Country Music: Race, Gender and Transition in the year of COVID-19

Atkinson, Ben (2021) Country Music: Race, Gender and Transition in the year of COVID-19. In: Music in Crisis – Crisis in Music, 7th to 9th June 2021, University of Bergen.

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Country Music: Race, Gender and Transition in the year of COVID-19

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
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In her book The Selling Sound: The Rise of the Country Music Industry, Diane Pecknold describes how ‘few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as strongly by the relationship between commercialisation and authenticity as country music’ (Pecknold, 2007). In 2020, this commercialisation plays out most prominently in the way the genre presents its award-show programming; with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, came a period of transition, most notable in the way in which both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association awards were upended and two of the biggest fan events in the genres calendar were forced to take place behind doors and without audiences.

At the same time, this transition was heightened by the impact of the twin social movements of #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter protests which bought to the fore long underlying issues of racial and gender bias in country music. Both became a key focus of the 2020 awards season. The ACMs moved their show back to Nashville for the first time, while nominating ‘four Black musicians and [proceeding to] brag about breaking a record’ (Vulture, 2013) and adding Mickey Guyton as a co-host for the 2021 event, after she became the first Black female country artist to perform her own song at the awards show in 2020 (Good Morning America, 2020). The CMAs in comparison, opted for a socially distanced show with all the usual performance and industry guests seated at separate tables, but no public audience. This approach was later called into question when just weeks after the event, black country legend Charley Pride passed away from complications of COVID-19 after attending the awards show in person to accept the lifetime achievement award (Washington Post, 2020).

This paper then, will examine the extent to which country music awards shows held during the pandemic have used the spotlight of COVID-19 and its impact on large events, to actively challenge racial and gender discrimination issues country music. It will also discuss the extent to which these challenges can be considered sincere and long-lasting given the genres chequered past in relation to both race and gender, the two major crises in country music today.

Keywords:Country Music, Music, ethnomusicology, American studies
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W340 Types of Music
W Creative Arts and Design > W330 History of Music
W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
T Eastern, Asiatic, African, American and Australasian Languages, Literature and related subjects > T700 American studies
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
ID Code:45217
Deposited On:23 Jul 2021 08:30

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