Country singer Morgan Wallen is nominated for the Academy of Country Music's top honor at this year's ACM Awards, which will stream live on Prime Video on May 11. Wallen, whose recently released One Thing At a Time is the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 for the ninth week straight, will compete against Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton and Carrie Underwood for ACM Entertainer of the Year.
The nomination — Wallen's first for Entertainer of the Year — comes two years after the "Whiskey Glasses" singer was removed from the ACM ballot altogether after he was caught on camera using a racial slur in February of 2021. Since then, Wallen has went from being suspended from his record label to a chart-topping ACM nominee.
Below, we've rounded up a timeline of Wallen's controversies.
May 2020: Arrested Outside of Kid Rock's Bar
In May of 2020, Wallen was arrested on public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges outside Kid Rock's downtown Nashville bar. According to The Tennessean, Wallen was kicked out of Kid Rock's bar for "kicking glass items." According to the arrest warrant, "Officers gave (Wallen) several opportunities to walk away with his friends, but he refused to walk away,"
October 2020: SNL Appearance Canceled
The singer was the subject of controversy once again when his Saturday Night Live performance was canceled after he was seen partying maskless and kissing multiple women in Alabama bars just days before his scheduled performance. (Wallen later appeared on the show in December of that year.)
February 2, 2021: Video of Wallen Using Racial Slur Posted to TMZ
On Feb. 2, 2021, Wallen was caught using the N-word in a video posted to TMZ on Feb. 2, 2021. The video was posted to TMZ on Feb. 2. TMZ reports that one of Wallen's neighbors began recording Wallen and a group of friends after they arrived at Wallen's Nashville home around midnight. Another neighbor's doorbell camera captured the scene before Wallen used the racial slur.
Following the incident, Wallen was suspended from his record label Big Loud Records.
Wallen's music was quickly removed from Cumulus Media, the second biggest radio chain in the U.S. A message was sent out to program directors of its 400-plus stations.
"Team, unfortunately country music star Morgan Wallen was captured on video Sunday evening using a racial slur," the message read. "Effective immediately we request that all of Morgan Wallen's music be removed from our playlists without exception. More to follow."
iHeartMedia, the largest radio chain in the nation, also pulled Wallen's music from its airwaves.
CMT also removed Wallen from its platforms.
"After learning of Morgan Wallen's racial slur late last night, we are in the process of removing his appearance from all our platforms," CMT said in a statement. "We do not tolerate or condone words and actions that are in direct opposition to our core values that celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion."
Following the controversy, Wallen's sophomore album Dangerous: The Double Album spent multiple weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Feb. 10, 2021: Wallen Issues Apology Video
Wallen later released a video apology, asking fans not to defend him.
"Our actions matter, our words matter. And I just want to encourage anyone watching to please learn from my mistakes," Wallen said. "There's no reason to downplay what I did. It matters. And please know I'm carefully choosing my next step to repair."
On April 13, 2021 Wallen posted a handwritten note on social media announcing that he won't tour this summer. (Wallen was scheduled to open Luke Bryan's Proud to Be Right Here tour.)
"I've found this time away to be very valuable to me in many ways, but I feel like I need a little more of it and therefore will not be performing tour dates this summer," Wallen wrote. "It means I won't be playing festivals or the Luke Bryan tour dates. But it's important to me personally, if you can, go to these shows — support country music. Country music is back and that's a beautiful damn thing."
Wallen also released an apology directly following the video's February release.
"I'm embarrassed and sorry," Wallen said in a statement. "I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better."
April 2021: Billboards Supporting Morgan Wallen Surface in Nashville
A series of billboards supporting Wallen popped up around Nashville in April of 2021, right before the 2021 ACM Awards and CMT Awards.
The billboards called Wallen "His fans choice [for] Entertainer of the Year" and asked others to "Support that boy from East Tennessee." In February of 2021, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) stated that Wallen was ineligible for awards this year.
"The Academy does not condone or support intolerance or behavior that doesn't align with our commitment and dedication to diversity and dedication," the statement read.
Taste of Country and The Boot report that the billboards are operated by Lamar Advertising. The company was unable to provide information as to who ordered the signs. The six billboards are located along Broadway and West End Avenue.
Country Now reports that the billboards were paid for by a group of Wallen's fans.
In addition, Wallen fans funded comparable signage in Los Angeles in time for May's Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs).
The billboard's blue background is a critique of the BBMAs posting a blue box in place of Wallen's picture on its website.
"Behind that blue box is a human being. A living, breathing, human being. He has feelings just the same as you and I do, so to represent him as a 'blue box' is degrading and uncalled for," says Darleen Ingram, one of the fans who helped pay for the billboard (as quoted by The Boot). "We the fans plan to continue standing up to cancel culture. We're not backing down."
May 2021: Banned from Attending Billboard Music Awards
Though he earned six nominations, Wallen didn't appear on the 2021 Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs), which aired live on May 23 on NBC.
However, Wallen did win three awards — Top Country Artist, Top Country Male and Top Country Album at the award show. (The awards at the BBMAs are based on analytical data.)
Wallen was also nominated for Top Song Sales artist, which went to the group BTS, and Top Country Song, which went to Gabby Barrett for "I Hope."
In a statement released on April 29, Dick Clark Productions announced that Wallen would not be invited to perform or present or accept any awards due to his "recent conduct."
