Morgan Wallen was banned from the Billboard Music Awards — but won big anyway

Morgan Wallen smiles while wearing a light blue coat with a mullet hairstyle
Morgan Wallen, shown in 2019, won three of the six Billboard Music Awards he was nominated for.
(Sanford Myers / Associated Press)

Morgan Wallen, the country star who fell from grace abruptly in February after being caught on video shouting a racist slur after a drunken night out in Nashville, won three Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night despite being banned from the event.

Instead of walking to the podium, the singer-songwriter, who recently turned 28, shared a new song on social media over the weekend. “Thought You Should Know,” which he said he wrote for his mom “a while ago,” references “chasing songs and women / Making some bad decisions / God knows I’m drinking too much.”

Wallen won the awards for country artist and country male artist on Sunday, and his “Dangerous: The Double Album” took top country album after it set a country music record by holding the No. 1 spot on the all-music Billboard 200 chart for 11 weeks. (After 18 weeks on the chart, “Dangerous” was hanging at No. 2 as of Friday.)


Wallen was also nominated in the song sales category and twice for country song, for “Chasin’ You” and “More Than My Hometown,” but didn’t win in those categories.

It was a family affair at the Billboard Music Awards: Pink twirled in the air in a powerful performance with her daughter, and Drake was named artist of the decade, accepting the honor alongside his 3-year-old son.

That in-absentia haul didn’t put him at the front of the BMA pack, however: The Weeknd won 10 awards, including top artist. Pop Smoke, who was killed in February 2020 in the Hollywood Hills, won five, including top new artist.

BTS and Bad Bunny, who both performed during the show, took home four each. Drake won the Artist of the Decade Award, bringing his all-time total to 29, and Pink snagged the Icon Award, performing an aerial routine with daughter Willow Hart to mark the win.

Billboard selects its winners based on a recording artist’s album and digital song sales, streaming, radio airplay, touring and social engagement as tracked by Billboard and its data partners.

This year’s awards were based on results from March 21, 2020, through April 3. That meant Wallen may have been affected by his ban from radio airplay, which came down from the top two national radio networks days after his Jan. 31 use of the N-word went public.

A backlash is ballooning against Morgan Wallen after the popular country music artist was recorded shouting a racist slur outside his Nashville home.

Wallen was almost immediately excised from country music thanks to that incident. He saw his record contract “paused,” lost his representation and was banned from the ACM Awards and the nation’s largest radio networks and music streamers’ playlists.

In April, Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Billboard awards, said in a statement that he was not welcome at the event.

“Morgan Wallen is a finalist this year based on charting. As his recent conduct does not align with our core values, we will not be including him on the show in any capacity (performing, presenting, accepting),” the production company said in a statement.

“It is heartening and encouraging to hear that Morgan is taking steps in his anti-racist journey and starting to do some meaningful work. We plan to evaluate his progress and will consider his participation in future shows.”

“While nobody liked the behavior, we are a radio station — not in the censorship business,” said the owner of a station playing country star Morgan Wallen.

The Country Music Assn. Awards plans a similar fate for the artist regarding eligibility in its 2021 contest. It announced Friday that while Wallen won’t be eligible in individual artist categories (such as entertainer and male vocalist of the year), he can still compete in the single, song, album, musical event and music video of the year categories, which honor artistic works. The CMAs said it didn’t want to “limit opportunity for other credited collaborators.”

Through the fallout, however, fans have had Wallen’s back. He was voted back onto at least one radio station near his East Tennessee hometown shortly after the scandal broke.

In a handwritten letter, Morgan Wallen updated country fans on how he’s doing since he uttered a racist slur that threatened to derail his career.

Also, a half-dozen fan-funded billboards popped up in downtown Nashville last month showing support for the “7 Summers” singer as “His Fan’s Choice, Entertainer of the Year” ahead of the 56th ACM Awards, from which Wallen had been banned. The billboards referenced Mark 11:25, a Bible verse about forgiveness.

The “Wasted on You” artist has apologized three times publicly, including a brief initial statement. A five-minute apology video followed a few days later, and then in mid-April, he posted a handwritten letter on social media, saying he needed more time to work on himself and wouldn’t be touring this summer.

“I know my corner hasn’t been the most popular one to stand in recently, but many of you did anyway,” the musician said in a four-page note posted last month on Instagram.

Country singer Morgan Wallen, who was recorded last week shouting a racist slur, says he’s going off the grid to “get used to making good decisions.”

After detailing his awe at the record-setting performance of “Dangerous: The Double Album,” despite his troubles, Wallen explained, “I wanted to let you guys know that I’ve taken a couple months away + feel like I’ve really worked on myself. I’m proud of the work I’ve put in, & in many ways thankful to have had the time to do it. I’ve needed this time off.

“Thanks for letting me and @nicatnitemusic write this special song with you. Sounds great,” country star Miranda Lambert wrote in comments on Wallen’s new “Thought You Should Know” post. Performers Jason Aldean, Colbie Caillat and Cole Swindell and the band Old Dominion also added their kudos.

“that’s great man,” wrote Aldean, who has faced a scandal of his own in the past, “and u sing the sh— out of it.”

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.