The Country Music Association Awards are supposed to be a celebration of one of America’s enduring art forms, a night of star performances, gentle ribbing and a red carpet resplendent with formal wear and the occasional cowboy hat.
But Wednesday, when this year’s awards are presented in Nashville, there is one thing guests probably won’t be doing: having any discussion of gun laws.
For the second year in a row, the CMA Awards will closely follow a mass shooting of the industry’s own fans. Twelve people were gunned down late Wednesday night at a country and western dance hall in Thousand Oaks, Calif. In October 2017, 58 people were killed and hundreds wounded at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Some who survived Las Vegas were there Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks. One of them did not survive the second time.
While much of the entertainment world has tacked sharply and openly to the left in the last two years, with celebrities politicking from awards stages in ball gowns and black tie, country music has taken a more cautious, tight-lipped approach.
“As far as country music goes, it’s sort of no-man’s-land to really go out and make a political statement,” said Andy Albert, a songwriter based in Nashville who writes mainly for country performers.
Cultural and political conservatives are a significant portion of the fan base, of course, and most performers take pains not to alienate them, whether they agree with them personally or not. But country music is far from the politically crimson monolith it is often assumed to be. Big cities in the North and West are major markets for the industry, and in recent years its fans have become younger, as well as increasingly urban and suburban.
Over the last decade, the music itself has become less political, and less macho. Country music of the early to mid-2000s tended toward the jingoist and the masculinist, especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Stars like Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry and others brought a bulked-up rural brawn to the genre, in an era when country music was its most publicly conservative.
The emergence of the bro archetype at the turn of the 2010s began shifting the tone, as male performers — who still dominate the industry, along with a few female superstars — focused more on partying than cultural, or actual, politics.
Over the last couple of years, the genre has shifted again to a gentler, less brute kind of male star: the gentleman. The music has been stripped clean of much of its overt masculinity, and most performers strenuously avoid political conversation.
“It’s just sort of in the water, it’s just understood that none of these artists are trying to use this as a soapbox,” Mr. Albert said of the songs he writes for other musicians. “It’s more likely to get liked and heard and recorded if we can find a way to navigate a political topic without pressing an…