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Wallen’s addition to the lineup comes a year after he was banned from the Billboard Music Awards amid backlash to a February 2021 video in which he could be heard yelling the N-word and other expletives.
Last year, when Wallen was included among the BBMA finalists, producers emphasized that finalists are based on chart data and not chosen by a membership organization or voting committee.
“As his recent conduct does not align with our core values, we will not be including him on the show in any capacity (performing, presenting, accepting),” BBMA producers said in 2021. “It is heartening and encouraging to hear that Morgan is taking steps in his anti-racist journey and starting to do some meaningful work. We plan to evaluate his progress and will consider his participation in future shows.”
BBMA producer MRC Live & Alternative said that the decision to book Wallen to perform on the 2022 show came after extensive internal discussions. “We oppose discrimination, harassment, or racism of any kind,” MRC said in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect. After a thorough review and robust discussions internally and with the artist’s team, in which we found a demonstrated and ongoing commitment to meaningful work and outreach, we extended an invitation to participate in this year’s show.”
Billboard reported, after viewing an internal memo, that the decision to invite Wallen to perform came after discussions between MRC and Wallen’s team, with a diverse group of MRC staffers highlighting Wallen’s commitment to self-improvement and better understanding of the issue and additional work.
After video surfaced of Wallen using the slur, he was suspended from his record label and dropped by agency WME, with iHeartMedia, SiriusXM and Pandora dropping his music from their platforms. The Academy of Country Music Awards also said it would “halt” Wallen’s “potential involvement and eligibility” for the 2021 awards cycle. However, Wallen won album of the year at the 2022 ACM Awards in March.
Wallen apologized for using the slur, saying he was on “hour 72 of a bender.”
“My words matter. My words can truly hurt a person and at my core, that’s not what I’m OK with,” he said a few days after the incident. “I wish the circumstances were different for me to learn these things, but I’m also glad it started the process for me to do so. … Our actions matter. Our words matter. And I want to encourage anyone that is watching to please learn from my mistake. There’s no reason to downplay what I did.”
He later said that after the incident, he checked himself into rehab and was “not sure” why he thought he could use the N-word and was “just ignorant about it.” He also had conversations with music industry executives about racism in the industry and vowed to donate $500,000 to charitable organizations.
The 2022 Billboard Music Awards, hosted by Sean “Diddy” Combs, is set to air live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, May 15 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock. Other performers set for the BBMAs include Megan Thee Stallion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + the Machine, Maxwell, Silk Sonic and Icon Award recipient, Mary J. Blige.
The Billboard Music Awards ceremony is produced by MRC Live & Alternative, a division of MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard through a joint venture with Penske Media titled P-MRC.
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