Here are some assorted notes on last night’s 48th Annual Country Music Association Awards. Feel free to chime in with your own observations or highlights in the comments.
Carrie and Brad
Underwood and Paisley can usually be counted on to keep it pleasantly toothless, but they were on point with the feigned puzzlement at George Strait’s continued presence (hadn’t the cowboy ridden away?) and, especially, the line “Luke Bryan would be happy to buy you a faster horse.” A reference to griping in Luke Bryan’s camp after last year’s loss to Strait in the Entertainer category.
Phasing Out George
The George Strait and Eric Church performance of “Cowboys Like Us,” a pairing repeated from the Strait farewell concert special, was more discordant and less essential than a solo performance by either man would have been. More than anything, it seemed like a half-baked way to include George without having to cede him an entire performance slot. With George on the way out, Tim McGraw seems primed to become the resident ‘old guy wearing a cowboy hat who still gets screen time and turns in consistent performances.’ McGraw got a full performance slot for “Shotgun Rider.”
Blake and Little Big Town
During the absolute worst performances on any country awards show, you can always count on Blake Shelton and Little Big Town to be visibly enjoying themselves in the audience. Unless they are onstage with Ariana Grande at the time, performing in one of those worst performances.
Having followed her career for the better part of a decade – from the first single to her first album that appeared and disappeared from iTunes, through Ten out of Tenn and the Pistol Annies recognition – it is nice to see Ashley Monroe get some screen time on a major awards show. Unfortunately, the performance of “Lonely Tonight” with Blake Shelton hardly showed her talent off to good effect. What’s the point of scaling the mountain if you’re going to settle for mediocrity at the top? In fact, given the dulling, middle-of-the-road effect Shelton tends to have on Miranda’s music as well, what say all the wicked talented women with guts and things to say just stop collaborating with him?
Blake and Miranda Coast Along
At this point, Blake for Male Vocalist and Miranda for Female Vocalist seems such an entrenched part of the status quo that it would take one of them joining ISIS to shake things up. In their acceptance speeches, Miranda seemed unsurprised but still emotional, while Blake said outright that he thought it would be Luke Bryan’s turn. Also odd: Miranda accepted the Album of the Year trophy from Connie Britton and Martina McBride with an embrace for the former and scarcely a nod to the latter, whose four Female Vocalist wins she’d go on to top later in the night.
The New Rock and Roll?
Although Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (who was, yes, on hand) trotted out that oft-used “country is the new rock and roll” line, the show seemed to make a stronger case for country as the new yacht rock. From the “American Kids” opening to the Little Big Town showpiece to the Doobie Brothers finale and Jason Aldean’s positively somnambulant “Burnin’ It Down,” fewer chances taken meant fewer downright unbearable performances and fewer outstanding ones.
Vince Gill Is a Class Act
Starts crying when the video package shows Merle Haggard singing his praises, then spends much of his Irving Waugh Award of Excellence acceptance speech talking about the man the award was named for rather than waxing poetic about his own journey. Diplomatically compliments current generation of stars on one of the only things he can without seeming disingenuous: their camaraderie.
One, Two, Three
Other than Vince Gill, the show’s most enjoyable stretch was the surprise Song of the Year win for “Follow Your Arrow” (“Do you know what this means for country music?” Musgraves asked rhetorically) followed by The Band Perry’s lovely take on “Gentle On My Mind” and then another throwback performance by Musgraves and surprise guest Loretta Lynn.
From Kacey Musgraves and Loretta Lynn singing “You’re Lookin’ at Country” in front of an old Opry set to Lee Brice and Brantley Gilbert presenting New Artist to someone not named Brandy Clark! Then Brandy Clark reappears between Brett Eldredge (New Artist winner) and Kip Moore to gamely present Vocal Duo… to the Florida Georgia Line guys, who are scarcely fit to lick her shoes! On your way to commercial, swing by and say hello to Kellie Pickler, who despite putting out her two strongest albums in 2012 and 2013 is tucked somewhere backstage talking about JC Penney!
In black tank top and tatted-up arms to convey the depth of his respect for 48 years of CMA Awards history, the skeezier half of Florida Georgia Line wins our award for Most Classless. Correct me if I’m wrong, but am pretty sure I heard him refer to the wives of himself and Messr. Kelley as “our beautiful, amazing girls” and end an acceptance speech for Vocal Duo of the Year with an arrogant “See you next year, baby!” Brian Kelley, by contrast, seemed well-spoken at the podium and at least impressed enough by his surroundings to appear nervous during his few ‘hey, I can sing too’ solo lines on “Dirt.” (Also: Contrary to everything you might have read about it, “Dirt” is still a bad song.)
Garth Still Has Pull
Even though he’s only a presenter, his appearance gets teased repeatedly. In introducing him, Brad Paisley mentions his upcoming album Man Against Machine by name, which seems so out of place that it must have been a precondition of Garth appearing at all. Coming onstage to accept his Entertainer of the Year award, Luke Bryan is starstruck to meet Garth.
What is it about awards shows that brings out the fashionista in even the most grounded and style-challenged commentators among us? Suddenly everyone with a Twitter account or a live blog is Joan Rivers reincarnate. Yes, Steven Tyler looks like your grandma. Yes, Sam Hunt was dressed like a waiter. Yes, something about Little Big Town and Tron. But treating this stuff as the important part of an awards show is buying into mainstream country’s damnable preference for style over substance. So why not abstain? Sometimes the jokes that come quickest are the ones hardly worth making.
That’s all I’ve got. What say you?