The Country Music Association announced the ballot schedule and rules of eligibility for the CMA Awards in November — and has addressed the inevitable question of whether Morgan Wallen will be eligible, with the answer being an interesting split decision that leaves him in contention for some awards but knocked out in others.
Essentially, any category where the award would go to his producer or writer collaborators as well as him will be left open for the singer and his work to be nominated. But he’s being disqualified from contention for any award that would go solely to him, including what would be considered the top two prizes for a star in his position, entertainer of the year and male vocalist of the year.
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Wallen has been in the unprecedented position of having the most popular album of the year in any genre (“Dangerous: The Double Album”) and also being the most universally blacklisted star in any genre since February, when scandal broke out as he was caught on camera using the N-word after an inebriated night out with friends in Nashville.
The press announcement sent out by the CMA Friday morning only addressed the basics of this year’s schedule, with initial nomination ballots sent to be emailed to voting members on July 6, shortly after the period of eligibility for the 2021 awards closes June 30. But, outside of that announcement, the CMA was willing to address the decision the board came to on Wallen, which has been an open question since at least two other country awards shows completely disqualified the embattled star.
Reps for the CMA say that the “Board of Directors voted to amend Morgan Wallen’s 2021 CMA Awards eligibility: He will be eligible in categories that honor artistic works (Single, Song, Album, Musical Event, and Music Video of the Year categories), so as not to limit opportunity for other credited collaborators. He will not be eligible for nomination in the individual artist categories (Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the Year categories).”
Those provisos will be included in the ballot that goes out to members in early July.
It’s a split decision that finally addresses the long simmering question of how the CMAs would handle Wallen’s situation, after his career took a time-out for disgrace in February in the wake of his being captured on camera using a racial slur at the end of an inebriated night out with friends.
Looking at other awards shows so far this year, it’s as if 2021s biggest blockbuster of an album and its creator didn’t even exist, despite its phenomenal ongoing popularity. The Academy of Country Music Awards, held in April, barred Wallen outright from competing. The CMT Music Awards, which will be held in June, made a similar move, issuing a statement to Variety that said, “After removing Morgan Wallen from our platforms earlier this year, his videos were deemed ineligible for the 2021 CMT Music Awards.”
Wallen is nominated for six trophies going into this Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards, but Dick Clark Productions issued a statement suggesting that producers did not feel at liberty to disqualify him from awards that are purely data-driven, and noted that “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).”
With the CMAs happening five months later than any of these other awards shows, the question arose: Will the music industry start to form a consensus by then that the blackout virtually every media organization or kudocast has imposed on Wallen since February can come to an end before 2021 is up? How long will his de facto punishment last? And how possible is it in May, June and even July to read those tea leaves for what the prevailing sentiment will be in November?
With the clock ticking, the CMA board determined that November will be too soon to be seen as welcoming Wallen back into the industry’s good graces, with his disqualification for entertainer and male vocalist of the year obviously meaning he’ll be persona non grata for any performance or presenter slot on the telecast, too — even if he does have what may continue to stand as 2021’s biggest album in any genre. (It still sits at No. 2 on the Rolling Stone album chart, four months after its release, and three months after Wallen went into seclusion.)
By leaving the collaborative categories open to not unfairly strike Wallen’s collaborators from having their work recognized, the CMA is striking a compromise that won’t make everyone happy. The chances of him scoring a win for album or single of the year would seem to be close to nil, given the implication that Wallen has only begrudgingly ruled eligible for those, although it will be interesting to see if the singer has enough friends in Nashville’s inner circles to at least score his behemoth “Dangerous” a nomination, if not a win.
The singer had not been heard from since he issues a length written apology in April and said that he would be refraining from doing concerts this summer as he worked to better himself. However, he made a surprise two-song appearance Wednesday night at Kid Rock’s bar in Nashville, his first public appearance since the scandal broke in early February.
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