This week, the Country Music Association (CMA) announced that pop divas Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor were to perform at the 48th annual CMA awards in November. Grande will take the stage alongside Day Drinkin’ quartet Little Big Town, and Tainor will perform her smash hit All About That Bass with Miranda Lambert.
This certainly isn’t the first time that pop acts have graced the stage of a country awards show. Shakira performed with her Voice co-star Blake Shelton at the ACM awards ceremony in April. Florida Georgia Line brought along Nelly at 2013’s CMT awards, prompting Naomi Judd to speak out against the ceremony: “I suggest the CMT awards show change its name,” she wrote. “Perhaps to ‘the Multi-Genre awards Show, Featuring Artists Under 30.’”
Of course, her argument didn’t persuade the duo to do anything differently at this year’s CMT awards, where they wiggled with Jason Derulo in the opening.
Still, the CMA awards exist on a plane above their competition. By far the most popular of the overcrowded country awards show field, the ceremony has always proven admirably respectful of country music’s roots – last year’s show found Vince Gill, Allison Krauss, and Kenny Rogers singing onstage and George Strait winning entertainer of the year – and given its popularity (the show was watched by 16.6 million), the need for pop gimmickry doesn’t make much sense.
It is certainly true that country music’s sound has trended toward both pop and hip-hop in the past decade, but employing stars like Grande, 21, and Trainor, 20, only further undermines the idea that the “country” moniker actually means anything in musical terms. Their presence contributes to an overall inferiority complex that seems apparent in Nashville’s upper ranks, who continue to forcibly blur the lines between genres, thereby suggesting that country music isn’t good enough to stand on its own. Perhaps the powers that be in country music should take a listen to All About That Bass and learn to love their own genre a little more.
There’s another way to read this news, though: as a desperate attempt to include more female talent. Now that Taylor Swift has moved decisively into the pop world with her new album 1989, country is left with just two superstar females: Carrie Underwood and Lambert. Swift was, in fact, the last new solo female artist to score two top 20 hits on country radio – and that occurred all the way back in 2007. Since then, not a single solo woman, save Lambert and Underwood, has managed the same feat, though Kacey Musgraves has managed to carve out a solid career for herself despite the lack of radio support.
(This sad reality is made all the more glaring by the fact that women, including Grande and Trainor, are breaking records on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100, where females have filled up the top five for a record-setting seven weeks.)
And it’s not that there’s no female talent making great country music. To the contrary, women like Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, Angaleena Presley, Kellie Pickler, Lindi Ortega, and Maddie and Tae have been helping to lead a creative revolution in country music, even if “bro country” continues to dominate the airwaves. Wouldn’t it be great to see any of these women given major screen time during country music’s biggest night? They may not bring the same kind of star power as Grande or Trainor, and they may not get #CMAAwards trending on Twitter with tweens, but if every legitimate country showcase is handed off to a glossy pop star in thigh-high boots instead of a Nashville upstart, then it’s hard to imagine how the genre’s own ever would become such broadly appealing successes.
The reality of TV production is that it’s about garnering viewers, and Grande and Trainor will very likely help with that. But their presence at the CMA awards says a lot about country music’s current self-respect and its treatment of its women. And none of it is good.