“No Drama” CMA Awards Instantly Torn Apart by Drama

Between a coronavirus outbreak, a whitewashing of its nominees, and snubbing John Prine, tonight's CMA Awards were an absolute shit show.

cmas no drama country music association awards torn apart drama
Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker, image via Twitter/@CountryMusic

    “No drama, just music.” Was that too much to ask? For its 54th annual awards extravaganza, the Country Music Association only wanted to ignore our tense elections, pretend the coronavirus doesn’t exist, and shove their fingers in their ears while yelling “la la la” whenever the real world interfered. They predicted the November 11th ceremony would have “no drama.” They were wrong.

    Via Stereogum and Vulture, the CMAs tweeted those fateful words on November 4th as part of a campaign advertising the “Top Reasons to Watch”. In big, bold letters, they listed No. 7 as “No drama, just music.” The ad explained, “It’s been a year, y’all. But for three hours next Wednesday on ABC, this is a no-drama zone.” And lo, the drama began.

    Americana-country singer Margo Price slammed the tweet, pointing out that it wasn’t just a promise to fans, it was also a warning to artists. “once again, the CMA’s are censoring/white washing their show but who’s surprised?” she wrote. “anyone still participating is a socially unconscious pawn. artists pander woke authenticity when it benefits them and then sit in silence as they collect their plastic trophies. also the music sucks.”


    Price went on to share examples of high drama country legends. She also lambasted organizations like the CMAs for their lack of diversity and historical failure to recognize artists “because of their sex, skin color and age.”

    When she accuses the CMA of a lack of diversity, she’s not wrong. For instance, just in the Entertainer of the Year category, there’s been a serious lack of diversity of anyone not named Garth Brooks. Despite not putting out a new studio album since 2016, Brooks has won Entertainer of the Year three out of the last four years. That’s because his tours make a lot of money, and the CMAs swoon at the color green. It even embarrassed Brooks, and over the summer he removed himself from consideration. In response the CMA threatened to nominate him anyway — okay, they actually said that the “rules do not allow individuals to remove themselves from the balloting process” —  but he vowed not to attend this year or any other year going forward. In the end, he wasn’t nominated.

    Other artists pulled out, too, but that had more to do with the increasingly out-of-control pandemic and the bizarre choice of venue. That’s right, even as the country sets record case totals and averages more than 1,000 deaths per day, the CMA made the unconscionable decision to host the event in-person and indoors at the Music City Center in Nashville. The association limited the audience, but they still allowed an audience. Even as they advertised “No drama,” they were creating perhaps the single highest-risk awards ceremony in history.


    In fact, the coronavirus effected some of the nominees themselves. Lee Brice, who along with Carly Pearce won the award for Musical Event of the Year, did not attend after a positive COVID-19 test. He was supposed to perform with Pearce, but was replaced by Charles Kelley of Lady A. Well, it’s a good thing that Kelley pre-taped the duet, because he also pulled out, along with the rest of the band, after a positive test from a member of one of their immediate families.

    Then, only half of superstar duo Florida Georgia Line came to the event. Georgia (er, Tyler Hubbard) was nominated for Vocal Duo of the Year, but he tested positive for the coronavirus. That may have been for the best, because while Hubbard has been critical of Trump, Florida (Brian Kelley) has been bashing Biden. Things may have gotten tense during the election disputes. Some rumors even suggested the band is on the verge of breaking up, but that’s unconfirmed.

    Besides artists and fans, the CMA managed to piss-off the Associated Press. The venerable news organization dropped its coverage after the association refused to allow them to photograph the event, instead insisting that the AP license — that is, pay for — the images.


    Finally, the Country Music Association’s commitment to commerce came at the expense of one of the greatest songwriters in the genre’s history. The award ceremony declined to pay tribute to the late John Prine. His label Oh Boy Records said in a statement,

    “We’re disappointed John won’t be a part of the CMA award show tonight. Country music was both the inspiration and foundation for his songwriting and performing. While there may be a number of artists who have had more commercial success than John, there are very few who have achieved more artistically.”

    But hey, at least there’s some good news: Garth Brooks did not win Entertainer of the Year. That honor fell on another straight white guy, Eric Church. By the standards of the Country Music Association, that counts as diversity.