There were still plenty of reasons to be repulsed as an actual country music fan while witnessing the 2022 CMA Awards earlier this month. You probably could have done without the Katy Perry/Thomas Rhett collaboration, or watching Old Dominion inexplicably win their 5th Vocal Group of the Year award in a row. Does that group have any actual fans?
But a pretty universal consensus from the country fans who did suffer through the presentation to see the extended Alan Jackson tribute at the end was that in 2022, the CMA Awards seemed to do a 180-degree turn, and started going back in the right direction toward featuring more actual country music. Along with the aforementioned Alan Jackson tribute at the end, a big tribute to Loretta Lynn started the show.
In between, the 2022 CMAs also saw a performance of Chris Stapleton and Patty Loveless singing the country standard “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and Carly Pearce singing her Lynn tribute “Dear Miss Loretta” with Ricky Skaggs and Sonya Isaacs. Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark, Pillbox Patti, and Brothers Osborne also performed “When Will I Be Loved” made popular by Linda Ronstadt, and there was even a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis by Elle King.
That speaks nothing to the awards themselves where more country-sounding acts won big awards, including Lainey Wilson walking away with New Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year, Cody Johnson winning Single of the Year and Video of the Year for “Til You Can’t,” and Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde winning Music Event of the Year for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.”
It was pretty clear there was a concerted effort by the CMA Awards to push more country, and more legendary acts on the presentation. There were also some appearances from artists who typically wouldn’t receive face time on the CMAs from the Americana world, such a The War and Treaty and Marcus King.
So what were the results? The overnight numbers showed that the CMAs saw an 11% rise in ratings year over year, which was the first time the CMAs have seen an actual rise in ratings in years. The story of all of these awards shows has been declining ratings for a decade, exacerbated by the Covid era. But in 2022, the CMA Awards jumped to 7.57 million real-time viewers, up from 6.83 million in 2021.
The longer and more accurate L+7 ratings (live, plus 7 days for people to watch it recorded) were even better, showing a 16% rise year over year, with a total of 9.7 million viewers, up 2.2 million viewers from 2021. So not only did more people watch the CMA Awards live, even more people watched later as positive buzz about the awards lingered. On top of the CMAs stopping a decade-long slump in ratings, the 2022 presentation turned in the awards’ largest audience in three years.
Is this due to the fact that more actual country artists were showcased on the show, or was it due more to broader market conditions in the post Covid era? We don’t know for sure of course, and it’s probably a mix of both. But the fact that so many people watched the CMAs afterwards instead of avoiding it entirely is probably a good sign the 2022 CMAs were well-received.
Awards shows still may be more of a relic of the past as the new generation of consumers cut cords, don’t watch television at all, or couldn’t care less about awards. But fans of artists like Alan Jackson and Loretta Lynn still are very much willing to engage with appointment television and live performances, as long as their sensibilities aren’t insulted by whatever else happens.
Unquestionably, country music is more country in 2022 than in years previous, especially during the height of Bro-Country from 2013-2016, and specifically in the mainstream. The 2022 CMA Awards mirrored that. Even though Bro-Country brought a bunch of interlopers into the genre, it’s the fans of artists such as Lainey Wilson and Cody Johnson that will stick around, be loyal to country music no matter watch, and put the effort out to watch an awards show in the first place.
The proclamation from much of the media was that the 2022 CMA Awards was a trip to the past of the country music genre. But as the ratings seem to indicate, going back to your country roots might also be a path to country music’s brighter future.