On Friday (April 29), Morgan Wallen was announced as one of four performers joining the lineup for the upcoming 2022 Billboard Music Awards, marking the country artist’s first performance at a major awards show since a video surfaced of him last year using a racial slur.
MRC Live & Alternative, a division of MRC that produces the BBMAs and several other awards shows, said the decision to book Wallen followed extensive internal discussions by a dedicated group of diverse staffers at MRC.
“We oppose discrimination, harassment, or racism of any kind,” MRC said in a statement to Billboard. “We believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect. After a thorough review and robust discussions internally and with the artist’s team, in which we found a demonstrated and ongoing commitment to meaningful work and outreach, we extended an invitation to participate in this year’s show.”
In an internal memo reviewed by Billboard, MRC explained the decision in greater detail, acknowledging that when MRC debated inviting Wallen to the 2021 BBMAs, it decided against it. But ongoing discussions between individuals at MRC and Wallen’s team over the course of the last several months led to a different outcome for the 2022 BBMAs, with a diverse team of MRC staffers citing Wallen’s commitment to bettering himself and expanding his understanding of the issue, as well as his ongoing additional work. The team concluded the incident was not part of a consistent pattern of behavior for Wallen.
“Born out of our racial equity work at MRC, a team led by diverse colleagues created an internal process to review if our content aligns with our stated diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives. We ran this process last year with regard to Mr. Wallen, and again this year which resulted in a different decision,” the memo said. But the team’s recent research on the artist “found that there were meaningful and significant efforts toward understanding and redemption, as well as an ongoing commitment to additional work.”
Wallen was barred from attending or accepting any awards at the 2021 BBMAs after the country star was caught on camera yelling the N-word and other expletives on Feb. 2, 2021. Wallen won three awards — based on Billboard chart performance data — at last year’s event, but was not invited to accept any of them during the broadcast.
Morgan later said using the racial slur was “ignorant and wrong,” and pledged to spend the rest of 2021 out of the spotlight working on himself. Since then, Wallen has taken part in several surprise performances, announced a headlining tour, taken home a number of major awards (including album of the year at the 2022 ACM Awards) and broken Billboard chart records.
While Wallen’s commercial success continues undaunted, reactions from Nashville executives and artists remains mixed.
Some applauded Wallen’s charitable donations to the tune of $500,000, including $100,000 to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville and $100,000 to Rock Against Racism (Billboard confirmed he made good on the pledged donations). Others, however, feel his response hasn’t been sufficient. Black Music Action Coalition co-founder/co-chair Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, who met with Wallen in Feb. 2021 after the incident, said it was ultimately “a truly missed opportunity for him to wake up a fan base” to the realities of racism in the United States.
The 2022 BBMAs will be broadcast live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 15.
The Billboard Music Awards are produced by MRC Live & Alternative, a division of MRC. MRC and Penske Media are co-parent companies of Billboard.