Zac Brown’s “F-Bomb” on the CMT Awards Was a Cry for Attention

WARNING: Language

There weren’t many reasons to tune into the CMT Awards Wednesday night (6-5), unless you wanted to see a cavalcade of country music’s third rail stars perform, the distribution of meaningless awards, or how well Boyz II Men has aged since they were relevant. There were a couple of bright spots, like Ashley McBryde winning the award for Breakthrough Video of the Year for “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” and Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker performing “Delta Dawn” together.

But Zac Brown brought the class of country music’s “also ran” awards show down yet another notch when he decided to drop an F-bomb on live television, and in a prepared statement, and on a show that was rated by the cable network as family friendly. Furthermore, CMT felt it was perfectly okay to then rebroadcast the moment through their Twitter feed (then bleeped), and Zac Brown doubled down by posting the moment on social media as well.

In the acceptance speech for Group Video of the Year for the Zac Brown Band’s heavily EDM-influenced song “Someone I Used To Know,” Zac Brown said,

“Thank you, CMT. All of our champions and all of our fans. Thanks to Shawn Mendes. We’re so grateful that — we get our award every night when we get to show up and do what we love. No one has ever owned enough of our career to give us their trophies and accolades but that’s not how we measure our success. The award is for all of you; my band, outsiders who waited through everyone’s doubts. For you young artists, have the courage to stand up against the machine, be yourself, work hard and one day you can stand up here and tell all the haters to fuck off.”

First, Zac Brown didn’t seem to understand that this was just the CMT Awards, and that accepting an award on this very poorly-watched niche cable station anchored by rerun television is not really the forum to flaunt your achievements. Furthermore, Zac Brown doesn’t really have any achievements to flaunt these days. Though he had just won a CMT Award, the Zac Brown Band has been on the skids ever since Zac decided to get into the EDM business, first dabbling in the genre on the band’s 2015 album Jekyll + Hyde, then compartmentalizing it in a Zac Brown side project called Sir Rosevelt which shortly went defunct, and now back in the Zac Brown Band proper with their current single. Though “Someone I Used To Know” won a CMT Award, it was released 7 months ago and still has not cracked country radio’s Top 40. The CMT trophy almost feels like a consolation prize for the struggling band.

It’s also unclear just who Zac Brown is telling to “fuck off” beyond the “haters.” He seems to turn his ire on “the machine,” but Zac Brown is just as much a mechanized cog in the Music Row sausage factory as anyone. Perhaps he’s trying to tell younger performers to not conform to Music Row, but he would be one terrible spokesperson and hypocrite if that was the case. It seems most people are applauding Zac Brown’s bravery for making a lewd comment of TV, but exactly what message he’s trying to drive home here is unclear, making the moment more quizzical than inspirational.

And though it may seem prudish, dropping an F-bomb during a presentation like the CMT Awards once again pushes country music—which used to be the most family friendly spot on the radio dial—to a trash mouth, hip-hop style format. Since CMT is officially a subscription network, the FCC has no jurisdiction here, but it seems a little alarming that everybody seems okay with the moment, if not celebrating is as the highlight of the evening. We also know the speech was premeditated because Zac Brown was reading it off a piece of paper.

Yes, if some “Outlaw” country artist would have uttered the F-word from the stage he may be lauded as badass by many who are criticizing Zac Brown now, which would be hypocritical. But no Outlaw would ever be caught dead on the CMT Awards in the first place, while Zac Brown has been one of the biggest conformists and trend chasers in the mainstream in the last five years. And it’s about to get worse with another “song” he has waiting in the wings called “God Given,” and he’s already said his next album probably won’t be country. Yes, cussing has its place in country, but it should never be in a place where the family is watching or listening together like the CMT Awards.

Ultimately, it’s probably foolish to make too much of the situation, because Zac Brown dropping an F-bomb while accepting a meaningless award on a poorly-watched cable special for a song that can’t even crack the Top 40 is not about standing up to the system, shouting down the man, getting back at the haters, or inspiring younger performers. It’s about Zac Brown crying at the top of his lungs, “GIVE ME ATTENTION!” And if his recent output is any indication, he doesn’t deserve it.