Hey, Country Music Association: We need to talk. It's time for a change.

The CMA unveiled nominees for the 2018 CMA Awards on Tuesday morning (Aug. 28), and, as always, there's plenty to analyze. But there's one category in particular that's a big ol' mess: New Artist of the Year. And that's largely due to the criteria outlined in nomination guidelines.

The 2018 CMA Awards New Artist of the Year nominees are Lauren AlainaLuke CombsChris JansonMidland and Brett Young. Three of those acts -- Alaina, Combs and Young -- were nominated for the honor in 2017; two of them, Alaina and Janson, have been in the industry for years and each two major-label albums to their names. According to the CMA's nomination rules for the category, though, that's all perfectly kosher.

"The [New Artist of the Year] Award is to the artist, whether individual or a group, who is known primarily as a Country artist, who has for the first time demonstrated the most significant creative growth and development in overall chart or sales activity, live performance, professionalism and/or national media recognition related to the launch of their career," the CMA's rules explain. "Any artist who has previously won a CMA Award (except Song of the Year, Musical Event of the Year and Music Video of the Year) or who has twice been a final nominee for the Horizon Award or New Artist of the Year Award is ineligible for nomination."

Awards nominations and wins aren't everything. But how can we expect new artists to succeed when they're not given a fair chance?

The CMA's got it half right, at least: Allowing artists to be New Artist of the Year nominees for two years is plenty fair. In returning category nominees Young and Combs' cases, their debut albums were less than a year old at the time of the 2017 CMA Awards; Combs only hit No. 1 with his first single, "Hurricane," in May of 2017, and Young had earned his first No. 1 in June. New New Artist nominees Midland are in a similar position this year: Their major-label debut album dropped in September of 2017; they earned a Billboard Top 5 with their first single, "Drinkin' Problem," but haven't gotten to No. 1 on that chart just yet.

The problems with the CMA's New Artist of the Year nomination guidelines are in the first half of the category's rules. That phrasing is nebulous -- and, frankly, confusing -- and without a specific timeline to work in, artists who are years deep into their label careers can still qualify. In the case of 2018's nominees, it's not that Alaina and Janson aren't deserving of recognition; it's just that they're hardly "new."

Even if you leave out Janson's pre-"Buy Me a Boat" years, he's well past a new name; he's got Song and Music Video nods this year as well. Alaina, meanwhile, is more than a year and a half removed from both the release of her sophomore album and earning her first No. 1 song. They'd both make more sense as Female and Male Vocalist of the Year nominees.

The CMA's New Artist of the Year nominee rules aren't new, but this year, the resulting list of nominees is particularly striking because of the wealth of new talent in the genre right now. Ashley McBryde, Devin Dawson, Carly Pearce and Lanco are only four obvious snubs; their major-label debut albums came late in 2017 or early this year, and they've either not yet earned a No. 1 song or have done so for the first time within the same time period. All four are current or previous The Boot Artists to Watch, and McBryde and Dawson's records are two of the finest of the year so far.

A CMA New Artist of the Year win certainly doesn't guarantee future success, or indicate a lack thereof; George Strait, Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw, among other big names, never won the honor. But we live in a time when new artists -- especially new female artists -- struggle to gain traction. A New Artist of the Year nomination can be a major step forward in that struggle; just look at how it helped Chris Stapleton in 2015.

Awards nominations and wins aren't everything. But how can we expect new artists to succeed when they're not given a fair chance?

The 2018 CMA Awards will air live from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 14. The show is scheduled to begin at 8PM ET on ABC, with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood returning as co-hosts for an 11th year, and The Boot will be staying up late covering the most buzzed-about winners, fashion and moments at the show. Readers can watch along with us by checking back to TheBoot.com for the latest CMAs headlines, liking The Boot on Facebook and following The Boot on Twitter.

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