The Academy of Country Music is back on schedule, readying for an April 2021 ceremony after it postponed 2020’s awards to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means a new group of nominees less than six months after the last slate of winners were announced. Chris Stapleton and Maren Morris lead this class of nominees, recognizing achievements from 2020, with six nominations each. Stapleton is up for the night’s top honor, Entertainer of the Year, alongside Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, and Thomas Rhett — all men (all white, and two named Luke!) just a year after Carrie Underwood split EOTY with Thomas Rhett. But it’s not all bad news at the ACMs, with women accounting for all five Single of the Year nominations for the first time: Miranda Lambert (“Bluebird”), Gabby Barrett (“I Hope”), Carly Pearce (“I Hope You’re Happy Now” with Lee Brice), Ingrid Andress (“More Hearts Than Mine”), and Morris (“The Bones”). Another of Morris’s nominations comes as part of all-women supergroup the Highwomen in Group of the Year. Other top nominees include Lambert with five (looking to extend her record as the most-awarded artist in ACM history) and Ashley McBryde and Rhett with four each.
Morgan Wallen was expected to be a major player at this year’s ACMs before he was taken out of contention after saying the N-word on video. Wallen’s disqualification came after months of country musicians calling out industry racism in the wake of last summer’s protests for racial justice. Now, the ACM has nominated the most Black artists ever: four. Kane Brown is up for Album of the Year for Mixtape Vol. 1, John Legend shares a Video of the Year nomination with Carrie Underwood for “Hallelujah,” Jimmie Allen is up for New Male Artist of the Year, and Mickey Guyton is up for New Female Artist of the Year after she became the first Black woman to perform solo on the ACMs stage last year. Guyton’s nomination in particular underscored how difficult it can be for Black artists to break through in country — the ACM allows an artist to be nominated for the New Artist of the Year award twice, and Guyton’s last New Female Artist of the Year nod came five years ago in 2016.
The ACM Awards will take place on April 18 from three separate Nashville locations, just as they did last September. Performances will be split between the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Bluebird Cafe, the ACM told Variety in a statement. But while 2020’s show had no audiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the magazine noted that the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman have recently allowed partial-capacity audiences, leaving the door open for audiences during the show. Country’s other major awards-granting body, the Country Music Association, caught heat for having an audience at its 2020 ceremony in November. The ACM has not revealed further plans for the awards. You can read the full list of nominations here.