On Sunday night, country music makes an unprecedented stride, as two of its up-and-coming female vocalists are in the running for the prestigious all-genre Best New Artist Grammy. Two decades ago, a country artist had never taken home the trophy, but in 1997, a young LeAnn Rimes changed all that.
“I don't know how many times I was told before I went to the awards show, 'You're not gonna win, it's not gonna happen,'” she recalls. “I was country and I was 14 -- like everything was against me. It was definitely a shock to everyone that night and quite a good one,” she smiles.
Because she was so young at the time, LeAnn confesses she doesn’t remember very much about that night. “I have to watch video actually to kind of recall that moment,” she admits. “I was sick that night, and I remember being just so emotionally sensitive. I remember bursting into tears, but anything after that -- what I said, what happened, I have no idea,” she laughs.
LeAnn offers both congratulations -- and a little advice -- to Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, who are continuing on the trail she blazed.
“'Just have fun!'” LeAnn says. “… It's great all these years later we have these country artists that are nominated… I'm proud of them. I'm glad that they're being considered for that award. I think it's fantastic.” LeAnn’s 16th studio album, Remnants, was released on February 3.
“There's never been two country artists in this category before,” Kelsea points out, “let alone two female country artists… It's really cool to kind of carry that torch with her,” she says of Maren.
While it would be easy to understand if a friendly rivalry existed between the two newcomers, Kelsea says that’s just not the case. In fact, the “Yeah Boy” hitmaker says Maren was one of the first people she heard from when the nominations were announced.
“She texted me, right when they came out that morning, and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, we're going to the Grammys!... We should get ready together,’” Kelsea recalls.
“And I was like, 'We have to bring the big hair and the glitter!'” she jokes.
Kelsea and Maren vie against indie electro-dance duo The Chainsmokers, urban artist Chance the Rapper and R&B singer/songwriter Anderson .Paak for the trophy, and even Kelsea herself says it’s too close to call.
“Everyone in the category is actually truly really, really good. So I think it's anyone's game. It's gonna be great!” she says.
Maren Morris has the distinction of being the most-nominated country artist going into this year’s Grammys. With recognition in the Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song and Best Country Album categories, as well a spot among the all-genre Best New Artist contenders, you might be surprised at which trophy would actually mean the most to Maren.
“I think the album one is probably the nomination I'm most excited about,” she reveals, “just because I am a new artist and I'm in that category with a lot of heavyweights. And it's a body of work being represented and voted on, so I feel really honored...”
Considering that Maren is competing against the likes of Loretta Lynn and her recent tourmate Keith Urban, it’s easy to see what the “My Church” hitmaker means.
The Best Country Album nomination for Hero also backs up one of Maren’s beliefs.
“I feel like I don't agree with the consensus that people don't listen to records anymore,” the Texas native says. “I think they're listening to records more now than ever. And yeah -- it shows that people still listen to full bodies of work, which is nice,” she adds.
Maren’s taking her mom as her date to the 59th Annual Grammys, Sunday night on CBS.