The CMT Awards Don’t Matter. Still.

Cody Johnson and a meaningless trophy (courtesy Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: An inordinate amount of individuals have asked for comment on the 2022 CMT Awards that transpired on April 11th. So here are some comments.

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Country music as a genre is unique in how it has its own dedicated award show organizations, and two of them as a matter of fact, and both of which that have been around for well over 50 years. But neither of them is the CMT Awards.

The CMA, or Country Music Association, was formed as a trade organization in 1958 to help the country music industry deal with the meteoric rise of rock and roll that was squeezing country music out of the popular music market. In 1967, they CMA decided to start an awards arm of the organization, giving out annual trophies for achievement in the genre. The first awards weren’t even televised—it was simply to recognize the top talent. 1968 was the first year fans could tune in to see the CMA awards and performances.

The CMA also does things well beyond handing out awards. The organization advocates for the industry in Congress and in government. They organize educational programs for music, and charitable programs for the community. The Country Music Hall of Fame also grew out of the CMA organization, and a select committee seeded by the CMA is who chooses the Hall of Fame inductees each year. The CMA isn’t just an awards show. It’s country music’s de facto governing body.

The Academy of Country Music, or ACM, actually preceded the formation of the CMA’s awards by a year, giving out its first awards in April of 1966, though the ACMs were very much an answer to the CMAs, just like the CMA Awards were an answer to the ACMs launching an awards arm. Artists from California and the West Coast—a.k.a. Capitol Records in Los Angeles and the “Bakersfield Sound”—felt they were being overlooked by the Nashville-based Country Music Association. Though a more dedicated awards show organization, even the ACMs didn’t televise their awards for the first six years, not adopting the television medium until 1972.

The first winners of the ACM Awards were very much members of the Bakersfield Sound era: Buck Owens, Bonnie Owens, Merle Haggard, Glenn Campbell, and the like. But by 1972, the ACMs were branching out to highlight all of country music, and became a regular staple in the annual awards show diet both for country music, and for popular American culture in general. Though often considered the other awards show to the CMAs, many consider the ACMs as just as prestigious.

Of course to many of country music’s older, more traditional, and purist fans, both of these awards shows organizations have long since beclowned themselves by allowing pop music into their ranks. In fact, in 1974 after Olivia Newton-John won a CMA Award, a host of more traditional country artists met at the home of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and formed their own organization called “ACE,” or the Association of Country Entertainers. Others involved were Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Dottie West, Brenda Lee, Faron Young, Conway Twitty, Hank Snow, Mel Tillis, and Dolly Parton.

ACE didn’t last very long, but it helps illustrate that even among the two awards in country music, there is often dispute about who is being awarded, resulting in the splintering, and sometimes splintering again as groups of musicians feel they’re not being fairly represented. That’s how the ACMs came about, and how later we would see the rise of more independent awards organizations, such as the Americana Music Association, or the Ameripolitan Awards founded by Dale Watson.

So where do the CMTs, or Country Music Television Awards fit into all of this?

Simply put, they don’t. The CMT Video Awards are a fan-voted and network-based glorified infomercial with no significant history, relevance, or importance to the greater country music context. CMT is a dying network covering the dying medium of non on-demand music videos, with 90% of their programming comprising reruns of some sort. This basic understanding that the CMT Awards are only relevant to the CMT network has always been the approach of most of the music world. When someone dies, nobody cites the amount of CMT Awards they earned. When features are written about an artist, or the case is being made on if their career is Hall of Fame worthy or not, CMT Awards are not factored in.

That’s not to say that the CMT Awards are a total waste of time. Since people watch them, they do hold some semblance of relevance to something. In 2022, the CMT Awards graduated from being broadcast on CMT to being broadcast on CBS, where the ACM Awards used to be broadcast before they moved exclusively online. Both CBS and CMT are owned by Viacom. This did goose the viewership numbers for the CMT Awards, and significantly, though they were still lackluster compared to the previous era of awards shows. But what this also illustrated was the irrelevance of CMT. The network is now so forgotten in the greater cultural zeitgeist, it can’t even legitimately host the one event each year that people might tune in for.

Along with major media outlets such as Billboard, Rolling Stone, and others dedicating an over-inflated amount of coverage on the CMT Awards in 2022, after the CMT Awards, otherwise critical and skeptical country music fans who may never be caught dead praising any country music awards show—let alone the CMTs—were offering tempered, but positive takes on this year’s awards, since artists such as Parker McCollum and Cody Johnson won awards, along with Maddie & Tae, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood.

But again, the CMT Awards don’t matter. Just because one of your favorite artists, or more favorable artists to the country music cause win these awards doesn’t mean they’re relevant all of a sudden. That would be hypocritical. It does perhaps help further symbolize that country music is once again relevant in country music, and more traditional and substantive artists are on the rise. But again, it’s just the CMT Awards.

Some were excited that George Strait actually won a video award this year—the first in his legendary, Hall of Fame career. But the fact that George Strait had to wait until 2022 and nearly ten years after his road retirement to win a CMT Award should tell you all you should need to know about the CMT Awards.

So should the fact that whenever CMT does anything these days, they invite the 3-time accused rapist Nelly onto the set in their feeble attempt to present a “woke” agenda. This tells you all you need to know about how symbolic that woke agenda is, just like when the CMT Awards gave their inaugural Equal Play Award to Jennifer Nettles, who of course was a party to kicking LBGT member Kristen Hall out of Sugarland.

Picking on the CMT Awards is like picking on the short kid in school. It’s easy pickings, and so, it’s not really cool. It also runs the risk of somehow legitimizing this otherwise third rail glorified infomercial that even most country fans continue to ignore. Again, let’s not be foolish and act like they’re completely immaterial. Like mainstream country radio, some still do pay attention. But these are dinosaurs of a dying medium. Moving from CMT to CBS only elongates the extinction as the entire medium of television deprecates amid a rash of cord cutting by younger consumers, and people just caring less about awards shows in general.

Give credit to Leslie Fram and the folks over at CMT for doing what they can to maintain their flagship program, and lobbying CBS to broadcast it on their flagship network to help keep it alive for a few more years, and for trying to offer something a bit more forward-thinking in country music.

But somehow in 2022, a lot of folks seemed to lose focus. It’s still the CMT Awards. And ultimately, they just don’t matter.

© 2022 Saving Country Music
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