There was still plenty of reason to be dismissed as a true country music fan while attending the 2022 CMA Awards earlier this month. You probably could have done without the Katy Perry/Thomas Rhett collaboration, or watched Old Dominion inexplicably win their fifth vocal group award in a row. Does this group have any real fans?
But a pretty universal consensus from country fans who suffered through the show to see the extended tribute to Alan Jackson at the end was that in 2022, the CMA Awards seemed to do a 180-degree turn and start heading back in the direction correct towards the most real country music presentation. Along with the aforementioned Alan Jackson tribute at the end, a great tribute to Loretta Lynn kicked off the show.
In between, the 2022 CMAs also saw a performance by 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 the Osborne brothers 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’s to say nothing of the awards themselves where more country-sounding artists won big, including Lainey Wilson who walked away with New Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year, Cody Johnson winning Single of the Year ‘year and the video of the year for “Til”. You Can’t,” and Music Event of the Year winners Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.”
It was pretty clear that there was a concerted effort by the CMA Awards to push more countries and more legendary acts into the show. There were also a few appearances by artists who normally don’t get face time at the Americana World CMAs, such as The War and Treaty and Marcus King.
So what were the results? Overnight figures showed the CMAs saw an 11% increase in ratings year-over-year, which was the first time the CMAs had seen an actual increase in ratings in years. The history of all these award shows has been declining ratings for a decade, exacerbated by the Covid era. But in 2022, the CMA Awards increased to 7.57 million live viewers, up from 6.83 million in 2021.
The longer and more precise L+7 ratings (live, plus 7 days for people to watch on tape) were even better, showing a 16% year-over-year increase with a total of 9.7 million viewers, 2.2 million more viewers than in 2021. So not only did more people watch the CMA Awards live, but even more people later saw how good news about the awards had lasted. In addition to the CMAs halting a decade-long ratings decline, the 2022 presentation achieved the awards’ biggest audience in three years.
Is this because more actual country artists were showcased at the show, or was it more due to broader market conditions in the post-Covid era? Of course, we don’t know for sure, and it’s probably a mix of both. But the fact that so many people watched the CMAs afterward instead of avoiding it entirely is probably a good sign that the 2022 CMAs were well received.
Awards shows may still be more of a relic of the past as the new generation of consumers cut cords, don’t watch TV at all, or don’t care about awards. But fans of artists like Alan Jackson and Loretta Lynn are still very willing to engage with TV dates and live performances, as long as their sensibilities aren’t insulted by whatever else is going on.
Country music is definitely more country in 2022 than it was in previous years, especially during Bro-Country’s heyday between 2013 and 2016, and specifically in the mainstream. The 2022 CMA Awards reflected that. While Bro-Country introduced plenty of interlopers to the genre, it’s the fans of artists like Lainey Wilson and Cody Johnson who will stick around, stay loyal to country music regardless, and make the effort to see an awards program. in first place.
The proclamation from much of the media was that the 2022 CMA Awards were a trip back in time for the country music genre. But as the ratings seem to indicate, going back to your country roots can also be a path to country music’s brightest future.
As Luke Combs said when accepting his trophy for Entertainer of the Year, “This is my fifth or sixth year doing this awards show, and country sounded more country than it has in a long time, and I think we all wanted that.”