Ballerini’s debut album resulted in three consecutive No. 1 country radio singles, the first time any female artist had done so in the genre, and she was part of CMT’s Next Women of Country, a yearly installment of new and upcoming female artists that CMT supports. Ballerini said she worried that the lack of women in country music was just going to remain a conversation in the industry, without any real action to correct it.
“Finally we’re seeing people actually do stuff about it,” Ballerini said. “CMT choosing to use their platform, which is a massive platform in country music, to honor only women is not just conversation, but actual change. That’s a massive step forward.”
The night will feature the honorees in cross-genre collaborations with special guests. Ballerini will be singing with Alison Krauss, Morris will be doing a tribute to Aretha Franklin with Brandi Carlile, and the women from Little Big Town will be singing with soul legend Gladys Knight. Scott will be singing with pop singer Tori Kelly and gospel singer Kirk Franklin.
Leslie Fram, CMT’s senior vice president of music strategy, said the timing just felt right for CMT to make the change this year. For the past couple of years, award shows from the Oscars to the Grammys have been trying to address a lack of diversity in nominees and winners. “And if you look at all these artists individually, they have all had amazing accomplishments individually, whether it’s professionally or personally and things that they do in their community, so it really made sense this year,” Fram said.
Lambert will be performing with her all-girl group, the Pistol Annies, featuring Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, who are releasing a new album in November. “We have to support each other,” Lambert said. “It’s not an industry supporting us. It’s us believing in each other and respecting each other’s art and I think that it also pushes us to be better when someone is really great. You need a little competition. As long as the women keep delivering, I think it’s just building it up, building it up.”
Underwood will be performing with her upcoming tour openers, Maddie and Tae and Runaway June. “I’m a big believer in actions speak louder than words,” said Maddie Marlow. “And with CMT with Artists of the Year, and Carrie with making this kind of tour, I love when people are acting on it and not just, ‘Oh we need to fight for women in country.’ They are actually making moves.”
The show will air on CMT on Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern.