The entertainer of the year award, meanwhile, in something of an upset, went to Keith Urban, who had never before gotten that honor from the ACMs, although he has won a same-named trophy from the rival CMA Awards in the past.
Dan + Shay’s notoriety outside of country music grew when their performance of “Tequila” became the most Shazam-ed song at the Grammy Awards in February. That song won for single of the year and song of the year Sunday night, while the twosome also picked up the trophy for duo of the year. They came into the ACMs with the most nominations as well — after never before winning an ACM, or a CMA for that matter.
Musgraves won album of the year, for “Golden Hour,” as well as female vocalist of the year. She’s on an awards roll: “Golden Hour” won the CMA Award in that same category in November, and picked up the Grammys’ all-genre album of the year trophy in February. She had one previous ACM to her credit, having also won album of the year for her debut release, “Same Trailer, Different Park,” in 2014.
The singer dedicated her second award of the night to any women “being told that her perspective, her style, is too different to work. Stay at it — it’ll work out.”
Musgraves was in Las Vegas for the ACMS just two days after being honored at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon in New York, where she shared her recollections about being told that her music wouldn’t work commercially at much greater length.
Although Musgraves would be considered the person of the year in country music by many, if not most, measures, she was not nominated for entertainer of the year — another installment in an ongoing controversy in the genre that did not go un-noted by show host Reba McEntire.
In her opening monologue, McEntire noted that it had snowed a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, and “it froze us women right out of entertainer of the year. But you know what, that didn’t bother Kacey Musgraves, because she’s too busy carrying all her Grammys around.”
This was the second year in a row that none of the five entertainer of the year nominees were women. The disparity between entertainer of the year and other categories was particularly apparent this year, since several of the nominees in that top category were not nominated for any other award. The winner, Urban, was only nominated in one other division, male vocalist of the year, which he lost to Thomas Rhett.
“I am going to give this to Dan + Shay so they can go home with four,” Rhett quipped when he picked up his award. Old Dominion won group of the year, and Shane McAnally (one of three tunesmith stars of the upcoming “Songland” series) got songwriter of the year. Among those announced prior to the telecast were Ashley McBryde for new female vocalist, Luke Combs for new male vocalist and Lanco for new group. Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” won video of the year, while music event, a category for collaborations, went to Dierks Bentley and Brothers Osborne for “Burning Man.”
Jason Aldean had won entertainer of the year at the ACMs in each of the previous three years, but voters may not have felt too guilty passing him over for Urban this time, since Aldean was being presented with the non-competitive Dick Clark Entertainer of the Decade award.
George Strait won the very unofficial honor for the most featured artist of the telecast: he showed up to sing on three separate occasions. There were few complaints about that from a viewership that valued the unusual intersection of roots-oriented country and commerciality that was a notable feature of the 2019 telecast. Highlights included a Strait duet with Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne teaming for the traditional-leaning “All My Favorite People Do” from her new album, and a Bentley/Brandi Carlile duet.
The show’s producers, to their credit, seemed to be going out of their way to book great country women on the show, perhaps to make up for the slight in the entertainer of the year category. Lambert and McBryde both got two singing appearances each. The ACMs will particularly win kudos among the industry intelligentsia by allowing the latter singer, who still hasn’t had a substantial radio hit, to perform an affecting acoustic version of her “Girl Going Nowhere” single as well as to sing a duet with Eric Church of one of his bluesier album tracks, “The Snake.”
The most provocative number of the night was the prime-time premiere of Little Big Town’s “The Daughters,” a bittersweet, female-affirming anthem the vocal quartet previously debuted at a UMG Nashville radio showcase in February, brought to a national audience on Sunday’s telecast as very young women surrounded them in interpretive dance. It’s a long shot for massive radio success, not least of all because its message can’t help but indirectly point to which gender is all but MIA at radio… but stranger things have happened than better angels prevailing.