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
Hailey Whitters – WINNER
New Male Artist of the Year
Zach Bryan – WINNER
May 10, 2023 @ 9:28 am
Both Great Wins, although I wouldn’t have been sad to see Zimmerman and Moroney.
May 10, 2023 @ 10:36 am
Pretty cool. Progress is def being made.
May 10, 2023 @ 10:53 am
Caitlyn Smith nominated for new artist is also a choice lol
May 10, 2023 @ 11:31 am
Morgan Wade would have been a true win, but let’s count it as a win for sure!
May 10, 2023 @ 11:32 am
Not a ZB fan, but the win for both is good overall regardless of the individual artist. I am looking at this in the macro sense and hope it puports to a continued change of direction and maybe even accelerates it. However, be mindful of the historic Chris Stapleton wins in 2016. Yes he was mainstream rather than indepedent, I think, but we still had to slog through a few more years of rather mindless mainstream radio. I do think the ship is turning though.
May 10, 2023 @ 12:20 pm
I’m so dang happy for Hailey! I absolutely love the album Raised from start to finish. She seems so down to Earth and genuine, and along with the likes of Kaitlyn Butts are filling that void that Kacey Musgraves left, with their smart writing, and storytelling from a female perspective. The females of country music are bringing the heat currently!
May 10, 2023 @ 12:50 pm
Have to recommend everyone give Stephen Wilson Jr a listen. He recently signed with Big Loud Records, but don’t hold that against him, so did CWG. Some really good live solo performances are on YouTube, along with very well produced videos. He has an interesting sound and approach.
May 10, 2023 @ 3:31 pm
Yes coat. Been singing his praises for a minute now. He’s so so fucking good. Holler from the holler and year to be young are my favs but he doesn’t have a bad song out
May 10, 2023 @ 3:36 pm
Also jeremy pinnell rips whoo boy sorry guys long day at the office
May 10, 2023 @ 7:31 pm
I stood a couple of feet in front of Jeremy a year ago performing in front of a virtually empty room opening for Arlo. He was great (he fucking rips, I agree), but was obviously very discouraged and visibly downtrodden. “Some days you are the nail, not the hammer.” I personally cannot wait for the next JP album and I want desperately to see him live with a full band.
May 11, 2023 @ 6:28 am
Dang that would bum me out to see the boy feeling low. That’s the life though. I’d kill to see him live with a band as well, hopefully get to sometime soon
May 10, 2023 @ 3:50 pm
Saw Stephen open for Morgan Wade and he blew the roof off the place. Agree completely, that guy has it and great news about getting a record deal.
May 10, 2023 @ 1:09 pm
How many mouth breathers will have to say they aren’t ZB fans……blah blah blah……
May 10, 2023 @ 6:01 pm
I don’t think “mouth-breather” is the right pejorative here. You could say malcontent or cynical asshole. I’m old enough to remember when Mumford and Son’s first hit and was all the rage at acoustic gigs. They were the Led Zeppelin or Beatles for literal mouth-breathing – overweight IPA- drinking hipsters.
May 10, 2023 @ 6:41 pm
No, mouth breather is right. Could also use window licker if the mouth is too divisive. Anyways, we know the ZB window licking mouth breathing haters will never get over themselves. They can drink their Bud Light in the corner and complain about the earth being flat, while being completely oblivious to Kenny Vaughn as they claim to be purist.
May 10, 2023 @ 7:07 pm
May 10, 2023 @ 4:01 pm
Congrats to Zach – well deserved. For me, seeing Morgan Wade and Jackson Dean nominated is validation that the world is getting better. Neither are straight up country. But both use real instruments, no click tracks, no rapping, no list lyrics, good songwriting, put on amazing live shows, and are authentically true to themselves in their music. And both are in their 20’s so lots of great music from them is yet to come.
May 10, 2023 @ 4:55 pm
Hailey Whitters is a hoot.
So happy for her for this recognition.
Also, agree with all the commenters concerning Stephen Wilson, Jr.
He is Very Good.
Loved when we were talking about him on SCM, several months ago.
May 11, 2023 @ 2:44 am
I learned about him through this very comment section, he’s very good, a weird mix of southern gothic country and grunge rock.
May 10, 2023 @ 5:55 pm
I can’t help seeing parallels to Bruce Springsteen with ZB. I’m not as big on Springsteen’s really wordy melodramatic music but I really like some of his later music (Born in the USA album and later). On another article it was pointed out how Oklahoma Smokeshow sounds more traditionally country. I have criticized the lyrics on that song before but I do agree. ZB is very verbose and Melancholy. That’s common criticism and I don’t think it’s unfair. He’s certainly allowed his own time and path to pursue his ‘sound.’ Personally I am still waiting for something from him to appeal to me directly.
Every week I get to play a gig with a guy who plays a lot of ZB, and his music is requested too. I appreciate being able to air my opinions anonymously because I would not say this at a gig.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 11, 2023 @ 9:10 am
By the time he’s making music that appeals directly to 37 year olds, you’ll be waiting on him to make music that appeals directly to 47 year olds, haha.
The guy’s lyrics are sad bastard stuff that’s very specific to that ’91-’01 age range.
It stills works for folks a couple years on either side (and I expect his stuff to continue to hit with younger kids as they age into it), but he’s not trying to be anything other than what he is.
May 11, 2023 @ 8:34 pm
I don’t believe this fans truly know why they think his lyrics are deep. It’s easy to understand the emotion behind “Backside of 30” or “Chiseled in Stone.”
David: The Duke of Everything
May 10, 2023 @ 7:04 pm
Congrats to both. But the comments by obviously Kool aid drinking Zach Bryan fans on here is enough reason to not be a fan of the guy on their own without any extra help.
May 11, 2023 @ 12:31 am
Love this for them. I do have a question though is Zach now entering the mainstream
May 11, 2023 @ 8:10 am
Well – his album stays near the top of the Billboard 200. He had a top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Has a current top 30 single at country radio. And just kicked off a sold out arena tour. I’d say he’s entering the mainstream at the very least.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 11, 2023 @ 9:10 am
Mainstream country is now coming to Zach Bryan, haha!
May 11, 2023 @ 1:30 am
Even though I don’t like award shows, I am happy for those who win awards that actually deserve them, so congrats.
May 11, 2023 @ 12:49 pm
Wondering if SCM is going to stay clear of the Jimmie Allen Story..
May 11, 2023 @ 1:05 pm