The theme was also changed to “a night of heart and hits live from Nashville,” a tonal shift that better suits this stressful year.
All awards are a snapshot in time: a reflection of voter sentiment during the voting period. If the voting had closed a week or two earlier or later, the results might very well be different. Not always, but sometimes.
We may see evidence of that on Wednesday (Sept. 16), when the 55th annual Academy of Country Music Awards finally airs on CBS, six months after the votes were cast. The voting period was March 3-11 — just before COVID-19 shut down virtually every aspect of American life.
The show was originally slated for April 5 in the ACMs’ usual home base of Las Vegas, but was postponed and moved to Nashville for the first time. The show’s theme was also changed from the perennial “country music’s party of the year” to “a night of heart and hits live from Nashville,” a tonal shift that better reflects the mood of the audience in this stressful year.
We saw an indication of how the voting period can make a difference when the ACM announced their winners for best new male and female artist of the year. The awards went to Riley Green and Tenille Townes. It seems likely that if the voting had closed in August, rather than March, the awards might have gone to fellow nominees Morgan Wallen and Gabby Barrett. Both landed No. 1 hits on Hot Country Songs — and, perhaps even more impressively, top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 — Wallen with the streaming smash “7 Summers” and Barrett with “I Hope.”
There’s no way to know, of course. It’s possible the voters really like Green and Townes and wouldn’t have been swayed by their competitors’ breakthroughs. But it seems likely the calendar had something to do with these outcomes.
Keep that in mind as you watch the ACMs on Wednesday — especially if you’re trying to pick winners at a viewing party (socially distanced, of course, with masks coming down only so you can dig into that tasty Nashville hot chicken).
ACM voting closed less than four months after the rival CMA Awards were presented on Nov. 13. Garth Brooks took entertainer of the year at the CMAs for a record-extending seventh time over Carrie Underwood, who has never won in the top category at the CMAs. So don’t be too surprised if Underwood wins on Wednesday — a win here would help make up for that loss. After all we’ve lived through this year, that loss may be a dim and distant memory, but it was likely a fresher recollection for many voters when they were casting their ballots in March.
Seven CMA winners from November are also nominated for ACM Awards in those same categories this year — Blake Shelton’s thunderous “God’s Country” for single of the year; Maren Morris’ GIRL for album of the year; the Lil Nas X/Billy Ray Cyrus collab “Old Town Road” for video of the year; Kacey Musgraves for female artist of the year; Luke Combs for male artist of the year; Dan + Shay for duo of the year and Old Dominion for group of the year.
If the titled releases seem pretty old at this point, they are. The “Old Town Road” remix, with Cyrus, was released on April 5, 2019. “God’s Country” is a week older: It was released on March 29, 2019. And GIRL is older still: The album was released on March 8, 2019. But these titles weren’t so old when voting was conducted in March 2020.
“Old Town Road” has been an awards show fixture for more than a year. It won song of the year at the VMAs on Aug. 26, 2019, musical event of the year at the CMAs three months later and two Grammys (best pop duo/group performance and best music video) on Jan. 26.
Musgraves’ “Rainbow,” nominated for song of the year, is nearly 2-1/2 years old. The ballad is the closing track on Golden Hour, which was released on March 30, 2018.
Eight artists or behind-the-scenes pros have a chance to make history at this year’s ACM Awards. Take a look.
1/Underwood is vying to become the first woman in ACM history to win entertainer of the year three times. She won the award in 2008-09. The only other female artist to win twice in the category is Taylor Swift, who took the prize in 2010-11. (Swift will be performing on this year’s ACM show.)
2/Combs, who won new male artist of the year at last year’s ACM Awards, is up for three awards, including entertainer of the year. If he wins that top award, it will be the fastest trip from a new artist win to entertainer of the year in ACM history. That record is currently shared by Mickey Gilley and The Chicks. Both artists took two years to make the leap. Gilley won entertainer of the year in 1976, two years after being crowned most promising male vocalist. The Chicks won entertainer in 2000, two years after winning for top new vocal duet or group.
3/Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard is vying to become her sixth consecutive studio album to win for album of the year. No other artist has won in this category with more than two consecutive studio albums. In addition, as was already announced, Lambert’s all-female remake of Elvin Bishop’s 1976 classic “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” became the first all-female recording to win music event of the year. The remake features Morris, Ashley McBryde, Townes, Caylee Hammack and Elle King.
4/Dan Smyers and Jordan Reynolds are vying to become the first songwriters in 14 years to win back-to-back song of the year awards. Smyers and Reynolds are nominated this year for co-writing “10,000 Reasons.” They won last year for co-writing “Tequila.” Craig Wiseman won the 2004 song of the year award for co-writing “Live Like You Were Dying” and the 2005 award for co-writing “Believe.”
5/Lady A is vying to become the first group or duo to win twice for single of the year. The trio, which changed its name from Lady Antebellum in June, is nominated this year for “What If I Never Get Over You.” It won 10 years ago for “Need You Now.”
6/Little Big Town is vying to become the first group or duo to win twice for video of the year. The quartet, nominated this year for “Sugar Coat,” won seven years ago for “Tornado.”
7/The Highwomen are vying to become the first all-female group to win for group of the year since The Chicks, who won three years running from 1998-2000. The Highwomen consists of Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires.
8/Dann Huff is nominated for producer of the year. He won the award in 2006, 2009 and 2013. If he wins again this year, he and Jay Joyce will be the only four-time winners in the category’s history.
The 2020 ACM Awards air Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. (The show is produced by dick clark productions, which shares a parent company with Billboard.)