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ACMs shut women out of top country category but say female representation improving

Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris performing together onstage
Chris Stapleton, left, and Maren Morris are the top contenders for this year’s ACM Awards.
(John Shearer / Getty Images)

Although country stars Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton led Friday’s Academy of Country Music nominations with six apiece, the organization has again shut out female artists from its top category: entertainer of the year.

This year’s nominees for that race include Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett.

The academy recognized that it snubbed female nominees for entertainer of the year but touted the number of women in other categories and how that reflects a changing tide in male-dominated country music.

“While our entertainer of the year category is dominated by male artists this year, the academy is thrilled to recognize all of our deserving nominees and to celebrate two important female firsts: For the first time ever, the single of the year category features all female artists and the audio engineer of the year category includes its first-ever female nominee,” said Damon Whiteside, chief executive of the Academy of Country Music, in a statement to The Times Friday.

Whiteside said that the overall ACM artist nominees this year are 43% female and bests the academy’s five-year average of 34%.

“Some of the other great stories are that our reigning entertainer of the year is Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris is tied for most nominations this year, and Miranda Lambert continues her reign as the most-nominated artist in ACM Awards history,” Whiteside added. “These are all very positive signs of the continued importance and recognition of women in Country.”

The ACM Awards came up against the same issue in 2019, when men exclusively comprised the category too. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Stapleton were nominated as that year’s top entertainers, with Urban ultimately taking home the prize.

Last year, in a surprise twist, Underwood and Rhett tied for the top prize of entertainer of the year — the first time the award had been split between two artists — beating out Church, Bryan and Combs. A woman hadn’t won the award since Taylor Swift did so in 2011.

Underwood and Rhett seemed equally taken aback after host Keith Urban announced the tie at the awards show held at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.

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Women did indeed make a finer showing in the single of the year field: Morris, Miranda Lambert, Gabby Barrett, Ingrid Andress and Carly Pearce (who duets with Lee Brice on “I Hope You’re Happy Now”) were this year’s nominees.

Noticeably absent was beleaguered country star Morgan Wallen, who was not nominated this year because he was barred from ACM eligibility earlier this month after using a racial slur that was caught on video.

In 2019, the Country Music Assn.'s rival awards show — the CMAs — attempted to address the underrepresentation of women in country music by tapping three of its most prominent artists to host the awards show: Underwood, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire worked to spotlight female country artists throughout the night.

Now back to the ACM nominations.

Trailing Morris and Stapleton in the number of 2021 nods are Lambert with five nominations, along with Rhett and Ashley McBryde with four apiece.

Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire will host the annual CMA Awards, amid controversy over the lack of female artists on country radio

“The Bones” and “Better Than We Found It” artist Morris — the defending ACM female artist of the year — is also nominated in the female artist, single, song and video categories as well as group of the year with the Highwomen. She received dual nods in the song category as songwriter and artist, bringing her 2021 nominations tally to six.

Stapleton is also nominated in the male artist, song and album categories, receiving dual nominations in the song category as both songwriter and artist, and in the album category as artist and producer.

R&B star John Legend received his first-ever ACM Awards nomination for “Hallelujah,” his duet with Underwood, which was nominated in the video category. Legend’s “The Voice” costars and lovebirds Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton were nominated in the music event of the year for their duet “Nobody But You,” which also makes Stefani a first-time ACM Awards nominee.

Radio companies and streaming services swiftly rebuked Morgan Wallen for using a racial slur, but Wallen is just a symptom of a larger problem in country music.

The 56th ACM Awards will be broadcast on CBS on April 18 from three venues in Nashville, including the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe. The show will also be available to stream live on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’ upcoming global streaming service.

For the complete list of nominees click here. Here are some of the top categories:

Entertainer

  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

Album

  • “Born Here Live Here Die Here” — Luke Bryan
  • “Mixtape Vol. 1" — Kane Brown
  • “Never Will” — Ashley McBryde
  • “Skeletons” —Brothers Osborne
  • “Starting Over” — Chris Stapleton

Single

  • “Bluebird” – Miranda Lambert
  • “I Hope” – Gabby Barrett
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now” – Carly Pearce and Lee Brice
  • “More Hearts Than Mine” – Ingrid Andress
  • “The Bones” – Maren Morris

Song

  • “Bluebird” – Miranda Lambert
  • “One Night Standards” – Ashley McBryde
  • “Some People Do” – Old Dominion
  • “Starting Over” – Chris Stapleton
  • “The Bones” – Maren Morris

Female artist

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Maren Morris
  • Carly Pearce

Male artist

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

Duo

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

Group

  • Lady A
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • The Cadillac Three
  • The Highwomen

New female artist

  • Ingrid Andress
  • Tenille Arts
  • Gabby Barrett
  • Mickey Guyton
  • Caylee Hammack

New male artist

  • Jimmie Allen
  • Travis Denning
  • HARDY
  • Cody Johnson
  • Parker McCollum

Video

  • “Better Than We Found It” – Maren Morris
  • “Bluebird” – Miranda Lambert
  • “Gone” – Dierks Bentley
  • “Hallelujah” – Carrie Underwood and John Legend
  • “Worldwide Beautiful” – Kane Brown

Songwriter

  • Ashley Gorley
  • Michael Hardy
  • Hillary Lindsey
  • Shane McAnally
  • Josh Osborne

Music event

  • “Be A Light” – Thomas Rhett featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin and Keith Urban
  • “Does To Me” – Luke Combs featuring Eric Church
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now” – Carly Pearce and Lee Brice
  • “Nobody But You” – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani
  • “One Beer” – HARDY featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson
  • “One Too Many” – Keith Urban, P!nk

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