ACM Awards 2021: Best and worst moments, complete list of winners

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Every awards show in the pandemic has had a moment that could happen only during an awards show in a pandemic — and the Academy of Country Music Awards was no exception. In the closing moments of the telecast Sunday, Luke Bryan was crowned entertainer of the year, the most prestigious trophy of the night. Except he had to cancel his ACM performance because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. He accepted his award via Zoom. CeCe Winans and Carrie Underwood brought the Academy of Country Music Awards to church on Sunday. The gospel legend and country superstar joined forces for a top-notch, powerful performance that was the show’s highlight.

The 56th Academy of Country Music Awards were held on April 18, 2021, in Nashville, Tennessee. Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton were the hosts for the show. Underwood performed songs from her recent gospel hymns album “My Savior,” and she and Winans blended their voices like angels onstage. Underwood kicked off the performance with “Amazing Grace” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” then Winans joined in, matching her strong vocal performance.

Collaborative moments were a theme during the awards show.

Miranda Lambert, the most decorated artist in the history of the ACM Awards, kicked off the show alongside rock-pop singer Elle King for a fun, energetic performance of their new duet. Lambert and King wore matching outfits — an all-black ensemble with pink fringe hanging from Lambert’s leather jacket and blue from King’s — and sang the anthemic track “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee.

The performance, like many airing Sunday night, was pre-taped at various locations in Nashville, including the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe, in front of small audiences made up of medical and healthcare workers.

Lambert, who founded pet shelter non-profit MuttNation, also performed alongside Chris Stapleton for “Maggie’s Song,” a tribute to Stapleton’s dog who died 2019. Her third performance was with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall.

Dierks Bentley was also memorable onstage, singing U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with The War and Treaty, the extremely talented husband-and-wife duo.

Another couple blazed the stage Sunday: Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd performed, ending with a kiss. Morris later won song of the year for her Grammy-nominated hit “The Bones,” which topped the country music charts for months last year.

“When I wrote (‘The Bones’) I was dating my now-husband and it was just a song to him. And I feel sometimes, like, songs know you better than you know them at the time. And I feel like this song has revealed so many new things to me,” a teary-eyed Morris said onstage. “And this is just been a hell of a year and hopefully country music and maybe even this song brought you and your family and friends some peace.”

But not everything went smoothly. The Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay performed their latest hit, “Glad You Exist,” but the pre-taped moment aired out of sync.

“Apparently there was an audio/video sync issue on the television broadcast,” the duo tweeted. “We’re bummed about it, but it happens, especially when performances are happening in multiple locations.”

Another mishap occurred when Martina McBride announced the winner of single of the year. McBride correctly said “I Hope You’re Happy Now” by Carly Pearce and Lee Brice won, though “I Hope” by Gabby Barrett appear on the TV screen.

“We wrote this song about my story and I guess it resonated with everybody,” Pearce said onstage, also thanking busbee, who produced the song and died in late 2019. “This is the last song that my producer worked on.”

Lambert, who has won 35 ACMs, was nominated for five honours and still has a chance of extending her record. She isn’t competing for the show’s top prize, entertainer of the year, where all the nominees are male artists. Entertainer of the year nominees include Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church and Thomas Rhett, who won the honor last year in a tie with Underwood.

Bryan, who was set to perform at the awards, backed out of the event because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. All of the other entertainers of the year nominees will perform.

Another big name in country music is also missing from the show: Morgan Wallen. The singer, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year.

Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet also won’t participate in the show since he recently tested positive for COVID-19, and his band will perform without him.

Stapleton and Morris are the top nominees with six each. Stapleton’s nominations included album, song and male artist of the year. Morris’ nominations included single and female artist of the year. She also landed a group of the year nod as a member of the Highwomen — the supergroup also featuring Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby — but lost to Old Dominion.

The award was presented by Blanco Brown, who made his first public appearance Sunday after suffering significant injuries in a head-on vehicle collision last year.

Complete list of winners and nominees


Luke Bryan — winner

Luke Combs

Eric Church

Thomas Rhett

Chris Stapleton


Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert

Ashley McBryde

Maren Morris — winner

Carly Pearce


Dierks Bentley

Luke Combs

Eric Church

Thomas Rhett — winner

Chris Stapleton


Brooks & Dunn

Brothers Osborne

Dan + Shay — winner

Florida Georgia Line

Maddie & Tae


Lady A

Little Big Town

Old Dominion — winner

The Cadillac Three

The Highwomen


Ingrid Andress

Tenille Arts

Gabby Barrett — winner

Mickey Guyton

Caylee Hammack


Jimmie Allen — winner

Travis Denning


Cody Johnson

Parker McCollum


“Born Here Live Here Die Here,” Luke Bryan

“Mixtape Vol. 1,” Kane Brown

“Never Will,” Ashley McBryde

“Skeletons,” Brothers Osborne

“Starting Over,” Chris Stapleton — winner


“Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert

The Bones,” Maren Morris

“I Hope,” Gabby Barrett

“I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Carly Pearce and Lee Brice — winner

“More Hearts Than Mine,” Ingrid Andress


“Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert (written by Lambert, Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby)

“The Bones,” Maren Morris (written by Morris, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz) — winner

“One Night Standards,” Ashley McBryde (written by McBryde, Nicolette Hayford and Shane McAnally)

“Some People Do,” Old Dominion (written by Matt Ramsey, Jesse Frasure, Thomas Rhett and Shane McAnally)

“Starting Over,” Chris Stapleton (written by Stapleton and Mike Henderson)


“Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert

“Better Than We Found It,” Maren Morris

“Gone,” Dierks Bentley

“Hallelujah,” Carrie Underwood and John Legend

“Worldwide Beautiful” Kane Brown — winner


“Be a Light,” Thomas Rhett featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin and Keith Urban

“Does to Me,” Luke Combs featuring Eric Church

“I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Carly Pearce and Lee Brice — winner

“Nobody But You,” Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani

“One Beer,” Hardy featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson

“One Too Many,” Keith Urban and Pink

Best moments

  • Maren Morris’s wins
  • Brad Paisley’s surprise for Jimmie Allen
  • Chris Stapleton’s devastating song, accompanied by Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde’s performance
  • Mickey Guyton’s triumphant night
  • Dierks Bentley’s dose of bluegrass with War and Treaty
  • Blake Shelton returned with ‘Austin’
  • A (brief) acknowledgment of the state of the world

Worst moments

  • Dan + Shay’s technical difficulties
  • Kenny Chesney’s performance suddenly became the In Memoriam segment
  • The lack of women in the entertainer-of-the-year category

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