Maren Morris, Kane Brown + More Reflect on Landmark Moments at the 2021 ACM Awards
Sunday night's (April 18) 2021 ACM Awards highlighted country music's diversity in several ways, and it wasn't lost on the artists who participated in the event.
For example, all of the 2021 ACM Single of the Year nominees were songs performed or led by female artists. Martina McBride, who presented that award, says the fact that all five nominees in the category were women is a testament to both the Academy of Country Music's commitment to inclusivity and the talents of the performers themselves.
"It's really great ... I just think it's, you know, we're getting there," McBride reflected backstage in the show's virtual press room. "There are so many amazing female artists that are here tonight that I'm seeing perform, so kudos to the ACM for honoring them, and also to the women for making such great music."
The Single of the Year trophy ultimately went to Carly Pearce and Lee Brice for their chart-topping duet "I Hope You're Happy Now," a song that also won ACM Music Event of the Year in 2021. But two more of the category's nominees -- Ingrid Andress and Maren Morris -- agreed that they're excited by the growing number of women at the forefront of country music, especially since they both came of age as listeners to the genre at a time when female artists reigned on the radio.
"I grew up listening to mostly female country artists. So, Shania [Twain] and Dolly [Parton] and Reba [McEntire] and Loretta [Lynn]," says Andress. "I don't know what's happened in the past 10 years, but I'm glad it's coming back, because I'd sort of taken a hiatus on listening to country music. I'm just really glad there are so many women coming up and showing what the modern female looks like. And I'm here for it."
Morris, meanwhile, says she leaned on her relationships with women, both in and out of the music industry, during what was a personally challenging year.
"My appreciation for and innate fascination with women has made me feel like a stronger one in a very hard year of having a child during a pandemic, it being my first child, having a C-section," Morris lists. "I have looked to so many women in my life that are mothers, and also that aren't mothers -- that are just bada-- chicks -- [and they have] given me so much respite in a year where so much didn't go as planned."
Specifically, Morris mentions 2021 ACM Awards co-host and rising country star Mickey Guyton, who also happens to be a mom to a newborn son, Grayson, who arrived in January.
"Mickey completely slayed it tonight," Morris added in the media room. "I can't even imagine, with a newborn, how much goes into hosting a show of this magnitude. She pulled it off with such aplomb and grace and wit. I would be so awkward up there -- I already am in general. She is such a pro.
"Also, her performance left me in tears," Morris continued. "She just killed it. It was sort of 'The Mickey Show.'"
Guyton herself is a champion for women in the genre, and also a vocal advocate for racial equality and diversity within country music, in interviews, on social media and with songs such as "Black Like Me" and "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" At the 2021 ACM Awards, Guyton became the first Black female artist to co-host the show, which she did with Keith Urban.
Backstage, Darius Rucker -- who recently tried his hand at an awards show hosting gig himself, co-hosting the 2020 CMA Awards with Reba McEntire -- praised Guyton for her poise during her first-ever time helming a show.
"Oh, she's doing a great job," Rucker reflected backstage. "Tonight is just a continuation of country music being more inclusive. You see the whole genre working towards that. I think it's a great thing to see, and I think Mickey's doing a great job."
Elsewhere, the 2021 ACM Awards made history in two awards categories: Jimmie Allen became the first Black performer to win New Male Artist of the Year, and Kane Brown earned the same distinction in the Video of the Year category. However, in the virtual press room, Brown was quick to point out that he preferred to focus on the fact that his Video of the Year win is his first ACM trophy overall, and said that he'd rather focus on the song than on his status as the first Black winner in the category.
"It means the world to me just to win my first ACM award. I will say, I don't wanna be categorized," Brown explains, adding that he's a big supporter of the country genre opening its doors to everyone. "Country music's embracing everybody: females, men, Black men, everybody," he continues.
The song that won ACM Video of the Year -- Brown's "Worldwide Beautiful" -- is a powerful statement of unity that the singer released in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and amid a growing civil rights movement and protests across the U.S. against police brutality.
"That song means the world for me, because, especially for 2020, with all the hatred that's being put into the world by the media -- no offense to you guys! I'm not saying y'all are doing it," Brown told the media room with a laugh. "I'm just saying there's been a bunch of misled information, and this song to me says where the world's leading -- where, the future is in our children's hands. That's why I put my daughter in the music video."
While the 2021 ACM Awards included record-setting wins and nominations in multiple categories, the move toward diversity and inclusivity wasn't entirely perfect. The nominees for show's highest honor, Entertainer of the Year, were exclusively white men: Eric Church, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and Luke Bryan, the latter of whom ultimately won the award.