By James Barker, Staff Writer
After Brothers Osborne premiered their new song in the lead up to the show and the announcement of Mickey Guyton’s hosting, all eyes were on the Academy of Country Music Awards 2021. Would the night deliver on its promise of presenting a more representative vision of country music today? The show undoubtedly delivered, but the awards? Not so much.
There were no LGBTQ+ winners on the night, (although at the time of writing, we’re still holding out for Shane McAnally in “Songwriter of the Year”), but with only a handful of LGBTQ+ artists nominated, this was always going to be a tall order. There were some wins for BIPoC artists with Kane Brown winning “Video of the Year”, Jimmie Allen winning “New Male Artist of the Year” and Dan + Shay (Dan Smyers has Japanese heritage) winning “Duo of the Year”. (It continues to be a shame that Mickey Guyton did not win an award.)
The lack of representation within some of the big categories was disappointing. That being said, Chris Stapleton’s win in “Album of the Year” was well deserved, but seriously, Luke Bryan for “Entertainer of the Year”? When there is so much talent within country music right now, for this award to go to someone so bland and mediocre is not especially entertaining. On a more positive note, Maren Morris’ “The Bones” was a welcome win in “Song of the Year” (alongside Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz), not least for an artist who has really shown what it means to be an ally this past year.
Thankfully, the ACMs are not just about the awards. The show’s performances really delivered, from the camp country-pop outlaw show opener “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” by Elle King and Miranda Lambert, and with great performances by Mickey Guyton, who showed once again that she is one of the greatest voices in any genre right now, and Carrie Underwood (joined by gospel legend CeCe Winans), who always rises to the occasion.
Brothers Osborne performed twice: “I’m Not For Everyone”, which seemed to make a statement about self-acceptance, and, closing the show, “Dead Man’s Curve”. Brothers Osborne may not have won an award this time, but they certainly made an impact.
Jon Freeman in Rolling Stone has described the show as making genuine strides to be inclusive, This is especially true in terms of the presenters of the show, with Mickey Guyton’s stellar hosting alongside Keith Urban, with presenters of awards including Blanco Brown, Darius Rucker, and Leslie Jordan (who was perhaps the best dressed of the night!). There seems to be genuine effort on the part of the show to shift the needle in country music. But it needs the industry’s underlying infrastructure to catch up, as some of the lacklustre winners demonstrate.
Just like we said when the ACM nominations were announced: it’s a start. The ACM Awards represented country music present, the disappointment that straight white men are almost exclusively represented at the top of the genre right now, but with glimmers of hope that things will change.