The presentation of the award to Nettles, who performs as a solo artist as well as half of the duo Sugarland, will be preceded by a three-minute tribute video on the telecast. Among those offering testimonials to Nettles and her efforts are Sheryl Crow, Tanya Tucker, Maren Morris, Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, Ashley McBryde, Mickey Guyton and Gabby Barrett.
“As a proud part of the beautiful legacy of women in country music, I am honored to be the first recipient” of the award, Nettles said in a statement. “I look forward to celebrating the contributions of women, and all marginalized communities, within the country music format, and I am motivated in encouraging the non-artists, executives and investors in the industry, to do the same. There is much work still to be done.”
Nettles’ dedication to the cause in a genre where airplay for women has often topped out at about 10% in recent years was most visible at last November’s CMA Awards, when she took to the red carpet in a graffiti-marked Christian Siriano pantsuit and cape, with the phrase “Play our f*@#in records” on one side of the cape and “Please and thank you” on the other.
“There’s now two generations who have been trained to not hear women on country radio,” Nettles has said. “Somebody needs to make some noise.”
The awards show, pushed back from its usual June date and being done without a live audience this year, airs Wednesday night at 8 p.m ET/PT and 7 CT. The telecast will appear not just on CMT but sister networks MTV, MTV2, Logo, Paramount Network, Pop and TV Land. The hosting trio will be McBryde, Kane Brown and Sarah Hyland.
“Jennifer Nettles is that rare artist who speaks her truth, calling out injustice wherever she sees it,” said Leslie Fram, senior VP of music strategy for CMT. “Her commitment to equal female representation across the board in the music industry embodies the spirit of our equal play initiative and makes her the perfect recipient of the inaugural ‘CMT Equal Play Award.’”
CMT launched the Equal Play initiative last year with the hope of promoting parity throughout the country music industry, starting with a commitment on the network’s part to programming at least 50% songs by female artists during its music video blocks, as of January 2020.
The network has long been at the forefront of publicizing the disparity and calling for change in the format. The year 2013 saw the launch of CMT Next Women of Country, which each year inducts a crop of young women artists whom the network pledges to promote.
The annual Next Women of Country event usually takes place during CMA Awards week, but with all live events being put on ice and taken virtual in the leadup to this November’s CMAs, CMT is rejiggering its Next Women unveiling as well, with plans for that to be announced soon.
Nominations for Wednesday’s CMT Music Awards are led by McBryde, Ballerini, Dan + Shay, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt with three apiece. Artists with two nominations each are Brown, Barrett, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Blanco Brown, Little Big Town, Old Dominion and the Chicks.
Performers include the pairing of Ballerini with Halsey, Jimmie Allen teaming with Noah Cyrus, and Combs hooking up with Brooks & Dunn, plus Shania Twain, Morgan Wallen, Dan + Shay, Luke Bryan, Hunt, Morris, Barrett and Brown. Taylor Swift, long absent from the show, is making a return as a presenter.