Country superstar Garth Brooks announced Wednesday that he is attempting to withdraw himself from consideration for entertainer of the year, the top prize at the CMA Awards, which he won last November for a seventh time, saying it’s time to let a new generation take the honor.
In a press conference held via Zoom, Brooks told reporters that he was aware of some backlash after winning the top prize last November for the third time in four years. Rather than take exception to it, he said that one tweet he saw in particular stuck with him and convinced him he should bow out of consideration. “For eight months, it has bothered me,” he admitted, saying he now has a “free feeling” in yanking himself from eligibility — or trying to.
“You guys pretty much saw what happened after the CMAs all the way through the new year,” Brooks told a few dozen reporters who dialed in. “And it got a little.. I don’t know, it wasn’t fun. Let’s put it that way, okay? And at my age, what I do is fun stuff. But there was one tweet in there that really stuck in my head, that said, ‘Hey man, this guy, why doesn’t he step down and just have the entertainer be for the next generation?’ One hundred percent agree. One hundred percent agreed,” he repeated. “So with all the love in the world, all the gratefulness — because the last thing I wanted to do is seem ungrateful to the CMAs and everybody that has voted for us — we are officially pulling ourselves out of entertainer of the year. And my (lucky) number is seven. You guys know that… It’s time for somebody else to hold that award, know what (being) that entertainer (winner) feels like, because they’re all out there busting their butts.”
Brooks said he has had discussions about this with the Country Music Association since the beginning of the year, and suggested that there be some sort of “emeritus” proclamation in removing him from eligibility. But he says he was told he can’t unilaterally remove himself if members still want to nominate him. A narrowed down ballot goes out to voters Friday, and Brooks said he is still trying to get himself taken off it so one more performer can slide into the spot he would have taken. But if he is unsuccessful in that, he added, he will just rely on CMA voters honoring his request by not casting votes for him in this final preliminary round.
The conversation he had with the CMA, he said, was to see “if we could establish some kind of entertainer of the year emeritus kind of thing. And they were very sweet to entertain that thought. So they had meetings — and we were supposed to announce at CMA Music Fest” that he was taking himself out of the running. “Of course, with the Covid, that (festival) got pushed out as well. And they came back and said, ‘Hey, look, as much as we’d love to help you on this, we can’t determine what artist is up for what award.’ And I totally get that. They tried really hard. And so when we told them we were going to have this press conference, they went back and had another meeting — very sweet of them to go through all of this — and they just came back and said, ‘It’s not our call. We cannot pull you out of an award.’ So today we sit here and humbly ask, with all the gratefulness and love in the world, that we are going to do it ourselves. We’re going to pull ourselves out of entertainer of the year.”
Brooks added that he is fine with being up for any other award from the CMA, and actually hopes to win video of the year for “Dive Bar,” his duet with Blake Shelton. “That would be a fun night. Make no mistake, I’m very competitive and these awards mean the world to me,” he said. “It’s just that with entertainer, we’ve been lucky enough to carry that home a number of times and feel like it’s somebody else’s turn.”
Brooks also noted that the suspense of waiting on the entertainer award at the end of a three-hour ceremony makes the event less fun, and he’s looking forward to relaxing more at future iterations of the show, as “I get to hold the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world,” his wife, Trisha Yearwood.
One reporter, Becca Walls, pointed out to Brooks that last year a gasp went up in the press room when his name was announced, but it wasn’t because anyone held enmity against Brooks for winning it again — it had more to do, she said, with the fact that there was a publicity buildup over the 2019 telecast representing “the year of the woman” in country, and there had been an expectation that the lone female nominee, Carrie Underwood, who is considered long overdue by many, might have carried the honor.
Brooks responded that he was aware of the sentiment favoring Underwood — which he acknowledged himself in the press room that night — and said that he expects her to get it in the next couple of years. “I’m expecting to give a standing ovation to Carrie,” Brooks said.
But he also allowed that it may be difficult for voters to figure out who to give the entertainer award to — an honor that traditionally is more akin to “top touring attraction of the year” than something based on recording achievement — when the concert calendar has gone completely dark.
“This is probably the perfect year for it,” he said, in reference to bowing out, “because I don’t know how they’re going to judge entertainer this year.”
Brooks took questions about how he and Yearwood subjected themselves to a two-week quarantine recently, and both came out testing negative. “Our daughter tested positive, but we hadn’t seen our daughter in over the time (of two weeks for symptoms to evidence) when she tested. So we were fine there, but yet her husband works with us every day, so that was the possible scare. So everybody went and got tested.” He added that his daughter is “feeling great. And we thank everybody for their concern.”
Brooks has not been inactive during the national lockdowns — he filmed a concert with his band that went out to hundreds of drive-ins — but said the quarantine has stretched his relationship with Yearwood.
“You’re really gonna find out a lot about the person you’re with, for sure,” he said. “And me and Miss Yearwood — I don’t know why we do this, maybe because we’re both alphas … (but) we decided to use quarantine to face everything, because now you can’t leave, can’t walk away. … This has probably been the most we’ve ever gone through as a couple. But what’s on the other side is so dang great, especially when you’re with the right one. … The more you find out about somebody that you’re already in love with, the more you love them. That makes me a lucky man.” He added, “Trisha Yearwood might be the sweetest person on the planet, so if Trisha wants to kill you, you need to work on yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve learned. But she has a sweet sense of letting you figure it out yourself.”
On the live front, Brooks has been engaged in an on-again, off-again stadium tour that began in 2019 and that he still expects to wrap up in the summer of 2022, although that’s dependent on rescheduling some dates he’s already had to miss. After that, he will continue to tour, but possibly on a different scale. Asked if he thinks arena dates might have to replace stadium dates next year or the year after, he considered the possibility: “I want to play no matter what I just do. I want to play. If it’s five people, if it’s 5 million, I don’t care. I just want to play. So I had never thought of that, but I can’t imagine them letting 10,000 people sit next to each other and not 80,000. But if that’s the rule, then you can bet we’re gonna figure out how to get in that game, because it means you’re getting to play music live for people.”