Music

Raj Kapoor and Patrick Menton on Producing 2024 ACM Awards: ‘This Is Such a Global Genre Now’

Four pop stars — Post Malone, Gwen Stefani, Noah Kahan and Avril Lavigne — are set to perform on the 2024 Academy of Country Music Awards on Thursday May 16, but the show’s producers stress that the performances came about organically.

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“Our goal is always country-first,” Raj Kapoor, who is the show’s executive producer and showrunner, told Billboard. “We’re not actively going out to pursue artists [who are] out-of-genre. I think the most important thing is that it fits in a very natural way. We’re not asking people to come in who don’t have relationships or haven’t wanted to work together or don’t have projects together. We always want to stay authentically country. Those bonds that bring people together need to exist already.”

Post Malone will perform a song from his upcoming country album, possibly “I Had Some Help,” a collab with Morgan Wallen. Stefani and Blake Shelton will perform their single “Purple Irises.” Kahan and Kelsea Ballerini — who, Kapoor notes, were in the studio together — will perform her “Mountain with a View” and his smash “Stick Season.” Lavigne and Nate Smith will perform Smith’s song “Bulletproof.”

This is a heavier slate of pop performers than on last year’s ACM Awards, where there was just one: Ed Sheeran, who joined Luke Combs to perform Sheeran’s song “Life Goes On.”

Menton, who is serving as co-executive producer, notes, “Yes, Post is definitely a kind of pop/hip-hop performer, but in a way, he’s almost genre-less. Post spent a lot of time in Nashville on this record and kind of dove back into his roots. He’s a country traditionalist at heart. He’s from Texas, so he grew up on this. Having heard some of the album, this is a real country album. This is an artist who’s really honoring the genre.

Menton adds: “This is such a global genre now. Country artists are selling out stadiums in the U.K. and Europe and all over the world. So, I think there is that conversation of they want it to be a bit boundary-less. They want those guardrails to open up a little bit. Yes, for us to be focused on country and celebrate the genre, but we really do welcome these other genres coming in because [country] really has exploded into this global genre and we want to celebrate that.”

The 59th ACM Awards, to be hosted by Reba McEntire, will stream globally on Prime Video on Thursday May 16 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT from Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Also performing on the show are Jason AldeanKane Brown, Jelly Roll, Cody Johnson, Miranda LambertParker McCollum, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and Lainey Wilson, as well as McEntire and, most likely, one or two more artists not yet named. “There may be some surprises,” Menton teases.

Kapoor was one of three executive producers of the Grammy Awards on Feb. 4, along with Ben Winston and Jesse Collins. He also served as executive producer and showrunner of the Oscars on March 10. Menton was a co-executive producer of the Grammys.

“I think my job is to make each show unique,” Kapoor says, “because they have such different DNA. That’s really what I strive for. They’re brands almost. They’re all actually [put on by] academies. It’s so different from just a pop show. There’s so many eyeballs on what we do. I guess I didn’t realize the complexities of that before I took on these positions. I’m much more aware of what goes on behind-the-scenes because it’s not just about our show. It’s really about these year-round programs that they all do and how many people are so invested.”

Kapoor and Menton have worked together on six Grammy telecasts – four in their current positions. They share a philosophy of producing a show, one that may sound a bit soft, but which is obviously working. Last year’s ACM Awards was the third-highest-rated awards show of 2023, behind just the Oscars and the Grammys (which they also worked on).

“We both lead with kindness,” Menton says. “That’s our rule of thumb, across-the-board. It’s creating space for these artists to come to us and feel safe. It’s not a case of we tell them what we want on the show. That’s not at all the way we work. It’s ‘What do you want to do on the show?’, ‘What’s going to create a moment?’ We’re all about the artist first and making sure they have a space to really create and collaborate in a safe space.”

Some awards show producers are known for taking a much firmer hand; for dictating what they want the artist to perform and who they want them to perform it with.

