Radio and television personality Bobby Bones — host of the Premiere/iHeartMedia nationally syndicated radio program The Bobby Bones Show – took to social media on Sunday to allege that voting for the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards are “manipulated” by labels and that behind-the-scenes dealings at country labels affect which songs reach No. 1 and for how long, claiming that half of chart-topping country hits are illegitimate No. 1 hits. His comments have drawn considerable feedback in the country community and refutation from the awards shows.
In one TikTok post concerning country radio chart-toppers, Bones takes country record labels to task, saying, “Here’s the truth about No. 1 songs: It’s politics. They trade them out like baseball cards. A record label will talk to another record label and go, ‘OK, I’ll give you this No. 1 on this date; you give me that No. 1 on that date.’ Which really, it just should be the song that’s the most wanted, the most listened to, the song that people demand … and so when you hear someone talk about a No. 1 song, I would say half of them aren’t legitimate No. 1 songs. They have to be good to get to the top 10. There’s a lot of research done into these songs. But when it gets to being a No. 1 song, it’s people going, ‘OK, I’ll give you this; you give me that.’ And it’s everybody trying to create as many No. 1s as possible, because everything’s the same. Everybody gets a participation trophy at No. 1.”
Though Bones did not say which specific songs he felt were undeserved chart-toppers, he did mention Luke Combs and Maren Morris as artists whose songs he felt should have had longer stints at No. 1.
“For example, a Luke Combs song could be No. 1 for 10 weeks, but because of politics, the label will go, ‘Ah, let’s let somebody else get in that spot,’ and they’ll move Luke Combs to No. 2 and he’ll sit there for a few weeks. The same thing with like a Maren Morris.”
Billboard reached out to several label representatives regarding Bones’ statements, though no labels would comment on Bones’ statements as of press time.
On Tuesday (Aug. 31), Bones returned to TikTok to say he was “surprised at all the controversy” his comments were causing and to highlight a story from today’s Country Insider that featured some anonymous radio sources agreeing with Bones’ assessment, while others disagreed or said the issue was far more complicated.
In a separate TikTok post, Bones also alleged that bigger labels have an advantage when it comes to voting for winners for the CMA Awards and ACM Awards because of bloc voting and the ability to “manipulate” votes.
“Let’s say you work for Record Label A, which has 3,000 people that works there and they have an artist up for entertainer of the year, and Record Label B has 250 people that work there and they have an artist up for entertainer of the year,” Bones alleges. “Well, what Record Label A does is they organize everyone to bloc vote, so those thousands of votes go to their artists, and then Record Label B, that doesn’t have near the number of workers or voters, are kind of screwed unless somehow they get votes from everybody else. But bloc voting is done in the awards shows, but not illegal actually.”
He then goes on to praise the CMA and ACM organizations for trying to keep it “as legit as possible.”
Despite Bones’ assertions, both the CMA and ACM tell Billboard they have rigorous restrictions in place that prohibit bloc voting. The CMA caps all companies in terms of the number of voting members they can have so larger companies cannot manipulate the vote. The organization also works with its accounting firm, Deloitte, to review voting patterns to determine if bloc voting has occurred, even within the limited voting members. If it has, those votes are eliminated. Furthermore, the majority of CMA members are individuals without company affiliations.
The ACM caps corporate accounts at 100 total members, regardless of the number of employees and inclusive of all imprints. Similarly to the CMA, a third party auditor monitors the voting process and any unusual voting patterns are flagged and investigated.
When contacted by Billboard, a representative for Bones said he had no other comments to add to his previous TikTok statements. An iHeartRadio representative did not reply to a request for comment.
–Assistance on this story provided by Melinda Newman