2024 ACM Awards Pander to Pop While Ignoring Country’s Popularity

Editor’s Note: There will NOT be a Saving Country music LIVE blog during the 2024 ACM Awards.

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Country music awards shows are in desperate need of a reckoning. As artists from outside of the Nashville/Music Row bubble continue to gobble up market share and become some of the most successful and popular performers of this era, the awards shows are still trotting out manufactured radio stars like Nate Smith and Thomas Rhett, while attempting to pander to viewers with pop imports to try and goose ratings.

The 2024 ACM Awards on Thursday, May 16th will feature performances from Post Malone, Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, and Noah Kahan. It’s not uncommon for a pop star to perform on a country music awards show. In fact, it’s customary. But to have four is nearly unprecedented, even if some of the performances will come in collaborations.

With 17 announced performers total, this means basically one quarter of the performances will be from pop stars, and that’s not counting pop-leaning “country” acts like Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini. And this is at a time when actual country music performers have never been more popular. If there was ever a time when country music didn’t need to pander to pop and should feature even more of its homegrown talent, it would be this year.

Right now, the three most popular artists in country music are Morgan Wallen, Zach Bryan, and Luke Combs in that order. They also happen to be three of the most popular artists in all of music as well. Then there is a massive gulf until you get to guys like Chris Stapleton and Jelly Roll. But none of these top three names are scheduled to perform on the 2024 ACM Awards.

You can’t assume any of them want to perform and weren’t asked. All three are on massive tours at the moment, and probably don’t have time for rehearsals, nor do they see any value in performing since the ACMs feel like they have fallen significantly down the depth charts over the last couple of years.

You just can’t undervalue the reduction factor the ACM Awards have suffered by not being broadcast on a major television network and instead are streaming on Amazon. Though most Americans have access to high speed internet, service is spotty in some of the very rural areas where country music is most consumed.

Also, holding the awards at the Dallas Cowboys practice facility as opposed to a proper arena—however big and gaudy “The Star” in Frisco might be—also smacks of an austere, cost-effective approach to putting on these awards, while CBS and Viacom are going all out with their CMT Awards.

Even though the ACMs are now a nearly 60-year-old institution, they’re being supplanted by much younger video-based CMT Awards because the ACMs are out-of-sight, out-of-mind on Amazon, especially to the older audience who regularly watch such presentations.

Then there is the matter of Post Malone. He currently has the #1 song in country with Morgan Wallen in “I Had Some Help.” This song is already setting records, including the most debut streams for a “country” song in history, as well as garnering a record-shatter 167 “adds” on country radio, making it the 2nd most successful debut week in history.

But is Post Malone even going to perform the song with Morgan Wallen? Or will Wallen just be sitting out in the audience, nodding approvingly? Or will Posty avoid any potential controversy by not performing the most popular song in country at the moment?

Last year, the ACM Awards partnered with the Black Music Action Coalition, which is an organization that was formed to address systemic racism in music. On Tuesday (5-14), the ACMs hosted an invite-only event called “Charley Pride, It’s Just Me: Celebration Of Inclusion” celebrating 16 people who “represent Pride’s legacy in country music as leaders in hope, advocacy and innovation.”

The Black Music Action Coalition also famously tangled with Morgan Wallen in the aftermath of his N-word incident. Despite Wallen donating $165,000 to the organization, the Black Music Action Coalition participated with Rolling Stone in claiming Wallen did not fulfill a $500,000 donation pledge he made in the aftermath of the incident to Black charities. In truth, Wallen had fulfilled $400,000 of the $500,000 pledge, with the rest being fulfilled later that year.

Since then, we have also seen the Grand Ole Opry attacked for allowing Wallen simply to jump on stage to sing a duet with regular co-writer Ernest. Also, at the People’s Choice Country Awards in October 2023, Morgan Wallen won Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Concert Tour of the Year—the events biggest awards. But they didn’t even mention Morgan Wallen on the broadcast, let alone the awards he won.

Whether Morgan Wallen performs or not (currently, he’s not scheduled to), he’s still up for Entertainer of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and other awards. Wallen won Male Artist of the Year in 2023. So it’s not like you can completely avoid him.

But why is Post Malone performing at all? Instead of importing pop stars to fill out the performance roster, why not pick up on some of the fast-rising independent stars that are quickly outpacing the popularity of country’s 2nd-tier mainstream performers? We’re seeing this via many festivals this year, with bands like the Turnpike Troubadours, The Red Clay Strays, Billy Strings, and Charley Crockett filling out mainstream festival rosters since they draw better than many major label performers.

Megan Moroney is the big hot name right now. In fact, she just won the ACM’s New Female Artist of the Year, announced with mild effort via X/Twitter Tuesday (5-14) evening. But she won’t be performing on the awards. She’s been relegated to appearing at a “Red Carpet Event.” Nate Smith won New Male Artist of the Year, and a duo barely anybody has heard of, Tigerlily Gold, won for Best New Duo or Group of the Year, because this is who major labels want to push forward.

Tigerlily Gold currently has 946,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. The Red Clay Stray currently have over 5 million. But The Red Clay Strays are not in the Music Row major label radio single pipeline, so they get passed over. They don’t even receive a nomination. Only three duo/groups even received nominations as opposed to the customary five. This is because the ACMs don’t want to alert the mainstream listening public that there are different (and better) options out there that aren’t part of the mainstream system, lest the continue to lose market share to them.

To see the 2024 ACM Awards nominations, CLICK HERE.

But The Red Clay Strays, Sierra Ferrell, Charley Crockett, 2-time Grammy winner Molly Tuttle, and other independent country artists don’t need the ACM Awards. The ACM Awards need them. These are the performers who are trending upward and setting the pace in country music. It’s the ACMs that need to get on board, or risk losing their relevancy.

Zach Bryan is far and away the 2nd most popular artist in country music at the moment behind Morgan Wallen, and it’s been this way for 2-3 years now. Yet Zach is not nominated for Entertainer of the Year, let alone Male Artist of the Year, or Album of the Year. Ignoring one of the most popular, and possibly the most influential artist of our era is not going to get the ACMs where they want to go.

It’s time for the ACMs, the CMAs, the CMTs, and these other awards show organizations to do what the country music listening public has done: wake up to the fact that in 2024, they have so many better options than whatever country radio and Music Row’s major labels are shoving down their throat.

© 2023 Saving Country Music