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Country Music Association Awards: A female video director thrives in the Nashville boys’ club

From left: Miranda Lambert, director Trey Fanjoy and Carrie Underwood on the set of the “Somethin’ Bad” music video.

At a time when guys rule the country music universe, from album sales to single downloads to radio play, it felt particularly good for music video director Trey Fanjoy to hear she got a Country Music Association Award nomination alongside the two most powerful women in the genre.

Fanjoy, the only woman to ever win a CMA for Video of the Year, scored two out of the five nominations in that category this year for the awards awards show airing Wednesday night on ABC. She landed one nod for her video collaboration with Miranda Lambert on the throwback tune “Automatic.”  But it’s her nomination for “Somethin’ Bad” — a hit duet by superstars Lambert and Carrie Underwood — that is especially meaningful for Fanjoy.

“I’m really excited about that video because of the timing this year,” she said via phone from Nashville, where she just returned from directing Josh Turner’s new video. “All you hear about lately is bro country. So in the face of bro country, I think it’s kind of fun as a female director to be nominated with these two strong female artists.”

We can end your suspense now: As it happens, Video of the Year was announced early, the prize going to Dierks Bentley and director Wes Edwards for “Drunk on a Plane,” one of many, many recent country music songs about booze. But Fanjoy remains one of the most successful music video directors in Nashville, with 200 videos to her credit. She’s built her career through strong working relationships with country singers who keep coming back to her to film their videos; working with popular female vocalists in particular has paid off in a big way.

When a teenage Taylor Swift was just starting out, Fanjoy directed her first hit videos, from “Tim McGraw” to “Our Song” to the CMA-winning “Love Story.” She often collaborates with Lambert, directing music videos for her “The House That Built Me,” the emotional song that won a CMA, and “Over You.” Other clients include Faith Hill, Reba, Sheryl Crow and even Dolly Parton a few years ago.

Fanjoy does plenty of work for male artists as well. She first broke into the business directing some of Keith Urban’s early videos (“Somebody Like You,” “Raining On Sunday,” etc.), after working in film production in L.A. And she had continued to thrive at a time when the music video business is changing dramatically. Today, most fans watch videos on YouTube, tablets and smartphones rather than TV, which has forced directors to make new aesthetic choices.

But country remains an unusually rich area for music videos. Unlike MTV, the Viacom-owned Country Music Television (CMT) still devotes a decent amount of air time to videos. And though country songs aren’t always as narrative-driven as they used to be, they all still have some element of a story in them. It’s the Nashville way.

“I think the emphasis on my own work is storytelling — fans respond to that,” Fanjoy said. She points to Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” video, in which the singer is the only person who appears on screen, the camera following her as she breaks down after a break up — there’s a definite beginning, middle and end. “It’s just Miranda and it’s still a story. I think the heartland country audience loves a good story.”

But videos are now expected to sell more than the song — they’re an opportunity for the artist to tell they world who they are and where they want to go. It might look like videos come together randomly, Fanjoy says (“Oh, here’s one fun idea for a song”), but they are underlain by a marketing strategy intended to differentiate new stars in a crowded field.

“What we’re really looking at is the whole bigger picture involved,” she said. “When we’re making a video. . . it’s really looking at trajectory of an artist’s entire career.”

So there’s some definite subtext in the video for “Somethin’ Bad,” the song on which Lambert and Underwood joined forces to rocket onto the charts with the rare hit female duet, at a time when many Nashville women struggle to get any radio play. The song tells a stormy tale of two women teaming up to pull off some sort of devious plan — in the video it’s a bank heist and a high-stakes poker game against some scary-looking dudes — and triumphing in the end.

Fanjoy recognizes the importance of their presence in the country arena, especially as representatives for music in the genre. She knows that about her own part of the industry as well, where the percentage of female directors is staggeringly low.

“The women that direct music videos are strangely few and far between — I don’t know why that is,” she said. “I’m not really sure. As a woman, I’m not only representing a big part of the demographic, but of the music-buying, ticket-buying audience.”