2021 ACM Awards: Milestone Moments & Fun Facts About This Year's Show
The 2021 ACM Awards will air Sunday, April 18 on CBS and on Paramount+
It's More Inclusive
The Academy of Country Music Awards are almost here, and this year, the award show features more inclusive and diverse nominees than ever before.
The country music industry has historically lacked representation for women, BIPOC and the queer community, which many artists — from Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood to Darius Rucker and TJ Osborne — have spoken candidly about in recent years.
Ahead of the 56th annual American Country Music Awards, which will air on Sunday, April 18, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and be available to stream on Paramount+, we’ve rounded up everything to know about this year’s show, from history-making nominations to who’s performing.
Women Will Reign
Among this year’s history-making milestones are the single of the year nominees, which for the first time ever each feature a female artist: Miranda Lambert, Gabby Barrett, Marren Morris — who’s tied with Chris Stapleton for the most nominations this year with six each — Carly Pearce (with Lee Brice) and Ingrid Andress.
Speaking about the record number of female nominations, ACM CEO Damon Whiteside said, “We have come a long way when the five most focal singles of the year are female. When you figure there's been so much discussion about the lack of females at radio and just the lack of female content and presence in general in the country music industry,” according to Billboard.
He added, “We've all been working really hard to combat that as an industry. And it's exciting to see that there's just so much great content coming from our really strong female artists out there. I think that's a major, major statement right there.”
There Are More Black Nominees Than Before
Across categories, four Black artists have earned nominations this year as well — a record for the annual awards show. Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, John Legend (with Carrie Underwood) and co-host Mickey Guyton are all up for various awards.
“That’s really exciting [and] a big step in the right direction because we didn't have any last year,” Whiteside said of the nominations for Black artists.
But It's Still Somewhat of a Boys' Club
While the long overdue increase in representation is an exciting step in the right direction, there’s still more work to be done. For the third time in four years, no women are nominated for entertainer of the year, and no Black artist has ever been nominated in the category. The nominees this year are Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett, who tied with Carrie Underwood in the category last year.
Gena Johnson broke the all-male nominee streak for audio engineer of the year, becoming the first woman to be nominated in the category for her work with Chris Stapleton and other artists.
Morgan Wallen Won't Be There
Absent from this year’s nominations is Morgan Wallen, who was at the center of a scandal earlier this year after a video surfaced on TMZ of him using the N-word. One day after the clip made headlines, the Academy of Country Music announced that it would “halt” Wallen's “involvement and eligibility” in the ceremony.
"We have made his management team aware of this decision," ACM said in a statement on Twitter. "The Academy does not condone or support intolerance or behavior that doesn't align with our commitment and dedication to diversity and inclusion." The organization added that it would now "expedite" offering diversity training for ACM members.
Wallen, who was “indefinitely” suspended by his label Big Loud Records, issued an apology for his actions.
"I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever," Wallen said in a statement to PEOPLE. "I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better."
Neither Will Luke Bryan or Philip Sweet (for a Different Reason)
Other familiar faces missing from this year’s show are Luke Bryan (pictured) and Little Big Town’s Philip Sweet, both of whom have tested positive for COVID-19. Sweet’s band members gave an update on his health, sharing that “he seems to be holding off the really bad stuff, just a little not feeling great,” while Bryan announced that he’s “doing well and look forward to being back at it soon." Bryan was originally slated to perform, but will be skipping the show while he recovers.
Mickey Guyton Will Break Even More Barriers
Mickey Guyton, who's no stranger to breaking barriers in the industry, will once again make history as the first Black artist to co-host the award show, alongside Keith Urban. The “Black Like Me” singer, who became the first Black female artist to perform solo at the show last year, spoke to E! News about the increased inclusivity being highlighted in this year’s show.
"I think the topic of inclusivity being addressed is by the award show itself," the new mom told the outlet. "I'm part of the ACM Diversity Task Force ... We started this in 2019 and they have been relentlessly working on diversifying the awards in front of the camera and behind the scenes. And that is showing up on the awards. And I'm just so excited to be a part of that change."
Kane Brown Already Made History
Ahead of the show, Kane Brown also made history with his ACM award, becoming the first Black solo artist to win video of the year for "Worldwide Beautiful," his powerful video that spreads a message about justice and equality.
"I wrote this song with three of my buddies out of Nashville. We were just like, 'You know, it would be a great day when everybody could just see the beautiful in the world… we're all a little different, but we're all just different types of beautiful,' " Brown said of the unifying track on CBS This Morning.
It's Playing Things COVID-Safe
For the second year in a row, the show will be held in Nashville. Typically held in Las Vegas, last year’s ceremony — which was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and took place in September — was broadcast from three iconic locations in the country music capital: the Grand Ole Opry House, the Bluebird Cafe and the Ryman Auditorium.
The show will take place in the same locations this year, but will feature more live performances than the September show, which was largely pre-taped. Also in attendance will be a socially distanced crowd of vaccinated frontline workers, as well as masked nominees who will be rotated in as their categories come up, according to Variety.
Get Ready for Lots of Music
This year’s show will feature an "unprecedented number of world television premiere performances," according to a press release, opening with a performance from Elle King and Miranda Lambert, followed by some of the biggest names in country music: Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, co-host Mickey Guyton, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Kelsea Ballerini and more. PEOPLE’s rounded up the full list of performers here.