Country music has had a truancy problem lately, and it led to the format's near non-existence at the 2018 Grammy Awards on Sunday. Blame the show's producers if you like, but Reba McEntire's response should have been every country singer's response.

It's hard to tell exactly who was willing to represent a genre that was shut out from the Big 4 Grammy category nominations. Nominee Kenny Chesney was absent. Miranda Lambert was, too. Sam Hunt was there (we think), but he kept an extraordinarily low profile. It's hard to knock any other A-list star who didn't attend — none of them were nominated — but the genre at large can't get a free pass. It was a great moment to seize opportunity to represent a genre that was marginalized at every opportunity otherwise. We looked like we were sulking.

Country's shining moments were mostly tools for a greater cause. Chris Stapleton's performance was a tribute. Eric Church's performance was a tribute. Maren Morris' best time in the spotlight was a television commercial. Zac Brown presented at the pre-show premiere ceremony, but by then the show was running so far behind he was just schlepping hardware. Amidst explosive, genre-bending, often political firebrands like Kendrick Lamar, Kesha and Logic, country music was not overlooked, but buried. Our greatest accomplishment was not rocking the boat.

Our job in the entertainment business is to heal hearts. That's what God put me on this earth for, I know it is. To help other people.

McEntire saw an opportunity. The 62-year-old best exemplified what's possible during her Grammy premiere ceremony acceptance speech. No other genre is more capable of putting a positive spin on heavy social or political issues, and that's exactly what she did when she talked about how entertainers must "heal hearts." Wearing a white rose to support #TimesUp, she deftly made a statement of love on a night so many other artists were speaking of hate.

"My message is, I want to treat you like I want to be treated," McEntire told the Boot and other media backstage following her acceptance of the 2018 Grammys trophy for Best Roots Gospel Album. "It's the golden rule. If we did that more often, more of these problems would be non-existent. Let's just treat people kindly."


From there she walked the red carpet, talking with media about her music, her new KFC commercial and her new boyfriend. McEntire was country music's big winner at the 2018 Grammys, but she earned it! Her acceptance speech was prepared, she was there on time to deliver it (Little Big Town weren't, and Stapleton was out of breath from running to the ceremony), and she was strategic. You have to admire this professionalism after four decades in the music business. Actions mean more than words.

"I love my job. I'm so grateful to get to do it," she said — and absolutely everyone believed her.

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As for the rest ...Artists who achieve headliner status usually do so on the backs of the stars that came before them. The most obvious example of this at work is younger acts opening shows for superstars, but just as important is A-list talent bringing the public (and media) to events so there's the chance they'll discover a rising star. When those A-listers don't show, interest wanes.

Carrie Underwood took 2017 off. Lambert has done minimal media for close to two years. Hunt is but a memory at this point — he's like Marty McFly's older brother and sister in that photo from Back to the Future. Slowly, slowly, slowly he's fading away, but we all know that with a little bit of forward-facing effort he'd be as vivid as a technicolor dream again. Stapleton leads a new generation of country music superstars, but while he's a supreme talent onstage, he's hardly a journalist's best friend. His (ahem) short remarks after each of his three Grammy wins proved that point.

The truth is that compared to other genres, country music relies on extraordinarily few artists to be successful. At any given time there are maybe a dozen true stars capable of transcending media and genres. Each has different attributes, and it's not fair to ask everyone to be as charming as Luke Bryan or thoughtful as Keith Urban.

It is fair, however, to ask the artists that best represent the format to continue to shoulder the load. Absent of extraordinary personal responsibilities, it's selfish for a nominee to no-show or avoid the red carpet. We all suffer when that happens, and we did at the 2018 Grammy Awards.

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