How Many Awards Shows Does Country Music Need?

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Tonight's Country Music Television Awards are the second of four shows devoted to the genre this year. Why are there so many?

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Brian Bayley

The Country Music Television awards air tonight, hosted by Kid Rock and featuring performances by Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, and Rascal Flatts. It's country music's second big awards show of the year—the Academy of Country Music awards happened back in April—and it's not the last. The Country Music Association awards—the genre's most prestigious awards—take place in November, followed by the newly created American Country Awards in December. That's a total of four awards shows devoted solely to country music. Hip hop, by contrast, only has the BET awards.

Why does country music need so many awards shows?

Not to sell music—at least not directly. "The awards shows don't have a tremendous amount of value—in the artist's eyes, in the industry's eyes, or even in the eyes of public perception," says Jeffrey Rabhan, chair of the recorded music department at New York University. Rabhan noted that the Grammys is the only awards show that's been proven to boost record sales—smaller, genre-specific shows like the CMT awards don't help much.

So why are there so many of them? Here are four theories that came out of my conversation with Rabhan:

They're fun to watch.
Unlike the Oscars, which are notoriously boring, music awards shows are entertaining. "They're good TV," Rabhan says. Why? Because they include live musical performances that truly represent what makes the nominees praise-worthy—in contrast with the over-edited, lifeless clips from nominated films at the Academy Awards. Mumford and Sons' appearance at the Grammys is proof of the power of the awards show performance. The band didn't even win an award, but their album shot to number two on the Billboard 200 after the broadcast.

People tune in.
The high entertainment value of the shows translates into high viewership. "There wouldn't be so many of them if there weren't a demand for them," says Rabhan. "The ratings are good. And if the ratings weren't good, the networks wouldn't carry them." Indeed, last year's CMT Awards broadcast set a ratings record for the network.

They create solidarity within the country music community.
"Historically, the audience tends to be more passionate, more devoted to the genre than really any other genre," Rabhan says. And the multiple awards shows "tend to solidify" that passionate audience.

They're good advertising for country.
For people who aren't part of what Rabhan calls the "tight-knit family" of country music, these shows serve as PR for the genre. The shows highlight for outsiders the way the genre is growing. "There is a blur that is happening in country," says Rabhan. "Country is an evolving genre ... it's a good thing for music." Some of the performers at this year's CMTs speak to the genre's evolution: Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow's appearances remind viewers that country is big enough to include two artists who started their music careers in rock.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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