NEW YORK (AP) — The red carpet just keeps rolling out for singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton: After dominating at last month's Country Music Association Awards and watching his album jump from nowhere to No. 1, he's now a top nominee at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Stapleton's four nominations, announced Monday by the Recording Academy, include best country album, country solo performance and country song for "Traveller." His album, which became a white-hot success after he won three honors and performed alongside Justin Timberlake at the CMAs, is also up for album of the year — marking a return to the top prize for country music after some time.
The last country album to be nominated for album of the year was at the 2014 Grammys with Taylor Swift's "Red" — which was not completely country thanks to its pop anthems such as "We Are Never Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble." Before that, it was Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" at the 2011 awards show.
"I don't make records with the thought of awards. That being said, what a wonderful treat to be recognized by your peers for the work that you have done," Stapleton said in an interview with The Associated Press by phone on Monday. "It's kinda crazy."
His competition is tough in the top category with Swift's "1989," Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly," Alabama Shakes' "Sound & Color" and the Weeknd's "Beauty Behind the Madness," which was the most streamed album on Spotify this year.
"The album of the year category, you look at that, it's some pretty heavy company. We are grateful for it. We don't take it that lightly," Stapleton said.
Little Big Town also helped country music return to top Grammy categories with "Girl Crush," which is up for song of the year (the nomination goes to the song's writers, Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose). It's the first time a country song is nominated for the top honor since the 2011 Grammys, where nominees included Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me" and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," which won the award.
"It's the biggest deal. There is no way to describe the importance. It means a lot to the band for this song and the record to be acknowledged like this from our peers," band member Karen Fairchild said in an interview. "It's incredible."
"Girl Crush" is also nominated for best country song and country duo/group performance, while Little Big Town's "Pain Killer" is nominated for best country album.
Like the CMAs, Stapleton has a strong chance of winning Grammy gold because he is beloved and respected in the music community: He has written songs for just about every hot country act, from George Strait to Luke Bryan to Kenny Chesney, and he earned acclaim — and Grammy nominations — as the lead singer of bluegrass band The SteelDrivers. Even Adele covers one their songs at her live shows.
"I have been working for a long time, writing songs for other people and playing on records, playing shows and doing all those things. So many artists and producers and record label folks and publishers, everyone in Nashville, but also outside of Nashville, too," Stapleton said. "I really have had very few bad experiences."
While country could have a historical moment at the Grammys — which takes place Feb. 15, 2016 — rap could, too. Lamar's "Butterfly" could be the first hip-hop project to win album of the year since Outkast took home the prize in 2004 with "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." And Lamar's "Alright," produced by Pharrell, could be the first rap tune to ever win song of the year.
Lamar is the leading nominee with 11, followed by Swift and the Weeknd, who earned seven nominations each.
More than 21,000 submissions were entered for the 83 Grammy categories, and voting for the second round, completed by mail and starting next week, ends on Jan. 15, 2016. The awards show will air live on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
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