At CMA 2021, country music is a diverse and inclusive family. IRL, not so much …

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Madeline Edwards, Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer perform at the 55th Annual CMA Awards Wednesday. (Terry Wyatt / Getty Images)

Chris Stapleton would probably have cleaned up at Wednesday night’s 55th CMAs, even though his latest album was called “14 Songs of Music by a Guy”. That it is actually called “Restarting”- well, you can bet the Country Music Assn in trouble. felt especially good to reward this idea.

Relentless no less than the Registration Academy In recent years, in criticizing its attitude to diversity and inclusion, the Nashville business group was unlikely to escape such scrutiny this year thanks to Morgan Wallen, whose use of the N word in a video released in February by TMZ triggered generalized conversation on the history of racism in the country’s industry.

And indeed, the CMA seemed to appease a few when it ruled that the young superstar would be banned from attending Wednesday, but that her blockbuster “Dangerous,” which only gained popularity after the release of video, would be allowed to compete for album of the year. . (Despite cheering from the audience in person at the mention of Wallen’s name, “Dangerous” lost to “Starting Over,” whose title song was also named Song of the Year and Single of the Year – the first time. that an artist has won all three of these awards in one night since 2002, when Alan Jackson did so with his album “Drive” and his post 9/11 anthem “Where were you when the world stopped turning. ”)

Yet if Wallen’s phantom presence weighed heavily on the CMAs – “I wake up every morning and thank the Lord for my blessings,” he said. tweeted minutes after the event, which was broadcast live on ABC from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville – it was a clear attempt by those in control to demonstrate that a once-hidden genre had evolved.

Jimmie Allen became only the second black artist to be named New Artist of the Year, while TJ Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, one of the very few openly gay men in country music, won the vocal duo of the year with his brother John.

“It’s been a crazy roller coaster year for us in so many ways, especially for me emotionally, and having all of you backing me up, I really feel like love wins tonight,” said TJ in his acceptance speech after kiss her boyfriend in the audience. (Beyond the universally admired Stapleton, which also won the Male Artist of the Year award, include Luke Combs, named Artist of the Year, and Carly Pearce, who won the Female Artist of the Year award. of the year.)

More important than the trophies, the show itself – the most publicized annual presentation in country music – was designed to focus on the performances of women and people of color, even though they are outnumbered by White Men nearly 3 to 1 on Billboard’s closely watched country broadcast chart. .

There was Mickey guyton, the 37-year-old black singer with a well-documented streak of professional frustrations, doing her “Love My Hair” as she was flanked by rising stars Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, each wearing a natural “rarely (if ever) seen in The trio were introduced by Faith Fennidy, a Louisiana girl whose viral account that she was asked to quit college because her braids were seen as a distraction inspired Guyton to write “Love My Hair.”

There was Jennifer Hudson, visiting Nashville to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin’s love of country music – and to remind all Oscar voters who had listened to her lead role in Franklin’s biopic “Respect” by this year – with a sizzling rendition of Willie Nelson “Night life, for which she was joined by Stapleton, whose roots he had classically recognized in black music in his country-soul “Cold”.

There was Breland, the young hip-hop artist who joined Dierks Bentley and Hardy for a “Beers on me. And not least, there were Allen and Kane Brown with renditions of tunes as thankfully mediocre as those sung regularly for decades by white dudes on this program. – black male artists, that is – no longer have to be generational talents to make time on stage at the CMA Awards.

Or at least this year they haven’t: It’s unclear whether the newly welcoming mood announced Wednesday will continue in Nashville or if it was just some sort of demagoguery of a election year of an industry currently under the microscope.

Granted, Wednesday’s show featured plenty of status quo moments from Blake Shelton – “If my neck doesn’t turn red, then Lord keep me dead,” he sang in “Come back as a country boy“- and the duo of Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean, who delivered their power ballad”If i didn’t love youThe latter resisting any urge to trumpet the conservative talking points he is known to hammer out online. (Underwood made waves on Twitter early in the evening when she appeared to side host Luke Bryan after making a joke about Aaron Rodgers’ questionable stance on COVID-19 vaccines.)

Yet you couldn’t deny the emotion in Allen’s speech – the feeling that things were finally starting to change – as he tearfully accepted his award with a memento of his first trip to the CMAs, when he spent his last $ 100, he said, to come see Charley Pride sing.

“And I had the opportunity to play with him last year,” he added of the pioneering black country artist, who hired Allen for a rendition of the Pride classic “Kiss. an Angel Good Mornin ‘”at the 54th CMA Awards. Which Allen left in silence – no doubt much to the relief of the CMA, which drew general condemnation for summoning a largely unmasked crowd in 2020 at the height of the pandemic – is that Pride died of COVID-19 weeks later.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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