Maybe Miranda Lambert had the best year in 2021, and that's why she won the ACM Award for Entertainer of the Year. Maybe she didn't. Either way, she still earned this honor.

It's a debate over the extent to which this trophy should be a legacy award. You see, there's a funny hypocrisy among fan groups when their artist doesn't win. If it suits the group, they'll point to the year that fans are supposed to be voting on.

If it suits the group, they'll point to that artist's legacy or relative importance. It all matters, and none of it matters at the same time. For the sake of the argument, here is what each Entertainer of the Year nominee accomplished in 2021, on paper (these are anonymous, but there are enough context clues to figure out who is who). Other awards show honors are not included; these are just cold, hard bonafides:

Artist 1: One No. 1 radio single; The No. 9 best-selling song of 2021 (collaboration); One album released (out of genre); No. 5 best-selling album of 2021.

Artist 2: Three new albums released in the span of seven days in 2021; Headlining tour; One No. 1 radio single.

Artist 3: Headlining tour; Two No. 1 radio singles; No. 3 best-selling song of 2021; No. 2 best-selling album of 2021.

Artist 4: One album released (side project); One Top 10 radio single; No. 5 best-selling song of 2021 (collaboration).

Artist 5: Two No. 1 radio singles; Headlining Tour; No. 10 best-selling song of 2021; No. 7 best-selling song of 2021; No. 4 best-selling album of 2021.

From that group, who is your Entertainer of the Year?

OK, let's do the same thing with the legacy argument in mind.

Artist 1: Emerged in 2005; Eight studio albums, including two out-of-genre; Six Platinum or multi-Platinum albums; More than 20 No. 1 radio singles; Tours every two to three years; Three-time Entertainer of the Year.

Artist 2: Emerged in 2006; Seven studio albums; Five Platinum or multi-Platinum albums; Approx. 10 No. 1 radio singles; Sells out stadium tours without opening acts; One Entertainer of the Year.

Artist 3: Emerged in 2017; Two multi-Platinum studio albums; 12 straight No. 1 radio singles to start career; Perennial tour sells out most venues; One Entertainer of the Year.

Artist 4: Emerged in 2004; Eight studio albums; Six Platinum or multi-Platinum albums; Approx. 10 No. 1 radio singles; Tours regularly; All-time leader in ACM Award wins.

Artist 5: Emerged in 2015; Four studio albums; Two Platinum or multi-Platinum albums; Two No. 1 radio singles; Perennial Touring force; Zero Entertainer of the Year wins.

Is there an obvious choice? How about when you put the two together?

The fact is, voters of all elections (political, sport and musical included) decide who they want to vote for and use a set of analytics to convince themselves that they're right. In the case of country music awards shows, the panel is historically late on getting it right. Go back to the 2010 CMA Awards for an example — Brad Paisley's streak of No. 1 hits had lasted from 2005 to 2009, and his tour was an extremely hot ticket for years prior to his win. That year he was on the back end of that success, and it almost seemed like he'd never get this trophy, but then, he did — finally.

It was the same for Keith Urban at the 2018 CMA Awards, and was certainly the case for Eric Church two years later, although it's hard to pin down where Church is relative to his commercial peak. These artists were deserving. No one remembers the race, just the results. Looking back, there's never been a dubious Entertainer of the Year, and Lambert is no different.

She deserved this because she deserves to have two or three of these trophies by now. Eight years ago, she was overlooked in this category to the point that — as she said in accepting the award on Monday (March 7) — she figured her time had passed. There was no unassailable favorite for the 2022 ACM Entertainer of the Year race, so little things like legacy mattered more. Little things like what you've done for the future of the genre mattered more. Little things like your commitment to the media mattered more.

"This one goes out to all the girls out there ... we did it!" Lambert said to close her speech.

All five of these artists are influencing the next generation by virtue of being famous, but Lambert is doing the most to actively play a part in the lives and careers of the women who are coming for her crown. Lainey Wilson said as much in winning her New Female Artist trophy last week. The Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour is a regular reminder of who's next, and the Texan isn't stingy with her endorsements. Those artists vote. Their teams vote. Their labels — if they have one, or if that label has no artist to vote for — vote.

Miranda Lambert won the ACM Entertainer of the Year award because she played it slow and steady and bet on herself. From there, she did the work — of this group, only Luke Combs is as active with the media as she is — and was never seduced by the next trend or the lure of awards. Not once did she complain or even look bitter about not winning, and that's certainly not something you can say about the other nominees.

There's no big reason Lambert won in 2022, but during a year when nothing was obvious and it just felt good to vote for people who busted their butt to get here (see Wilson and Carly Pearce), the little things added up to give her an edge. Time and place aren't as important as if one of country music's most decorated and influential artists of the last 20 years got hers or not.

On Monday night, she did.

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