley's intention by any means, but it's just an association that totally takes us out of the song.

10:04:  Nothing says tornado like confetti. Seriously, Carrie Underwood, in a gray outfit the same color as the one her wax figure wears on the cover of "Blown Away," performs the album's title track.  The song is her equivalent of Martina McBride's "Independence Day." She is a powerhouse vocalist and she's bringing it tonight. Yikes, she just hit a major clam, but recovers nicely. We'll see later if she can snare female vocalist from Miranda Lambert. Vocal group of the year goes to Little Big Town. I'd predicted it would go to Eli Young Band, clearly misreading the goodwill that LBT has built up over the years.  As Kimberly Schlapman says, "This has been a 13-year journey." Then Karen Fairchild, drunk with excitement, starts thanking Jesus after every r thank you. Their husbands can't get a word in edgewise. We're not even sure Jesus himself could. It's a well-deserved award .

10:11: Jason Aldean, in his second performance of the night, rips through "Take A Little Ride," his latest No. 1 and first single off of "Night Train."  On a side note, he seems to have totally weathered his little indiscretion from a few weeks ago. That's because he quickly admitted he was wrong, apologized and moved on.  While his actions may have been questionable, his response was note perfect.

10:17: What do Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill have in common? Neither one of them gets played on country radio these days as a solo artist... Meow. Here comes further cattiness. "Don't Rush" is a bad song that sounds like it got pulled out of a 1983 time capsule. Other than Gill's always impeccable, tasty playing (and his absence is radio's loss), it is a dated soft rock relic. Is it just me? Clarkson even sounds like Crystal Gayle on the track.  As long as I'm being mean, what's that sofa covering she's wearing?  Blake Shelton wins his third consecutive male vocalist of the year.  That probably means that Miranda Lambert is a sure bet for her third consecutive female vocalist award. Shelton admits that he's had a few drinks since we last saw him on stage and he wasn't prepared for this award. Country music's most prolific (and hilarious) Tweeter admits he thought the award would go to Aldean or Bryan who have to smile and look like they aren't bummed about losing.

10:28: Kenny Chesney is performing the sultry "Come On Over," which, frankly, I'm surprised wasn't nominated for song of the year. He represents the old guard here. Think about it. He's one of the few performers (other than TIm McGraw and Faith Hill) whose career started in the early '90s.

10:32: In a meta-moment, the female stars of "Nashville" are presenting an award--and doing it very awkwardly at that. This category includes Kelly Clarkson, who is not a country artist,  and Carrie Underwood, so "American Idol" is the real winner here.  Want to know who the winner is? Scroll up to my prediction a few paragraphs back. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert get to keep the titles of Queen and King of country for one more year. Lambert takes time to praise all her fellow nominees, including stabbing Martina McBride in a true-life "Nashville" moment by talking about listening to her when she was little, and gives a nice Girl Power speech.

10:40: I'm not really sure why there's a tribute to Willie Nelson tonight, but it's never a wrong time to pay homage to the Red Headed Stranger, so we're in. It starts with a tender, understated version of "Always On My Mind" by Lady Antebellum, which segues into a so-so take on "Crazy."  Shelton, Urban and Mickey Raphael (who has played with Nelson since Moses) tear into "Whiskey River," which could be the hard-drinking Shelton's theme song. There's not a lot of chemistry between Shelton and Urban, but it works well. Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are duetting on "Good Hearted Woman." I don't know which one is supposed to be Willie and which one is supposed to be Waylon. The master takes the stage to show them how it's done singing "On The Road Again" for the 538,325 time. His guitar solo is beautiful.  Ah, the first ever Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award is being presented to  Willie Nelson. Now it all makes sense. He's 79. I hope he's still going strong for years more.

10:55: Friends, our marathon is almost over. The only award left is Entertainer of the Year. I predicted Jason Aldean would win, but the way the evening is going, it could be Blake Shelton. Or maybe Little Big Town will win as a write-in candidate.

10:57: The awkward attempts to tie in with ABC shows continues as Reba and Tim Allen present entertainer of the year to... even he looks shocked... Blake Shelton. He gives a very sweet, lovely hug to his good buddy Reba, who's tearing up...maybe because she remembers when she used to be up for this award. "What is this? I don't even know!... I love country music more than anybody in this room." 

11 p.m.: Some immediate post-show thoughts. The big losers are Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift. But here's the thing about Swift. Country music is not going to turn its back on her...not after the reception "Red" has gotten. Early prediction? "Red" is up for country album of the year next year even though it's only about .05% country. Aldean could follow Toby Keith, who hates the CMAs (even though he won best video this year) out the door and feel they don't recognize his artistry.

The show was solid, greatly enhanced by strong acceptance speeches by Shelton/Lambert (together and separately) and Little Big Town. Paisley and Underwood, who largely got out of the way after their opening scene, remain a strong partnership. There were no truly stand out performances and no horror shows, but if I have to give a best, it goes to Underwood for "Blown Away."

