Jimmie Allen Accusations Exacerbate Country’s Diversity Dilemma

Aside from an unequivocal exoneration that feels very unlikely at this point, the mainstream country music career of Jimmie Allen is over. It’s not just the severity of the accusations against him from his day-to-day manager of prolonged sexual assault, rape, and harassment that were detailed in a Variety exposé, it is the specificity and details of the accusations that feel so damming, including a verified trip to the hospital by the victim, along with text messages, tour itineraries, and other information that corroborates her claims.

Jimmie Allen is still innocent until he’s proven guilty. And so far, there haven’t been any criminal charges brought against him, at least that have been made public. There are only the implications of a civil suit. Interestingly though, no counter-suit has taken shape yet against the plaintiff, which commonly proceeds pleads of innocence by the accused.

Irrespective of the legal outcomes, Jimmie Allen will no longer be a participant in the mainstream country industry, or at least not at the level that he was before. This has major implications on country music as it continues to face criticism for a lack of diversity. Even though Jimmie Allen was very much part of the gaggle of major label-signed male performers that no matter what song they released to country radio it ultimately went #1, Jimmie Allen was unique because he was Black, and gave country music a jolt of diversity that some have been clamoring for in country music.

Jimmie Allen was not a major headliner, but he was a serious player in country music that the industry had invested in heavily and cultivated over the last few years. The country music industry saw Allen as one of the genre’s brightest stars heading into the future. This is the reason the ACM Awards named him the 2021 New Male Artist of the Year—the first ever Black man to win the award. The CMA Awards also named Allen Artist of the Year in 2021. Darius Rucker received the distinction back in 2009.

These awards are a major achievement, and often a harbinger for success in the coming years. Other recent CMA New Artist of the Year winners include Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen—arguably the genre’s two biggest stars. Lainey Wilson won the award in 2022. New Artist of the Year awards are an investment in the career of these individuals. So are other opportunities such as awards show appearances, which Jimmie Allen was afforded on numerous occasions. Allen even co-hosted the 2022 ACM Awards with Dolly Parton.

Jimmie Allen was also given big opening opportunities on tour with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, along important festival appearances. Allen regularly appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and was rumored to be in line for Opry membership in the coming years. And for all of those investments into Jimmie Allen to mint him as one of mainstream country’s top rising performers, there will be no returns. Those awards, those opportunities that were supposed to go to an artist that would spend the next decade or two at the top of the genre are all now for naught.

On country radio, Jimmie Allen’s first three major radio singles all went to #1, and the fourth went to #2. Before the allegations, if Jimmie Allen released a radio single, it was going to hit #1 or #2, because that’s how the mainstream country radio system works. Obviously, radio has now abandoned Jimmie Allen, just like his label, his management, his booking, and every other major representative.

For a lot of traditional country fans, this is not bad news. Jimmie Allen was never considered a “country” artist to them in the first place, drawing apt comparisons with Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett as a more R&B-style mainstream Music Row artist. His absence will not be lamented by these fans, it will be celebrated, if not met with the common brush off of “Jimmie who?”

But the departure of Jimmie Allen will cause a deeper dilemma for the mainstream country industry, and one that won’t be enumerated when the studies, think pieces, and political actions clamoring for more inclusiveness in country music get written and launched.

Always treated like a monolith, “country music” won’t get credit for Jimmie Allen’s numerous trophies, multiple #1’s, and the other opportunities he was bestowed. Country will only get credit for the lack of these things moving forward as the hole left from Allen’s departure persists and elongates due to the time, resources, and opportunities it takes to cultivate a top flight career like the one Allen enjoyed.

Jimmie Allen has often been favored over his Black counterparts in the mainstream. For example, in the Amazon documentary For Love and Country, Jimmie Allen was one of the central characters while Kane Brown was only mentioned once in passing, and Darius Rucker was absent entirely. In fact, the film falsely credited Jimmie Allen for being the first Black country artist to have his debut single go #1 when Darius Rucker had achieved this honor a decade before.

Allen wasn’t a victim of country music’s lack of inclusion. He was arguably a benefactor of it since radio, awards shows, and his label were incentivized to push him to the forefront, and unfortunately, often over Black country artists that that are actually country. Jimmie Allen’s radio singles outperformed themselves on country radio in comparison to the consumption-based Hot Country Songs chart as country radio worked to push them to #1.

“Best Shot” – 2018 – #1 on on Radio – #5 on Hot Country Songs
“Make Me Want To” – 2019 – #1 on Radio – #7 on Hot Country Songs
“Freedom Was a Highway” – 2021 – #1 on Radio – #5 on Hot Country Songs
“Down Home – 2022 – #2 on Radio – #16 on Hot Country Songs

But when the studies come out complaining about country music’s lack of diversity like a recent one published via Pudding, they won’t cite Jimmie Allen and the reason for his absence as a significant factor as to why so few Black artists are being played on country radio. In fact, the hole Jimmy Allen’s absence will create will likely make country radio’s grade worse in future metrics, at least in the near future, creating a false positive that country music’s support for Black performers is worsening.

It’s similar to how Taylor Swift’s departure to pop in 2014 both coincided and exacerbated country music’s gender imbalance during the onset of Bro-Country. Swift was not only a CMA New Artist of the Year winner in 2007 (called the Horizon Award at the time), she was a two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year. Taylor Swift was the biggest artist in all of country music when she left, and her departure left a gaping hole for the genre to fill.

Of course, if country music had a more diversified field of performers, this wouldn’t be as big of a concern. But it doesn’t take away that when it comes to Black performers in the country mainstream, Jimmie Allen was the biggest, and his absence will cause reverberations in the country music talent pool for years to come. In this instance, it is not the fault of “country music” specifically. On the contrary, the industry rose up to embrace Jimmie Allen’s career. And now it has little or nothing to show for it moving forward.

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