Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton are the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year. The five artists will be honored during a ceremony in Nashville in mid-October.

Ballerini, Barrett, Brown, Combs and Stapleton were selected as 2021 CMT Artists of the Year because they "collectively dominated the last 12 months in country music, leading across all CMT platforms, scoring chart-topping albums and singles, while simultaneously finding creative ways to connect with fans and meet the personal and professional challenges posed by the [COVID-19] pandemic," per a press release. Ballerini and Brown even co-hosted the 2021 CMT Music Awards in early June.

All five artists have released new music in recent months: Barrett released her debut in June of 2020, while Stapleton put out his fourth studio album in November. Brown dropped a new EP that August, and Ballerini debuted two albums: Kelsea and its acoustic accompaniment, Ballerini. Combs, meanwhile, expanded his sophomore album from 2019 into What You See Ain't Always What You Get, which includes his 11th-straight No. 1 single (as well as his current single, "Cold as You," currently just outside the Top 10 at country radio).

Barrett is the 2021 ACM New Female Artist of the Year, Stapleton's Starting Over was named the 2021 ACM Album of the Year, and Brown's "Worldwide Beautiful" music video earned Music Video of the Year at the 2021 ACM Awards. Between the five of them, they have more than a dozen 2021 CMA Awards nominations.

During the show, Ballerini, Barrett, Brown, Combs and Stapleton will be honored with live performances and tributes from their fellow artists. Further details about who will be attending and performing, as well as additional honorees, will be announced in the coming weeks.

The 2021 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony is set for Oct. 13. The event will take place at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and will air live on CMT beginning at 9PM ET.

Best Country Albums of 2021 - Critic's Pick

There have been many creative country albums in 2021, but not all have hit the mark. Artists are more than ever toying with distribution methods and packaging as much as they are new sounds, so you get double and triple albums, Part 1 and Part 2, and digital EPs in lieu of a traditional 10 or 11-song release.

The bar for an EP on this list of the best country albums of 2021 is higher than an LP, but one project did crack the Top 10. Too much music proved to dampen other artist's efforts, although Alan Jackson's first album in years was filled with country music we couldn't turn away from. Where Have You Gone has 21 songs, but somehow no filler.

More than ever, this relied on staff opinion and artistic merit to allow for some parity among major label artists and independents. The 10 albums listed below are not ranked, although the year-end list published in the fall will crown a true best album of 2021.

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