What did you think of the CMA  Awards? Did the voters get it right? 



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<p>Bruno Mars</p>

Bruno Mars

Listen: Bruno Mars has it bad for 'Young Girls' on new single

And that ain't good

Following the stutter-stepping brightness of “Locked Out Of Heaven,” Bruno Mars returns to his mid-tempo ballad strong suite with “Young Girls.”

He first introduced the song when he appeared on “Saturday Night Live” a few weeks ago, and today, he released the studio version from his forthcoming sophomore studio set, “Unorthodox Jukebox.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Maroon 5</p>

Maroon 5

Credit: AP Photo

Maroon 5's 'One More Night' makes it seven weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100

Rihanna sets another milestone this week

Maroon 5 gets a Halloween treat as “One More Night” logs its seventh week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. That means the trick is on Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” is locked at No. 2 for six weeks.

It’s looking tough for “Style” to ascend to the top spot as “Night” continues to gain in airplay, while “Style” is starting to lose it. However, “Style” has digital sales and streaming on its side: it outranks “Night” in both.

Also holding its place is fun.’s “Some Nights” which hangs out at No. 3. Ke$ha’s “Die Young lifts one spot to No. 4 and Rihanna’s “Diamonds” shimmies and shines up three places to No. 5.

“Diamonds” is Rihanna’s 16th Top 5 hit. Only four women, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Whitney Houston, have logged more Top 5 hits than she, according to Billboard.

Rounding out the Top 10, Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” featuring Big Sean stays at No. 6. Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” no longer remains locked out of the Top 10, as it leaps 15-7. Alex Clare’s “Too Close” falls one notch to No. 8, while Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You” holds at No. 9.  Chris Brown’s “Dont Wake Me Up” rises 11-10 to known Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” out of the Top 10.

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<p>Skylar Grey and Eminem</p>

Skylar Grey and Eminem

Skylar Grey recruits Eminem to exec produce long-delayed album

Plus, Eminem has some album news of his own

We’ll believe it when we see it, but Skylar Grey’s long-delayed debut album, now titled “Don’t Look Down,” has a new Spring 2013 release date, and Eminem has signed on as executive producer.

Eminem will be featured on the new single, “C’mon Let Me Ride,” which comes out Dec. 11. Alex Da Kid produced the track and both he and Eminem mixed it.  In a press release, Grey calls the song “fun and sarcastic.”

As you may recall, Grey’s album was supposed to come out in 2011. At that time, it was called “Invisible,” and Interscope even released the title track. Sounds like much of that work has been scrapped since Interscope refers to “C’mon Let Me Ride” as “the first single” from the album. We also don’t know what’s happening with a track she recorded in 2011 with Marilyn Manson called “Can’t Haunt Me.”

Grey, as you know, has already been nominated for five Grammys, mostly for co-writing Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna. She also co-wrote and appeared on Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor.” She currently appears on two Slaughterhouse tracks and on her own tune,  “Building a Monster,” from the “Frankenweenie” soundtrack.

In the press release, Grey explains the delay: “Putting out a debut album is a bit scary—I want it to be just right, so I took some extra time to finish it. Eminem’s increased involvement has been such a blessing; I’m getting guidance from an artist I really admire and trust. Having written many new songs, the album has become a completely different animal, hence the title change.”

Not that an artist isn’t entitled to change her mind, but when Grey spoke with Hitfix’s Katie Hasty in an interview that ran in September 2011, she was reluctant to record with Em because “I didn’t want to do what people expected.” Looks like that changed. 

In other Eminem news, earlier this week he somewhat cryptically may have announced that he’ll have a new album out as well in 2013.

A new Eminem baseball cap came out Monday, available through his website, and it has dates for each of the years that he has released a solo album. For example, there’s a 1996 for “Infinite” and 2010 for “Recovery.” Now there’s a 2013.  The cap is styled like a Detroit Tigers’ cap, and we know that’s Eminem’s hometown team, so either he’s trying to tell us something or hoping that the Tigers can seal the deal next year after losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants in four straight.


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<p>Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and their &quot;daughter&quot; in &quot;The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2&quot;</p>

Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and their "daughter" in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2"

Watch: Green Day's video for 'The Forgotten' from 'Breaking Dawn - Part 2'

Footage from the last Twilight Saga film wraps about band scenes

Craving a little “Breaking Dawn —Part 2?” Green Day can help you with that. Today, the band released its video for “The Forgotten," which is featured on the soundtrack for the last film in "The Twilight Saga."

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: AP Photo

Taylor Swift surpasses 1 million mark with 'Red' for best week since 2002

Does she beat Eminem or Britney Spears' impressive numbers?

