NASHVILLE, TN -- Little Big Town crushed it with their song "Girl Crush" and are tied with Eric Church with five nominations each at the 49th annual Country Music Association Awards.
In the nominations announced Wednesday, the four-part vocal group rode the success of the song to nominations for album of the year for "Pain Killer"; vocal group; musical event for a duet with Miranda Lambert; music video; and single of the year. The songwriters for "Girl Crush," Liz Rose, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey, also received a nomination for song of the year.
The sultry song, which became a No. 1 country hit, generated an overhyped controversy over misinterpretation of the lyrics, in which singer Karen Fairchild sings about the appeal of another woman who has captivated a man's attention.
"It's alluring," said Little Big Town singer Phillip Sweet. "I think that's probably why it had the controversy it had to begin. It's not deceptive, but it's painting a picture with the emotion of the music."
The five nominations mark the most the band has ever received in a year and cap off a big year for the band. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry last year and hosted the CMA Music Festival television special this June, but then had to halt touring for part of the summer while singer Jimi Westbrook recovered from vocal surgery.
"I think this was the first summer that we have ever taken off," Sweet said. "It was nice for us to collect ourselves and our energies. Coming back now, the shows that we have been playing for the last few weekends, it feels incredible and the crowds have been better than ever. Jimi feels stronger than ever."
Church earned his first nomination for entertainer of the year and was also nominated for male vocalist, single, song and musical event of the year for a duet with Keith Urban.
Six-time CMA winner Lee Ann Womack returned to the nomination list for the first time since 2010 with her nomination for female vocalist, alongside Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood. After a six-year break from recording new music, Womack returned with her 2014 album, "The Way I'm Livin,'" and now straddles the line between country and Americana as the only artist nominated for both CMA and Americana Music Association awards this year.
"I've been really fortunate to be able to do both. I also pay a price sometimes of not having as much commercial success and things like that," Womack said Wednesday from her home in Texas. "But I cannot help myself; I love traditional country music. American roots music is something that moves me, more than money, more than anything and it's where my heart is."
Kenny Chesney earned four nominations including entertainer, single, musical event and album. He could potentially earn two more awards for his role as producer on his album "The Big Revival" and on his single "American Kids." The songwriters for "American Kids," Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, also earned a nomination for song of the year.
Lambert also earned four nominations for entertainer, female vocalist, musical event and music video. Garth Brooks returned to the entertainer of the year category this year for the first time since 1999. Luke Bryan, who won entertainer of the year last year, was also nominated for entertainer and male vocalist.
Singer-songwriters stood out in this year's nominations with Musgraves, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton and Maddie & Tae all receiving three nominations.
It was also a good year for new and emerging acts as four artists debuted in the new artist category who also earned nominations in other categories for the first time. The new artist category includes Hunt, Maddie & Tae, Thomas Rhett, Stapleton and Ballerini, who helped announce the nominations with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Stapleton, who has mostly been known as a songwriter for artists like Luke Bryan, got a surprise Wednesday morning when he heard that he had been nominated for his album "Traveller," as well as male vocalist and new artist of the year.
"I'm pretty sure I'm the oldest one in there," Stapleton said of his new artist nomination. "I'm 37. I'm a late bloomer."
Country Music Hall of Famers Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard got a nomination for musical event of the year for their album "Django and Jimmie."
Underwood and Brad Paisley will host the Nov. 4 awards show at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The show will air on ABC.
Little Big Town, Eric Church lead CMA nominations
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