"Morgan Wallen is a finalist this year based on charting. As his recent conduct does not align with our core values, we will not be including him on the show in any capacity (performing, presenting, accepting)," the statement reads. "It is heartening and encouraging to hear that Morgan is taking steps in his anti-racist journey and starting to do some meaningful work. We plan to evaluate his progress and will consider his participation in future shows."
July 2021: Good Morning America Interview
In July of 2021, Wallen gave his first interview since the video of him using a racial slur leaked. During the interview with Good Morning America's Michael Strahan, Wallen addressed the video and his stint in rehab.
When Strahan asked Wallen why he used the slur, Wallen replied "I was around some of my friends, and we just... we say dumb stuff together. And it was — in our minds, it's playful. I don't know, that sounds ignorant, but that's really where it came from. And it's wrong."
Wallen said that he didn't use the word "frequently," but admitted that he had previously used it around the "certain group of friends" he was with on the night the video was taken.
Wallen said he "didn't mean it any, in any derogatory manner at all."
"It's one of my best friends — he was, we were all clearly drunk — I was askin' his girlfriend to take care of him because he was drunk and he was leavin,'" he continued.
Wallen said he checked himself into a rehab facility following the scandal.
"For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California — you know, just tryin' to figure it out ... why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?"
The singer also addressed the continued success of his album Dangerous, which spiked in sales after the scandal. Wallen says he donated around $500,000 to several organizations, including the Black Music Action Coalition.
"Before this incident my album was already doing well," Wallen said. "It was already being well-received by critics and by fans. Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate what the number of — how much it actually spiked from this incident....We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations — BMAC being the first one."
Following a Rolling Stone investigation which called into question whether Wallen had followed through on his vow to donate the $500,000, USA Today confirmed through Wallen's manager, Seth England, and written records that Wallen has donated $300,000 to the BMAC in the names of 20 people who had counseled him.
USA Today reports that, of that money, $165,000 remained with BMAC. The remaining $135,000 was distributed to smaller charities of the individuals' choice, including the Teen Dream Center, Young People's Chorus of New York City and Right Hand Foundation.
The remaining $100,0000 "has been earmarked to be dispersed to Black-led organizations in Tennessee by the end of the year," according to Wallen's management.
"We've been a part of Morgan's life for over five years and are grateful to have gotten to know him and his heart. We know who he is and who he is striving to be. We're seeing the work that he is putting in and are confident in the steps that he is taking," Big Loud partners Craig Wiseman, Joey Moi and England said in an exclusive statement to USA TODAY.
The full interview with Wallen is available to view here.
September 2021: Banned from Attending CMA Awards
In September of 2021, the Country Music Association (CMA) announced that Wallen would be barred from attending the 2021 CMA Awards.
"This was something we looked at from so many angles," Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, told the Times. "The decision, ultimately, was the man would not be allowed, but the music and the people who were part of it [songwriters and producers] could be eligible. That made his music eligible in five categories, and ultimately, he was nominated in one.
This is the first time in the history of the CMA, to my knowledge, anyone has ever been disqualified for conduct. Honoring him as an individual this year is not right, and he will not be allowed on the red carpet, on our stage, or be celebrated in any way."
May 2022: Wallen Performs at Billboard Music Awards
Just a little over a year after the video of Wallen using a racial slur surfaced, he returned to an award show stage by performing at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards. Wallen performed "Don't Think Jesus" and "Wasted on You" at the ceremony.
April 2023: Wallen Cancels Mississippi Concert at the Last Minute
Wallen once again made headlines in April of 2023 when he canceled his concert at the Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. just minutes before he was set to take the stage. The news was initially delivered via an onscreen message.
"Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, Morgan has lost his voice and is unable to perform tonight," the message read. "Therefore, tonight's show has been canceled. Please make your way safely to the stadium exits. Refunds for tonight's event will be available at point of purchase."
Wallen later shared a message to fans on Instagram.
After last night's show I started losing my voice so I spent the day resting up, talking to my doctor and working through my vocal exercise trying to get better," Wallen wrote. "I really thought I'd be able to take the stage and it kills me to deliver this so close to showtime, but my voice is shot and I am unable to sing..."I am so sorry, I promise you guys I tried everything I could."
In another message to fans announcing rescheduled shows, Wallen wrote "I appreciate and understand everything you do to get to my shows, so it would be unfair of me to put on a show that I know will not be 100%. I'm doing everything I can to speed up the process of getting to that 100% mark."
May 2023: Wallen Delays Tour for 6 Weeks Due to Vocal Fold Trauma
Following the Oxford, Miss. show, Wallen made the announcement that he was suffering from a vocal cord injury and would be postponing his tour for 6 weeks.
"I'm just gonna go ahead and get straight to it. I got some bad news from my doctors at the Vanderbilt voice center yesterday. After taking 10 days of vocal rest, I performed three shows last weekend in Florida and by the third one I felt terrible," Wallen shared. "So I went in and got scoped yesterday, and they told me that I injured my vocal cords and that I have vocal fold trauma. Their advice is that I go on vocal rest for six weeks, so that's what I'm going to do. They don't want me to talk at all, but they said that if I need to it's OK for something like this."
This is an update to an article previously published on Feb. 3, 2021. It was updated on May 11, 2023.
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