Outsiders Zach Bryan, Hailey Whitters Win ACM ‘New Artist’ Awards

Everybody calm down. It’s just the ACM Awards. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate that the good guys won, the bad guys lost, or not act these wins don’t symbolize an even further entrenching of strong, independent voices deeper into the bowels of the mainstream.

With all the pageantry that some random person might deliver the news that their last trip to Chipotle gave them wicked gas, the ACM Awards randomly dropped the news late Tuesday evening (5-9) via Tweet that Zach Bryan had been named the 2023 New Male Artist of the Year, and that Hailey Whitters had been named the New Female Artist of the Year.

Both beat out stiff competition, and both beat out names more established in the mainstream world for the honor. Both artists also seem somewhat strange to refer to as “new,” but that’s always been the nature of this award. Both also undeniably earned it.

Though these New Artist of the Year awards are definitely on the 2nd tier of ACM distinction—and the ACMs already place 2nd behind the CMAs in regards to relevancy and prestige—this moment does feel significant, and especially for Zach Bryan.

Though the Grammy Awards have always been liberal handing out nominations and awards to artists like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Billy Strings, Tyler Childers, and the like, this is the first real win for an artist outside of the Music Row system. We saw Jason Isbell get a CMA Album of the Year nomination for The Nashville Sound in 2017, and The Highwomen get a couple of ACM nominations for Group of the Year. But this is the first win. It is yet another barrier that Zach Bryan has broken.

Since Hailey Whitters is signed to Big Loud Records (Morgan Wallen, Hardy), it doesn’t exactly make her the outsider that it does Zach Bryan. But there are few who’ve paid more dues and put their time in trying to make a career work in Nashville than Hailey. It was four years ago that she sang her song “10 Year Town” about being 12 years into her career, and still struggling for acceptance and success. Again, not exactly “new,” but this distinction must feel like significant validation for her.

Hailey Whitters still doesn’t have a Top 20 single. Neither does Zach on the radio, though that will likely change in the coming weeks with “Something in the Orange.” This isn’t just one, but two outsiders getting inside recognition. Will it change the world of country music as we know it? Of course not. But it is another win for the good guys in a continuing string of them. It would have been even better if the ACM Awards televised the wins, or got Zach to perform (Hailey Whitters will). But we’ll take it.

The ACM Awards are streaming on Amazon Prime for free on Thursday (5-11) evening. Saving Country Music might get the ol’ LIVE blog up and running for them.

New Female Artist of the Year

Priscilla Block
Megan Moroney
Caitlyn Smith
Morgan Wade
Hailey Whitters – WINNER

New Male Artist of the Year

Zach Bryan – WINNER
Jackson Dean
Dylan Scott 
Nate Smith 
Bailey Zimmerman

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