Don’t tell Taylor Swift that album sales are in the doldrums. Her fourth studio album, “Red,” sold a staggering 1.208 million copies in its first week to debut easily at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. That’s the highest one-week tally since Eminem’s “The Eminem Show” sold 1.322 million in 2002. That’s when, although the slide had already started, albums still sold.

The total is also the second highest single sales week by a female artist, only trailing Britney Spears’ “Oops... I Did It Again,” which sold 1.319 million in 2000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Swift’s last album, “Speak Now,” also surpassed the million mark in its opening frame, selling 1.047 million in 2010.

The last album to sell more than a million in its first week was Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” although it did so with the help of 99-cent album downloads offered by Amazon for two days during the album’s first week.

Swift’s label, Big Machine, barred Amazon from selling the album in its opening week, giving a one-week digital exclusive to iTunes. The album was also greatly aided by Target’s exclusive offering of a deluxe version, which featured three bonus cuts and three remixes. According to Billboard, the Target exclusive accounted for 396,000 copies sold, while iTunes sold around 465,000 album downloads. Papa John’s Pizza also sold the album for $13.

Hitfix will have a full story on this week's Billboard 200 on Wednesday.

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<p>Lady Gaga</p>

Lady Gaga

Credit: AP Photo

Lady Gaga flirts with releasing two volumes of 'ARTPOP'

She reveals details to her fans

Lady Gaga has big plans for “ARTPOP,” which, as we can tell by the use of all CAPS for its title, will be a very, very, very important album.

In a talk with her followers on LittleMonsters.com, she is considering releasing two volumes of the epic, according to Idolator. The first edition, out in Spring, and dubbed by LG as “VOL 1,” “should have all the commercial songs, and then save the experimental material. [But] to be honest even the experimental stuff is catchy. VOL 1 is a bit more modern.”  She would release the experimental version a few months later.

Here’s the thing about Lady Gaga: she has, to her credit, really helped redefine the parameters of pop over the last few years. She plays with sonics, time signatures, and busts the door down on preconceived notions, so while a traditional and experimental versions may be smart marketing tools or, let’s give her credit, better expressions of how she’s like for her music to be presented, there’s no need to separate the two in our book.

During her chat, she also revealed a few details: “Princess Die,” a ballad that addresses suicide that she premiered on the road, will not likely make either volume. “I don’t think ‘Princess Die’ will make the cut, but I wrote another version of ‘Princess Die’ that is uptempo. ‘Princess Die’ isn’t as good as all the other songs I wrote.”

She also noted there is a “hip-hop/j-pop/pop song” on the album that is “more underground Chicago gay club trap” than traditional hip-hop.

We also know from previous communiques from Lady Gaga, that she has collaborated with both Kendrick Lamar and Azealia Banks and that the album will include some kind of sequel to “Telephone,” with or without Beyonce.

Who knows, maybe there will even be a collaboration with Calvin Harris after LG and the Scottish DJ kissed and made up yesterday via Twitter. 

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Hitfix's Predictions for the 46th Annual CMA Awards

Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean duke it out for top prizes

The 46th annual CMA Awards air live Thursday on ABC from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have developed true chemistry and comedic timing in their four previous years as hosts, are back. This year's program promises plenty of drama, including will Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert continue to be king and queen of the country prom? They've snagged male and female vocalist for the past two years. Will other multiple-year consecutive winners such as Lady Antebellum and Sugarland continue their streaks?

Among the performers, many of whom are debuting new songs, are Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean, top nominee Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band and Keith Urban.

It’s been a strong year for country music and there continues to be an infusion of new, exciting talent. Below are my predictions on who will take home the big prizes. Short version: It's Eric Church's night.

We’ll be live blogging the CMAs, so join us here at  8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Nov. 1 for all the action.


Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

All of these artists are great brand ambassadors for country music, which is an unspoken part of this award. Having said that, I would have swapped out Blake Shelton for Lady Antebellum, who had a tremendously successful world tour this year. While it’s easy to judge this solely on their live shows, the CMA tends to award someone more for all-around strength. Having seen all the nominees in concert over the past year or so, if it were solely on concert merit, I would give the award to either Chesney or Paisley, but Aldean’s star is rising and he’s now, like Chesney, risen to the stadium level. Combine that with his tremendous album sales and he’s the winner.

Will Win: Jason Aldean


Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Hmmm. Let’s review, shall we?  Kelly Clarkson is a pop star who occasionally crosses over (very credibly and well) into country music. Taylor Swift is a former country star who is really now a pop star. The overall weakness in this category shows how dominated country music is right now by male artists. McBride has the purest voice of the bunch, but the past winner won’t take home the trophy this year. Underwood’s voice is unbelievable as well. She’s the best singer to ever come out of “American Idol” (sorry, Kelly). Reigning winner Lambert is on a roll that shows no signs of stopping--nor should it.

