Blake Shelton reveals he had fightin’ words for labelmates Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney right before the single of the year was announced at the CMA Awards Wednesday night. Each had smash hits — Shelton’s “God's Country” and Dan + Shay‘s “Speechless “— that were top contenders for the award.
“They were sitting directly behind me,” Shelton recalled at a press conference on Thursday, “and I said, ‘Hey, if you guys win this award, I’m gonna kick your ass, because I haven’t been nominated for any stuff in, like, a hundred years.”
Shelton’s name was called, of course — no doubt to Smyers’ and Mooney’s relief. Shelton is, after all, a big enough guy to take on two.
“Thank God we didn’t have to fight,” the ever-mischievous Shelton said, though he allowed, “I think that might have helped with the ratings if they thought there was actually a chance that people were gonna throw down and fight on the CMAs.”
In fact, it hasn’t been an entire century since Shelton’s last CMA award, but it has been longer than a hot minute. The nine-time CMA award recipient hasn’t even been nominated since 2015. He told reporters at the media event, held at Ole Red, his downtown Nashville restaurant and honky-tonk, that he’d even stopped saving the awards show date on his calendar.
“Eh, we’re doing The Voice,” he said he thought. “I don’t want to take up somebody’s seat.”
But his name’s disappearance from the CMA nominations spoke to a greater anxiety, Shelton confessed, that perhaps he was beginning a descent that any successful artist fears.
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While the first single off his last album, "I'll Name the Dogs," reached No. 1, Shelton recounted how his second and third singles, “I Lived It” and “Turnin' Me On failed to reach the peak. “Especially for me, having been on a roll at radio, it’s like, oh, s—, we knew this would happen eventually, right?” Shelton said. “You know, I’m not the new guy any more. … You always wonder what it’ll feel like whenever that starts slipping away a little bit. I think about that stuff a lot, and I always wonder, like, man, how am I gonna feel when this kind of goes away, and I’m not that hot any more in the industry? And I was kinda okay with it. I thought, my God, I’ve got a lot more out of this than I thought I would. I was, like, having that kind of a pity party.”
And then “God’s Country” happened.
Shelton retold the now-famous story of how he first heard the demo, sung by co-writer Hardy, while driving a skid steer on his Oklahoma ranch. Stopping dead in his tracks, he called his producer to say he was ready to cut the song, and he was in the studio within days.
“I heard the song, and it was almost like an awakening,” Shelton said. “It was like it re-energized me. I don’t want to be done with this. I want to keep making records, and it just kinda turned everything around for me. And then I’ll be damned if it didn’t literally turn everything around for me as far as airplay and even being nominated for something again.”
Shelton said he’s been paying a price for his monster hit: It’s a vocal challenge. “That song has me against the ropes,” he said. “It beats the hell out of me — and I love it.”
He also loves the affect it has on its listeners. “It pumps you up,” he said. “If you’re driving your truck, it makes you want to drive faster, maybe hit something. Just whatever you’re doing, it just fires you up.”
As happy as Shelton is for his 10th CMA award, he said he is even happier for another winner, Jenee Fleenor, who became the first woman to be named musician of the year. Fleenor is a member of Shelton’s touring band, as well as the house band on The Voice.
“That’s her first CMA,” Shelton said. “To my knowledge, it’s the first real acknowledgment of how talented she is within this industry. … She’s a superstar.”
Shelton shared that he texted Fleenor his congratulations, pointing out her necessity in his band: “Hey, if you quit now that you’re famous, I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Watch out, Jenee. Take it from Dan + Shay, those are fightin’ words.