Morgan Wallen sings “Jesus” at the Billboard Awards and takes home a top trophy

The Billboard Music Awards telecast positioned itself as the official awards show of forgiveness for so-called “cancelled” stars this year, with both Morgan Wallen and Travis Scott offered seats. In Wallen’s case, that extended to a big on-air award as Wallen was called to the BBMAs’ podium on Sunday night to accept a trophy for Best Country Artist.

It wasn’t Wallen’s first win at an awards show since his career hiatus in early 2021; He won Album of the Year at the fan-voted Academy of Country Music Awards in March. But the ACMs had followed recent example from other awards shows by denying Wallen a seat. So the Billboard Music Awards were the first since the scandal that Wallen performed and accepted an award.

Wallen performed around the circle and sat with his band members singing a medley that began with his new single “Don’t Think Jesus,” his first new music since the N-word scandal. Though Wallen didn’t co-write the song, it’s understood as some sort of reaction to the heat he’s endured since he was caught on camera saying the N-word to friends last year. The song’s chorus is a kind of sacred phrase from Waylon Jennings’ famous song, which goes, “I don’t think Hank did it like that.” In the new tune, Wallen sings, “If I were him, I’d say, ‘Zur Hell with you, I can’t help you’ / Find someone else to give heaven to, I tell you / I would be ashamed, I would blame myself / I would make myself pay for my mistakes / But I don’t believe that Jesus does it that way.”

The performance of “Don’t Think Jesus” led into the slightly more secular (and more recognizable to mainstream audiences) “Wasted on You,” which ran a total of six and a half minutes.

But if the new “Jesus” single was read as Wallen’s statement of his comprehensive forgiveness, his acceptance speech for best country artist — a data-driven award — didn’t allude to any past or present concerns.

“I have the best damn fans,” he explained, thanking “my mom for being my date tonight — I wouldn’t be here without you” and “my little boy who has inspired me every day.”

Declaring Wallen redeemed was a very conscious decision on the part of the show, according to Diddy, the host and executive producer of the BBMAs 2022. “One of the things that I do directly is cancel the canceled shows,” Diddy said in an interview with Billboard. “This is breaking news because people weren’t asking for the termination to be overturned. But canceling is a trend that needs to be stopped.”

Diddy said Wallen’s racial slur needed context because he used it in a friendly situation. “Travis went through a tragedy; morgan [used the N-word] while he’s talking to his boy,” Diddy said. “People make mistakes. Now we move on with love and respect for everyone who was hurt or affected. It’s time to forgive.”

In another interview, Diddy said: “I looked at Morgan’s situation. I looked at Travis’ situation and said, ‘Man, I have some power to do something about it because we can’t do that in the music industry or even in the life stage, so I’m here to forgive, to unite ‘to party and have everyone free.’ That’s my job.”

There has been considerable division in the country music industry and fandom over whether Wallen paid enough for his sins — or even needed to be blacklisted — or whether his comeback is still premature after his only interview on the subject.” Good Morning America,” he said, saying he hadn’t really given much thought to racism being an issue in country music.

Predictably, the immediate reactions on social media ranged from “He’s a big, godly man who’s learning from his mistakes” to “I can’t believe you guys are giving him a platform.”

Wallen, who has often spoken of his affection for hip-hop, received his award from rapper Pusha T.

Wallen’s spot on the BBMAs seems to bode well that he’ll earn a similar spot at the next major country awards show, the CMA Awards in November, given that show’s executive producer Robert Deaton co-produced the Billboard Awards with Diddi. Morgan Wallen sings “Jesus” at the Billboard Awards and takes home a top trophy

Charles Jones

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