Will Win: Miranda Lambert


Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

These are all solid hit makers and each is leaving his own mark on country music right now. It also shows the changing the guard: Urban is the only one that any of us had heard of 10 years ago (even though reigning champ Shelton was making records already, he didn’t really break through until a few years ago and then, since “The Voice,” has really exploded. Church, who is the most nominated artist this year, has carved out a slow and steady career for himself that seems about to bust wide open. His twang is instantly recognizable and CMA voters like the ring of stubborn authenticity he brings to the format.

Will Win: Eric Church


The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

What was I saying about how strong solo males are in country right now? So are groups. This category rises and falls, but has a bumper crop this year.  LBT has put out the best album of its career, ZBB brings lots of younger fans into the format who listen to way more than country music. Eli Young Band has momentum with last year’s “Crazy Girl” and then “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Lady A and TBP just keep getting stronger. While it may not be fair, it feels like it’s time to give Lady A a little bit of a rest from competition this year after the trio snagged the award the past three years.

Will Win: Eli Young Band


Big & Rich
Love and Theft
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

Perennially one of the weakest categories with the CMA often resorting to tired duos who have not received a lick of airplay in years to round it out, the vocal duo of the year category is having a little bit of a resurgence this year. For more than a decade, it was dominated by Brooks & Dunn and lesser acts, and then Sugarland took over the title. This year,  five-time winner Sugarland is one of the weaker offerings (they didn’t put out a new album during the eligibility period, though they toured). Big & Rich came rebounding back, while Love and Theft is gaining momentum and Thompson Square had its biggest hit so far. The Civil Wars are astounding and are definitely country leaning, despite the fact that country radio doesn’t care about them.

Will Win: Thompson Square


Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

This tremendously strong slate features new acts all of whom have scored major hits this year (even if, like Brice and Gilbert, they have been around as songwriters for awhile helping other artists have hits). Having said that, it feels like a race between Hunter Hayes, Brantley Gilbert and Thompson Square, with Thompson Square seeming like the elder statesmen of the category. At 21, Hayes seems to represent young country, and country loves lauding artists who help lower the aging demographic. Plus, “Wanted,” which he co-wrote,” is a killer track.

Will Win: Hunter Hayes


Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record
Dierks Bentley, Home
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

It's a toss-up between Lambert's "Four The Record" and Church's "Chief," both of which were critical favorites (though Lambert's album not so much as her previous efforts including 2010 winner "Revolution"). Bryan's album seems like the weakest link here, but there's no denying his appeal and he is very liked in Nashville. For all its strength, "Own The Night" is not Lady A's best album.

Will Win: "Chief"

SONG OF THE YEAR (Award goes to songwriters)

Eli Young Band, "Even if It Breaks Your Heart" - written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
Blake Shelton, "God Gave Me You" - written by Dave Barnes
Dierks Bentley, "Home" - written by Dierks Bentley, Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers
Miranda Lambert, "Over You" - written by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton
Eric Church, "Springsteen" - written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Since this award goes to the songwriters, I always think of how the song would sound accompanied only by acoustic guitar or piano. Stripping down a song to its core elements is usually a good way to judge it. “Over You,” written about Shelton’s brother, is heartbreaking and a strong contender. It’s going to be a close race between “Over You” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” which took on a collective meaning for anyone who’s ever pursued a dream. A the selections show, the CMA tends to favor songs with "meaning," over fluff.

Will Win: “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”

SINGLE OF THE YEAR (Award goes to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, "Dirt Road Anthem"
Blake Shelton, "God Gave Me You"
Dierks Bentley, "Home"
Little Big Town, "Pontoon"
Eric Church, "Springsteen"

“Dirt Road Anthem” seems a little too past its prime to still be forefront in voters’ minds. “God Gave Me You” is a syrupy ballad and “Pontoon,” as summer-loving fun as it is, is a trifle (though it did provide LBT with its first No. 1). “Home” hits all the right notes: patriotic without being jingoistic. However, it’s Eric Church’s year...and, apparently, Springsteen’s too.

Will Win: “Springsteen”

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<p>Kelly Clarkson's &quot;Don't Rush&quot;</p>

Kelly Clarkson's "Don't Rush"

Listen: Kelly Clarkson's new song 'Don't Rush' with Vince Gill

There's time to take it slow on dated tune from 'Greatest Hits-Chapter One'

Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill take a trip back to the early ‘80s with “Don’t Rush,” a duet featured on the “American Idol” champ’s “Greatest Hits- Chapter One” set coming Nov. 19.

With its soft rock, adult contemporary production and Gill’s tasteful guitar lines, the song sounds like it could be on the charts right beside Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream” or Air Supply’s “All Out Of Love.”  There’s even a pause before the key change at the end. It's as different as "Don't You Wanna Stay," her duet with Jason Aldean, could be.

[More after the jump...]

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