ACM Awards Producers on What to Expect From Post Malone’s First TV Splash as a Country Artist and the Show’s Superstar Collaborations (2024)

Thursday’s nights Academy of Country Music Awards program will provide further evidence that we are entering a Post country music period. But not as in “post-country,” let’s be clear… we’re talking about a Post Malone country era. The crossover star is expected to debut a song from his forthcoming country album at the ACM Awards, on a show that features nearly all the current heavyweights of the genre in performance slots.

Among the other stars performing new songs on the show are Jelly Roll, Lainey Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett and host Reba McEntire; it’s going to be truly New Music Thursday on Prime Video, as the show goes out live from Texas at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT. (It can also be seen live on Amazon’s Twitch channel — free to Prime subscribers and non-subscribers alike in both places.) Other performers include Noah Kahan, Avril Lavigne and Gwen Stefani from outside the genre and Cody Johnson, Chris Stapleton, Parker McCollum and Kane Brown adding starpower from within.

Two of the show’s prime drivers, executive producers Raj Kapoor and Patrick Menton, got on the phone with Variety to preview a bit of what to expect and the philosophy going into this year’s show, the third since the ACMs broke with a traditional prime-time network berth and switched to becoming a streaming exclusive. The continuing presence of awards-show figures as vital as Kapoor and Menton speaks to how seriously Amazon is taking the ACMs as a flagship for awards shows moving over to streaming. Both producers are an essential part of the Grammys team, with Kapoor also counting the Oscars among his many kudocast duties during the year.

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(For our separate interview with McEntire about her hosting duties, click here.)

We understand it was Garth and Dolly’s show to repeat, if they wanted to, after last year, but they wanted to pass the baton back?

Patrick Menton: Yeah, of course we would’ve loved to have had them back. They were amazing. But they kind of politely said, “We had an amazing time last year. Thank you for having us, and let’s let someone else take that moment.” And to then have Reba be the icon that she is, we can’t explain how lucky we feel to be able to have her back home with us for the 17th year on this show. But of course we love Dolly and Garth. They were incredible hosts, and we were so grateful to have them..

Raj Kapoor: We’re really blessed to have Reba back with us, um, because she loves the ACMs and she puts in the time and, for all her years in show business, she’s still one of the hardest working people I know. We smile all the time. Any time, anything Reba’s going on, we’re smiling all the time.

When you’re talking with her, and you’re going into your fourth decade of talking with her, she certainly doesn’t project being any less enthusiastic… about anything.

Kapoor: I feel like it’s because she doesn’t take on things that she doesn’t want to do. And she leads with joy and kindness and intention, and so anything she does, she’s invested in and she wants to do. You see it on “The Voice” and you’re gonna see it on our show. I think she loves working, and I think she just loves being around people, and obviously she loves country music and this is her home.

This year there are four “non-country” artists on the show. That may seem like a lot to some people. Last year, there was only one, and I was thinking, why so few?

Kapoor: We’ve pushed the envelope of bringing different guests in, and we always want whoever’s coming in for it to be a natural fit in country music. This year we have a lot of different people coming together, whether that’s Blake and Gwen, whether that’s Nate and Avril, Kelsea and Noah. There’s these big moments that haven’t been seen on other shows, and some of those have been saved for us. When we get pitched by talent and labels, they’re like, “We really wanna do this on the ACMs. We’re holding this song for you.” Or “We’re releasing this song the week of the show,” because they know we will promote it as a big moment and help them celebrate a new chapter in their careers. Jelly Roll’s doing something new — we’ve been working with his team for quite a while on that. and Thomas Rhett are doing new song. Lainey Wilson just released her new song, Reba’s only performing her song for the second time ever, and we’re gonna do it differently and bigger and better. I’m really excited about all the premieres and, and all the collaborations we have this year.

What Post Malone will do seems like the biggest question mark.

Kapoor: Oh my God, so exciting. Get ready for Post. Everybody saw how brilliant he was at Stagecoach, and now we get him for his first television appearance with his country album. He’s been so invested in the community working with so many people there, so many different artists, so many different musicians. The authenticity and the love that Post has for the genre is really unique.

Menton: He’s coming home. He was raised on this music.

Kapoor: And he’s such a great person too, so fun and polite and kind. You always wanna get a hug from Post Malone.

Can you talk about what he’s going be doing on the show? Because it sounds like it’s not necessarily the Morgan Wallen duet, but something else.

Menton: That’s a little bit of a surprise at the moment, but he’s working on something really special for us.

Kapoor: We will tell you, we’ve heard quite a few tracks from the album, and it’s outstanding. Everybody saw how big the song launched this week with him and Morgan. There’s such an appetite for what he’s doing right now, so it’s exciting to have him in the format, that’s for sure.

Menton: And it is a real, authentic country record, in Post’s voice. It’s brilliant. I’m really excited for him to come back to his roots.

Is it safe to say that he’ll be doing something from that album and not something from his country covers set he did at Stagecoach?

Menton: It will be something from the new album, yes.

It feels like the resistance to having people from outside the genre on the show, whether they’re coming into country to make a record or just doing a cameo on a show, is going away. There were all these stories recalling the mixed reaction when Beyonce was on the CMAs. But it feels like generationally, we might have already moved beyond that sense of the proprietary.

