Why Luke Bryan Won ACM’s Entertainer of the Year
After all, the three-time EOTY winner has been nominated for nine consecutive years (a record), so of course the box alongside his name would get checked once again during second round voting. But winning? It's been six years — that ship has sailed, right?
Not quite. He's probably deserving of one or two more, at least, because he has a line on his resume that no one else in the category has had, and during a very strange year, that line stood out in bold: Luke Bryan the American Idol judge mattered in 2020.
First, a refresher on on the Academy of Country Music's criteria for the category:
The factors to be considered include, but are not limited to, success at radio, consumption, success of music videos, vocal performances, live concert ticket sales, artistic merit, appearances on television, appearances in films, songwriting, success in digital media, and contributions to the country music industry. The nominees shall be determined by a nomination ballot(s) and are subject to the approval of the Board. The winner shall be determined by a vote of the ACM professional membership.
TL;DR version: Everything matters, which also means nothing matters during most years and voters know no shackles when it comes time to pick. If the metrics truly drove voting, then Bryan surely would have topped Thomas Rhett and Carrie Underwood in 2020. He headlined a stadium tour, took songs to No. 1 like they were layups and was a very strong streamer. Then there's that "appearances on television line" that's kind of been ignored in recent years.
This part — and his presence on social media during a pandemic year — is why Blake Shelton should be a perennial nominee, as well. That it's been years since a reality TV judge or coach won is a sign of voter burnout. We get a little tired of seeing the same man or woman (mostly just men, sadly) win, so we build a new story. It's unfair.
In 2020 (remember, this year's awards honored last year's achievements), Bryan spent the spring on ABC and kept the momentum from there. He and wife Caroline were a delightful diversion from the news on social media, and the singer hustled to support his Born Here Live Here Die Here album, too. The "One Margarita" hitmaker wasn't a live-streaming concert force, but he didn't sit them out, either. Some superstars took half the year off and went dark when they learned they couldn't tour, but he wasn't one of them. Was anything more important last year than consistency and familiarity?
The music mattered, too. Of the five nominees, only Stapleton and Bryan were also nominated in Song, Single or Album categories. Stapleton's Starting Over topped Bryan's latest for the Album of the Year win, but BHLHDH was Bryan's first nomination in this category since Crash My Party (2014). The tight 10-song collection is arguably his finest ever, with songs that work on radio (four straight No. 1 airplay hits) and as deep cuts ("Build Me a Daddy"). So it's not like he won purely because he was in the spotlight more than anyone else. By leaning in when others stepped back, he found himself with a new trophy.