BFFs: Country’s young guns aim for ACM success

Call them country music’s young guns, a new generation of stars who are bound not only by chart-topping talent but by friendship.

Chances are you’ve heard one of their songs on the radio recently and they’ll be hard to miss Sunday during the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas after dominating nominations.

The group swirls around a nucleus of Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, fast friends whose positive energy draws in others like moths to a flame.

Photo: AP Photo / NBC
NBC’s "Today" Show, New York City

“I think it’s cool because it just kind of started all the sudden,” Lambert said. “The new generation is starting to really show what we’re about and it’s cool that we’re really fond of each other genuinely. It’s really not about competition with us. We’re all happy for each other.”

The group includes Scott’s bandmates, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, and Lambert’s boyfriend, Blake Shelton. Scott has been friends with Taylor Swift since country’s golden girl was 14. Lambert and Carrie Underwood are buds, too.

Add in Luke Bryan, David Nail and Ashley Monroe and you’ve got a regular posse. So far the friendship has spawned hit songs and a lot of fresh ideas.

“Everybody’s just kind of working for each other and pulling for each other,” Shelton said. “That helps a lot. This business is so competitive. When somebody is doing real good and has your back that’s one thing, but when everybody’s doing real good, kind of shoving each other along, it makes it that much stronger a force.”

And a force it is.

Lady A, riding the crossover success of its latest, “Need You Now,” leads all nominees with seven. Lambert and Underwood are up for six awards and Underwood could become the first woman to win entertainer of the year twice. Swift, the sensation whose multitude of trophies includes entertainer of the year at the Country Music Association Awards, has five nominations.

Photo: Courtesy FrontPage Publicity
The singers chat during a benefit concert held in Oklahoma.

Bryan’s already won the fan-voted top new solo vocalist of the year, with the help of a hilarious video spot that included some of his buds, and is now up for top new artist. And Nail received his first nomination this year for “Red Light” in the single record of the year category.

“I’m so proud of my friends,” Scott said.

Symbiotic relationships are nothing new in country music. The outlaw movement was a loose confederacy of like-minded friends who encouraged and supported each other. The fast friendship between Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn and others helped spur each on to new heights. And there’s the Big & Rich crew that includes Gretchen Wilson, among others.

In this latest group, songwriting ideas are often shared freely. Kelley and Haywood have written songs with Shelton and helped Luke Bryan score his first No. 1 hit, “Do I.” They also teamed with Shelton and Lambert for a song she recorded. And Shelton cut a song penned by Scott and Lambert.

Photo: Mike Bradley
Crown Coliseum, Fayetteville, N.C.

“We all really care about each other and enjoy each other’s company and it’s not competitive,” Scott said. “I think if anything everybody’s trying to make and write the best music they possibly can and push each other to be better. It’s healthy competition instead of a cutthroat, ‘We’re better than you’ thing. It’s really fun.”

Lambert and Scott were just acquaintances until they joined Kenny Chesney’s tour last year. After spending time on a bus full of boys, Scott moved onto Lambert’s bus for a time and the two immediately found out they were “kindred spirits,” Lambert said.

“And it’s neat because she feels like a girl I could’ve been friends with in high school, you know, and we just happen to be doing the same job,” she said. “We wrote songs together and hung out and had dance parties, and it was just really great.”

They even shared shoes.

So many great things have happened to each since then. Lady A has sold more than 1.5 million copies of “Need You Now” and appears to be on the verge of a long, successful run. And their friends have been cheering them on all the way.

“I remember telling them at the end of the (Chesney) tour, ‘OK, next year I’ll be moving onto your tour bus and opening for you,’ and they were like, ‘whatever, whatever,’“ Lambert said.
“And here they are just blowing up. I’m just so proud of them. Hillary is a great girl and I love having her as a friend.”

That goodwill runs both ways. Kelley calls Lambert’s Revolution the best country album in the last five years and Lady A members will tell anyone listening they hope she beats them in the album of the year category, in which their own self-titled debut is nominated.

Photo: AP Photo
MusiCares Person of the Year tribute to Neil Young, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, Calif.

“I truly believe it is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard,” Scott said. “I want her to take the album of the year award home because she deserves it. She created a beautiful album.”