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Kane Brown performs Leave You Alone at the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards on March 7, 2022, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.John Locher/The Associated Press

The TV ratings are infallible. Among other indisputable facts they impart is the decline in popularity of awards shows. There are reasons for this: too many awards shows, too much advertising during broadcasts and the splintering of the audience into factions. The big-tent awards show for everybody doesn’t exist any more.

So why, you might well ask, is CBS airing a three-hour music-awards show on Monday night? (You don’t actually have to ask, I just do this stuff on your behalf.) Because it involves country music, that’s why.

Now, I have no problem with country music. I could, if you like, stop by and recite the words to most of the songs of Hank Williams. But you probably wouldn’t like me to stop by, so let’s move on to the state of country music today.

It ain’t what it used to be, and that’s a very good thing. Time was, country music awards were evenly divided between two camps: the hats and the no-hats. Bitterness abounded. No, seriously, it did. Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Alan Jackson were sneeringly referred to as “hat acts.” On the other side, Travis Tritt famously observed, “I don’t think you should wear a hat unless you can ride a horse.” And he didn’t pronounce it “hoss.” He then furthered his point by declaring he couldn’t even find a hat to fit and cover his voluminous hair.

Ouchy. There were few women involved in this dispute, as you may have gathered. Then things went rather quiet, around the time Shania Twain emerged from her mansion in Switzerland, got up in a skin-tight catsuit and vampire makeup to perform in the video for her immortal toe-tapper, I’m Gonna Getcha Good. Heady days, my friends, truly heady days. CBC TV even aired a prime-time special, called Shania Twain: Catchin’ Up. Heady days, but simpler times, dropping the “g” in everything, except for “gonna” and “getcha.”

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Anyway: The CMT Awards (Monday, CBS, 8 p.m.) promises to be a good night of toe-tapping strangeness and, take note now, an invaluable insight into the cultural ambience of the U.S.A. Although live from Nashville and probably involving a certain amount of corny blather, the show is essentially about giving prizes for music videos made for Country Music Television (CMT). Yep, images and iconography galore.

Country music is now so elastic and open it includes everything; hurtin’ songs, hobo songs, mountain music, urban music, touches of rhythm and blues, hip-hop, dub beats, rap and a very great deal of joy, rage and aching reaches for inclusion. If you want to know how America is faring in its convoluted culture wars, you can find a lot of clues here.

Hosted by singer Kelsea Ballerini and movie star Anthony Mackie, the show is country music’s only entirely fan-voted award show. The most-nominated artist is Kane Brown, a biracial guy from Tennessee who throws everything into the mix of country he performs, from hip-hop references to occasional Spanish lyrics. He’s typical of what’s happening, part of a wave that includes the often extraordinarily flexible music of Blanco Brown. In fact, if you want to see why Joe Biden became the first Democrat in 28 years to win Georgia in a presidential election, look at Blanco Brown’s videos and hear the uncanny blend of country, hip-hop and rap that he cooked up in Atlanta.

Among those performing is Black Pumas, a “psychedelic soul” band from Austin, Texas, who cross over into country by performing with Black country singer Mickey Guyton, whose sound is drenched in R&B. According to a release from CMT, Black Pumas wanted to do this musical collusion because, “With the political climate, our management and CMT got together and decided the collaboration was something the public needed to hear.”

There will be a lot of collaborations on the show. Jason Aldean with Bryan Adams, Jimmie Allen with Monica and Little Big Town, Walker Hayes with Thomas Rhett and Riley Green, for a start. Also, Wynonna and Naomi Judd will reunite and perform for the first time in years.

The CMT Awards probably won’t be a blockbuster event in terms of TV ratings, but CBS is doing the show for a complicated set of reasons about both ratings and cultural relevance, and its core audience as a network. It might be worth your time. Then get back to me and we’ll go honky tonkin’, yep, honky tonkin’, ‘round this town.

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