Call me sexist, I don’t care. And on paper, a supposed “purist” such as myself (ha!) would much prefer Brad Paisley being swapped out for a couple of country music broads of such legendary status as Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire to host the 2019 CMA Awards. Dolly Parton is one of the greatest legends of country music living or otherwise, and perfect for hosting anything as a firebrand who’s funny as hell. Reba McEntire is a legend and Hall of Famer herself, and deserves whatever face time a country awards show will give her, especially after her latest record Stronger Than The Truth, which is one of the best traditional country records released in 2019 so far and has gone scandalously under-the-radar.
But this was a bad move to pull Brad Paisley from his hosting duties for the 2019 CMA Awards. And I don’t care if Brad Paisley is okay with it. I’m not, and neither are many others. A poll conducted by Country Living found that 88% of their readers were disappointed that Brad was axed. And it hasn’t, nor will it in any way improve the sentiment around the marginalized plight for women in country music. On the contrary, it has some critics lashing out at the CMAs for throwing symbolic pageantry at the problem as opposed to making subsnative moves to make sure women are treated equally in the country genre, while fans of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood (who remains one of the three hosts) aren’t happy either.
I’m not even that big of a Brad Paisley fan. Yes, it’s hard to find a better Telecaster player in the top tier of the mainstream, and he had some great gems in his early material. But Brad’s later career has been quite inconsistent, and the joke songs have become tedious. He’s like your dad. You love him, but damn, sometimes you wish he would just knock it off already.
But I’ll be damned if the combination of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosting the CMA Awards annually wasn’t one the the very few things to look forward to every year when November rolled around. Brad and Carrie, whatever fleeting 3-minute presentation they give to some country legend to pretend they still care about actual country music, and celebrating Sam Hunt losing another award were the only reasons to tune in to the CMA Awards. Aside from that, a rerun of Matlock is more compelling.
The chemistry of Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley is undeniable, and their hosting tenure has become borderline legendary over the last decade plus. Yes, we get it. We’re all worried about making sure women are fairly represented these days. But this feels so contrived and transparent. And that’s not just my opinion. As Brittany Hodak writing for Forbes explains, it comes across like window dressing trying to cover up a deeper problem. And even if the CMAs nominate and even award more women in 2019 simply to get the think piece writers and complainers off their back, it won’t address more fundamental problems. In fact it could hurt by helping to mask the more underlying issues.
It’s also worth pointing out that despite all of the complaints about country music’s gender inequality when it comes to awards shows, during the last awards cycle, Kacey Musgraves became only the second individual in history to win the Trifecta and Super-fecta of Album of the Year awards by Golden Hour taking the ACM, CMA, and the Grammy’s Best Country Album and Album of the Year. Strangely, Saving Country Music was one of the only outlets to report on this.
The CMAs and country music in general can’t fall into the trap of trying to kowtow the loudest, angriest voices in the room that will never be satisfied regardless of opportunities or outcomes for country women. It’s chic right now in intellectual circles to shit all over country music as sexist and racist. Some of the criticism is warranted. Some of it is rooted in classism, elitism, bigotry, and a prevailing misconceptions about the values of country music fans and its entertainers. Country music and its institutions should ensure that anyone and everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of sex, race, age, or any other factor. But it also shouldn’t overcompensate just to try to satiate Twitter bullies who never will be.
But this isn’t just about hosting duties. The CMAs also say they will be “celebrating legendary women in country music throughout the ceremony” in 2019. Now that sounds like a good idea. That’s what they should be doing every year, and if they had been, perhaps country’s women wouldn’t be in the boat they’re in. Booking the best women performers the genre has to offer regardless of age and current popularity (and ones that are actually country), allowing them to perform their most compelling songs as opposed to the trashy radio single the producers insist they perform, and giving them equal opportunities to win non gender awards is the way to sell the importance of country music women to the public.
I am all for more legends, and more women on country awards shows. Yes, please celebrate Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire on the CMAs by allowing them full performances of powerful songs that will prove to America what they’re missing. But let’s compel America to actually tune in and participate as opposed to repelling the very people you’re trying to reach with your positive female message by presenting it as a preach session on gender inequality.
And one important point here is that Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire will very probably be great. There’s also a good chance Brad Paisley’s back next year. It’s a silly move by the CMAs, but ultimately, probably not a big deal. And at this point the CMAs are not going to back down from their decision and then run the risk of being called sexist for stripping a couple of country legends of their promised hosting duties. And Reba McEntire is a great awards show host. She’s proven that with the ACM Awards the last couple of years, and when she hosted the awards from 2001 to 2012, along with other times in the 80’s and 90’s. The ACMs are Reba’s gig. We run the risk of the ACM producers not wanting to double dip by putting her behind the podium come April 2020. And then who are we going to get, Luke Bryan again?
Mainstream country music and the CMAs do many things wrong. But allowing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood to host the CMAs over the last decade has been one of the few right things. Why fix something that’s not broken, especially when so much else about mainstream country is, including when it comes to the representation of women? Women should always have an equal opportunity to men, but if a man is the best person for the job, they should still be the one that is placed in that position. And Brad Paisley has proven he is the best person to co host the CMA Awards.
Now, quote farm away you Twitter assholes.