So, what is the lifespan of the consequences? Good, Morgan Wallen just won the ACM Album of the Year award for “Dangerous” to rapturous applause (while black artists were excluded), so while your mileage may vary, it looks like getting caught on video using a racial slur will keep you in the doghouse for a few months. During this time, you will have to endure the indignity of having the most commercially successful album of the year, for which you will then receive one of the most prestigious awards in the industry. Cancel culture is out of control!
Wallen released “Dangerous” in January 2021 as did news broke of him using the N-wordbut while he was suspended from his record label and taken from country radio for a little while, “Dangerous” ended up spending 10 weeks at number one, and it has since become the country album with the most weeks in the Billboard top 10.
Awards shows have taken different approaches to him. The ACM Awards banned him last spring at the height of the scandal. Then the Billboard Music Awards nominated him for his chart achievements but did not invite him to their show. Then the CMA Awards decided to nominate him, but he was only eligible in categories that would also honor other artists, producers, and songwriters who worked on his projects. In 2022 he was controversial guest at the Grand Ole Opry and the ACM Awards with open arms.
Wallen made amends, half a million dollar donation to black organizations. But the controversy has further shed light on the continuing racial disparities in country music, which is dominated by white artists. Even before Wallen landed in hot water, amid international outrage over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylorand Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, the Dixie chicks removed “Dixie” from their name and Lady Antebellum dropped “Antebellum” – both names evoked the pre-Civil War era before slavery was abolished.
The industry responded by highlighting more black talent. mickey guyton became the first black woman to perform at the ACM Awards in 2020. Then she co-hosted the ACMs in 2021. Darius Rucker co-organized the CMAs in 2020, where charley pride received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Kane Brownwho is of mixed race, co-hosted the CMT Music Awards in 2020 and 2021. And black artists in the industry have been invited to perform at events such as Guyton, Brown, jimmy allen, Breland, white brownand Britney Spencer. Even artists not known for country music were performing, like Jennifer Hudson with Chris Stapleton at the 2021 CMAs, HIS with Stapleton at CMT 2021, and CeCe Winans and The war and the treaty at the 2021 ACMs.
At the just-aired 2022 ACMs, Jimmie Allen was a co-host and performer, Guyton was a presenter, and the aforementioned Kane Brown, Blanco Brown, Breland and Brittney Spencer performed. It’s encouraging to see more attention paid to showcasing black performers on stage…but what about the awards themselves?
Most of Kane Brown’s accolades have come from fan-voted awards. From the industry, it has only one ACM award, video of the year in 2021 for “Worldwide Beautiful”. Allen won New Artist awards from the ACM and CMA in 2021, but that’s it so far. Guyton has new artist names from the CMAs and ACMs, but she hasn’t won any awards from either group, and she was completely left out of the ACM nominations this year for her debut studio album “Remember Her. Name”, which earned him three Grammy nominations, including Best Country Album. As for Blanco Brown, Breland and Brittney Spencer, they were not nominated by any national industry group.
So while you might argue that Wallen deserves another shot at being embraced by his peers around the country, seeing him accept album of the year on a night when black artists performed but weren’t awarded sends an uncomfortably mixed message. The people they invite to perform on their show indicate how the industry would like to be perceived, but who they actually award their prizes to show what they really value. So Wallen gets a second chance, but how many other artists haven’t even had a first chance?
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