Menton: With the world the way it is, we can be listening to DSPs and people can jump from Americana to country to hip-hop all within five minutes on whichever DSP they’re listening to. And it’s such a global genre now, why would we not want to allow others to come in? Listen, Noah and Kelsea, they’re friends. This kind of came up organically. Avril jumped on a Nate Smith record, so we thought, well, why would we not do that on the show. Blake and Gwen? Of course that makes sense. And Post Malone, he’s coming back to his roots in putting out this album. So for us, it’s why would we not have the doors open? And also, Amazon has really given us creative freedom to let those guardrails open up. And of course, country is our number one priority. This is a country show. It is celebrating country music. We’ll be doing it next year in an even bigger way for the 60th. But, why would we not want to open the doors and allow others to come in and share and be a part of this beautiful community?

Kapoor: We were interested in Noah because I think his project is very country-adjacent, and it’s such a huge song. And then when the opportunity came up, Kelsea was having a huge nomination for album of the year, and with the fact that they were friends, it ended up being this wonderful organic blending of both artists. And you’re gonna hear something where we’re hearing them on each other’s songs in a really unique way, and it sounds completely seamless.

Menton: I’ve been saying it for all the years that I’ve been doing the show: there’s country for everyone. Whenever I meet someone that says “I’m not a country fan,” I say, “Well, you haven’t listened to enough country, because there is country for everyone. You just have to find your space.” There is a space for everyone in country — it’s beautiful storytelling, and everyone needs a little bit of that.

Can you talk about how you think about diversity on the show? The ACMs have done a lot to promote groups that are underrepresented in mainstream country, including having Mickey Guyton co-host the show a few years ago. This year there are more female artists on the show than are proportionally represented on country radio. And the Academy of Country Music had a diversity event this week hosted by Breland. But I have heard some in the Black country community complain that Kane Brown is the only Black artist on the show. How do you approach diversity, given that it’s a two-hour show and you mostly limit yourself to the talent pool of current hitmakers, where that is notably lacking? [Similar questions were raised about the recent CMT Awards, where duet partner Brittney Spencer was the only Black artist performing.]

Kapoor: It’s always at the top of our minds. We see that women aren’t always celebrated on radio all the time, so we go out of our way whenever we can to make sure that female artists are very well represented. We were one of the first shows to ever put the War and Treaty on with a solo performance last year; everybody in the room erupted when that happened, and that led to all these other bookings. We’re not gonna take credit for the War and Treaty! — but we did give them a big television moment, and now they’re opening for the Rolling Stones. Kane Brown is nominated for Entertainer of the Year, and he’s back with us on the show. We love Breland; he was our Amazon breakthrough artist before. And with Mickey Guyton in the past… we’ve always found room and we want to continue to have room. Sometimes it’s really about the year, of who’s nominated, and who doesn’t necessarily have projects yet. Sometimes things don’t work out either; we’d love to have a few more moments and, just because of scheduling or other commitments, it doesn’t work. … But the Academy and the production team and Amazon, we have a completely open-door policy, and thinking about and promoting diversity and inclusion, as a brand, is very much at the top of our list. We would more than welcome continuing that conversation any time there’s an opportunity to discuss it, because it’s very apparent and it matters a lot to all of us here.

There are a large amount of song premieres on the show this year, or brand new songs. Miranda, Lainey, Jelly Roll, Reba, Thomas Rhett and potentially Post Malone… Artists love that, of course, and some of us as viewers welcome anything fresh, but conventional TV wisdom would be, you don’t want to have too much unknown material. How do you think about that balance?

Kapoor: We have plenty of hits! Don’t you worry about that…

Menton: We do think about that. We have to make sure there is a balance, and we have some really fun big hits that are also a part of the show that will get everyone up on their feet. We’re excited about both.

Kapoor: And some really touching moments that we’ve worked really hard on. This year I think it’s probably one of the biggest lineups as far as additional musicians and additional choir members and string sections. Just the amount of production on this show is, especially in a two-hour show, pushing the envelope a little this year.

Two hours for an awards show is such an anomaly. You’re not worried the show will just feel blink-and-you’ll-miss-it at that length?

Kapoor: It’s nice for everybody to always want a little more, you know? Even last year, I was surprised how quickly it went, like, oh, it’s over! But when I watched it back, I’m like, this is a fun show. it’s got great energy.

Menton: And listen, we have 15 performances in there, you know. I think on the Grammys… what did we have? We must have had 13, 14. So even in two hours, we’ve found a way to cram 15 performances in there. So you’re still getting all that music that you want — it’s just going a lot faster.

I think a throughline for Raj on the Oscars, for us on this show, and for when we work on the Grammys with Ben (Winston) and Jesse (Collins), our rule is about leading with heart, leading with kindness, and putting artists first. It’s creating a space for them to come and do what they do best; they’re the ones selling out stadiums and arenas, not us. So our job is to make them feel safe and protected and be able to get the best out of them and get the best performance and moment, so that the home audience can take two or three hours, whatever the show is, and leave all their worries behind and just have some great music and celebrate it.

ACM Awards Producers on What to Expect From Post Malone’s First TV Splash as a Country Artist and the Show’s Superstar Collaborations (2024)
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