Morgan Wallen’s exclusion from the Academy of Country Music Awards this weekend is not going unnoted in Nashville, as fans have banded together to rent out billboards in highly visible locations declaring the MIA singer “his fan’s (sic) choice” for the top prize of entertainer of the year.
“Support that boy from east Tennessee!” read the billboards, which include an emblem of Wallen’s signature mullet, a hashtag for a signature phrase of the star’s (“#Gaht”) and a New Testament verse about forgiveness (Mark 11:25).
Wallen released a lengthy statement Tuesday saying that he is voluntarily staying out of the limelight and refraining from doing any summer concerts as he continues to work on himself following an outcry over being caught on video using the N-word. But many fans believe he should already be back in action and in the good graces of the country music industry, including contending at Sunday’s night’s ACM Awards, which in February declared him ineligible.
“We have spoken and you can ban him from every awards show, label, and all the events you can,” wrote an Instagram account, @countrymusic_street, claiming responsibility for the campaign. “But just know the people have spoken and we love our boy from East TN.”
The ACM Awards will be broadcast Sunday night on CBS from several Nashville locations. In the immediate wake of the Wallen scandal breaking in February, the Academy was one of numerous country music institutions or media companies that acted quickly to put Wallen on time-out status, saying that he would not appear on the preliminary ballots that were just about to go out at the time.
The website Music Mayhem said that it had been contacted by an anonymous representative for the fan group responsible and that there were six billboards rented in total in or around the downtown and West End areas. “This idea was really our way of trying to ‘right the wrong’ of cancel culture,” the anonymous supporter said. “We just wanted to ‘Wallen-Paper’ Nashville during the week of the ACMs to show our support for Morgan… He is an incredibly talented young man and doesn’t deserve what he’s going through right now.”
Rolling Stone reported that the billboards’ owner, Lamar, was approached by fans about the ad campaign in March, and confirmed that Wallen’s actual reps had made no contact with either the supporters responsible or Lamar. After the billboard initially appeared with no indication of who was behind them, they now include a line that reads: “Paid for by Darleen Ingram and 824 Loyal Fans.”
Although Wallen’s mammoth sales and streams even since that incident make him arguably the most popular figure in country music in 2021, it’s still highly unlikely he would have been nominated for entertainer of the year at the ACMs even if there’d been no scandal. With both the ACM Awards and the CMA Awards, the top entertainer prize is generally reserved for headliners with at least a few years of selling out arenas under their belts, and Wallen, huge a seller as he is, was still set to open for Luke Bryan this year and had not yet graduated to live headliner status.
However, even if he hadn’t been nominated for that trophy, it’s likely that Wallen would have picked up nominations in other categories, like single or male vocalist of the year, and likely gotten a performance slot on the show, if things hadn’t taken a fateful turn two and a half months ago.
A representative for the billboard company told Rolling Stone, “In the case of the Morgan Wallen billboards, the content met with Lamar’s Copy Acceptance Policy standards. However, the billboards were initially missing the required disclaimer disclosing the advertiser’s identity, which has since been added.”
Earlier, Fox17 News in Tennessee had reported seeing three billboards in the city (at I-65 and Broadway, in the White Castle parking lot; West End Avenue and 19th Avenue; and West End Avenue near 23rd and 24th Street).
In his Instagram statement Tuesday, Wallen wrote, ““I wanted to let you guys know that I’ve taken a couple months away and feel like I’ve really worked on myself. … I’m proud of the work I’ve put in, and in many ways thankful to have had the time to do it. I’ve needed this time off. … Not only has this time revealed to me the ways in which I want to improve, but it’s also reminded me that I am still very proud of who I am and the man I am becoming.”
He continued, “I’ve found this time away to be very valuable to me in many ways, but I feel like I need a little more of it, and therefore will not be performing tour dates this summer. It means I won’t be playing festivals or the Luke Bryan tour dates. But it’s important to me personally, if you can, still go to these shows — support country music. Country music is back and that’s a beautiful damn thing. … You’ll be seeing me sooner than later.”