“We always believe it’s a conversation,” Kapoor says. “Obviously, we’re there to help guide sometimes. ‘Why don’t we try this?’ ‘What would you think about this?’ Sometimes we will push if we have a really strong belief about something, but it’s always a conversation, always a collaboration.

“Sometimes these moments really help define people’s careers,” he continues. “They can go viral. They are things that people will talk about for years to come. Last year [on the ACMs], everyone talked about Luke and Ed. Earlier this year [on the Grammys], I think everyone was talking about Luke and Tracy [Chapman, who teamed on “Fast Car].”

Kapoor believes the ACMs’ move to Amazon in 2022 helped give it a unique personality that sets it apart from the three other televised country award shows, the CMA Awards, the CMT Music Awards and the People’s Choice Country Awards.

“Our show is very fast-paced – two hours with very little commercials. So, you have back-to-back music performances. You still have a lot of awards, but our show moves very quickly. One thing I’ve really taken away since we’ve been on Amazon is how punchy and exciting it feels. We’re literally moving all the time. One performance leads into another. Sometimes, we’ve done three performances back-to-back.”

Menton says the partnership with Amazon has affected the show in another way. “It has allowed us to open those guardrails up and take chances. We’ve leaned into new artist development a lot more, we lean into diversity. We lean into something that’s completely out of the box; [that] other shows may feel a bit uncomfortable trying to do. Amazon gives us that ability to move and shake a bit differently. But I also think the industry comes to us with those out-of-the-box ideas. I think it’s because we’re open to it, Amazon is open to it and the Academy has always been that place where we’re the party of the year. We’re a little bit more fun. We try to let everyone just let their hair down.”

The ACM Awards are different in that respect from the Grammys and the Oscars, which are the official “shows of record” for the music and film industries. The CMA Awards probably better fit that description for country music, which led to the ACM Awards instead billing itself as country music’s party of the year.

As for new artist development, the show will feature performances by this year’s winners of the three new artist awards, male artist, female artist and duo/group. The latter category is being awarded for the first time in five years.

Bobby Bones will be featured throughout the show with the artist interview segment “Backstage with Bobby Bones,” which was introduced on last year’s show. This takes advantage of Bones’ close relationships with many country stars, but Kapoor reveals that the segments also serve a practical function on the show.

“Because we are live/live with all these performances, Bobby is also a great backup plan when we need him to be. You would never know it, like if we need an extra 30 seconds [to set the stage for the next performer], Bobby is there to help us if we need it, which we are very grateful for.”

Menton says they approached last year’s hosts, Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks, about returning to host the show again this year, but the superstar duo declined. “They were ready to take a step down,” he says. “They had such a rocking year last year, they probably felt like it [would be] hard to top.”

Fortunately for the show, another country legend, McEntire, was willing to return to the show for a 17th time as host or co-host. McEntire is closing in on the all-time record for most times hosting or co-hosting a major awards show. That record has long been held by Bob Hope, who hosted or co-hosted the Academy Awards 19 times between 1940-78.

“Reba is one of the most kind and hard-working artists out there, and to have her hosting our show, having an icon like that — we’re so lucky,” Menton says.

Barry Adelman, a mainstay at Dick Clark Productions, is serving as executive producer of this year’s show for DCP. Adelman has worked on the ACMs for more than 30 years.

Anyone can watch the ACM Awards, whether they have a Prime subscription or not. Did ACM CEO Damon Whiteside push for that? “Oh, I think we all did,” Menton says. “We want everyone to see this. It’s a country music show. We don’t want to have that paywall in front of us. The fact that everyone can watch it, whether you have Prime or not, we’re so grateful.”

Kapoor says they are already thinking ahead to next year’s show, which will be the 60th ACM Awards. “Everybody is already strategizing leading to that event. We’ll be returning to Amazon. I hope on this show we set the foundation for what’s going to be an amazing 60th show.”

DCP is owned by Penske Media Eldridge, a Penske Media Corporation (PMC) subsidiary and joint venture between PMC and Eldridge. PMC is the parent company of Billboard.

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