2016 CMT Music Awards: Live Blog & Discussion Post!

It’s the 2016 CMT Music Awards, co-hosted by veteran country personalities Erin Andrews and J.J. Watt and featuring performances by country legends Pitbull, Fifth Harmony and Pharrell Williams with a list of nominees that includes rising country stars Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis (the latter is also among tonight’s performers)!

You think I’m kidding. All the names above are 100% accurate, but I may have misrepresented their country bonafides just a teeny tiny little bit. But these days of LOLnothingmatter-isms, who knows?

To be fair, tonight’s country-targeted version of the MTV VMAs will also feature performances by Carrie Underwood (who has teased a “different” version of her current hit “Church Bells”), Blake Shelton with the Oak Ridge Boys (performing “Doin’ It To Country Songs” from his recently released album) and Keith Urban with tourmates Brett Eldredge and Maren Morris (on his current hit “Wasted Time”). Also of blog interest, Cassadee Pope and Leona Lewis will sing the Enrique Iglesias part of the Pitbull song “Messin’ Around,” and Fifth Harmony and actual rising country star Cam will perform a mashup of their #1 pop hit “Work From Home” and her current single “Mayday.”

Also performing? Chris Stapleton, Florida-Georgia Line (who will presumably be hoping desperately not to have to follow or succeed Stapleton when they sing their current hit “H.O.L.Y.”), Luke Bryan, Little Big Town with Pharrell Williams (to promote their collaborative non-country album Wanderlust), Dierks Bentley with alternative-pop crossover Elle King (on his new single “Different For Girls”), Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett, and Billy Ray Cyrus with Cheap Trick We’ll also get short performances from rising acts Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne, LOCASH and Michael Ray. The aforementioned Leona Lewis and Kellie Pickler are among the presenters.

Also: multiple media are teasing the possibility of a Nashville renewal announcement during the CMT Music Awards broadcast. Oh! And the results of the fan-voted awards. Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Cam and, thanks to the addition of the random “Social Superstar” category, Blake, are each up for 3 awards. Check out the list of nominations here.

So this should be an interesting show. Please weigh in with your comments, and we’ll be live-blogging and live-snarking away!

The Florida Georgia Line boys are J.J. Watt‘s valets as he arrives to co-host the CMT Awards. Many “bros” ensue. Kellie Pickler is suggestively-clad security, and strip search jokes ensue when J.J. Watt tries to enter the building.

Meanwhile in the office, Luke Bryan and Brett Eldredge are in cubicles pretending to know what they’re doing while Erin Andrews tries to rally everybody to focus on the CMT Awards.

Remotely, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell lobby J.J. Watt to be on the show.

Erin is having laptop problems. Jason Aldean arrives to offer to fix Erin’s laptop…with a drill. Suddenly, her laptop is working just fine.

J.J. Watt goes to see the president of CMT as part of his show prep. We discover that Darius Rucker is president of CMT and he dares J.J. Watt to say otherwise.

To cap off this pre-taped opener, Billy Ray Cyrus offers mullets to our hosts. That’s quite enough.

We open the live portion of the show with Keith Urban joined by his tourmates Brett Eldredge and Maren Morris for a spirited rendition of Keith’s current hit, “Wasted Time.” Keith is super-comfortable as always and Brett sounds game joining in, but this is not a song well-suited to Maren’s voice. At least we’ll hear her later on her soulful hit, “My Church.” The camera catches Chris Stapleton wedged uncomfortably and miserably between Blake Shelton and a neighbor. Yes, Chris, it’s going to be a long night for all of us.

We cut to the outside stage, where Billy Ray Cyrus starts with an Elvis cover (“Don’t Be Cruel”) before he’s joined by Cheap Trick for “Surrender.” I mean, sure, but was there a point to this beyond advertising CMT properties (Cheap Trick did CMT Crossroads with Jennifer Nettles earlier this year and Billy Ray Cyrus has a CMT show called Still The King, where he plays an Elvis impersonator, coming up).

We head back inside where Pitbull is joined by pyro, dancers, and Leona Lewis and Cassadee Pope for “Messin’ Around,” which interpolates a REO Speedwagon hit. Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum (and a current solo project promoter) takes a swig of a drink in what I can only assume is an attempt to hide his reaction. I feel you, Charles, I really do.

Our hosts Erin Andrews and J. J. Watt shout out to all the show’s performers and pretend like everybody’s trying to bribe them to be on the show. Some joke about Erin Andrews and Carrie Underwood doing hot yoga ensues. There’s a buck urine spit take from J.J. Watts and…then a Chewbacca mom cameo (the real thing? We’ll never know. EDIT: It was really her, apparently.) They go through the finalists for Video Of The Year and remind fans to vote (the nominees are Blake’s “Sangria,” Carrie’s “Smoke Break,” Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away,” Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down,” Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind”).

Before we head to commercial, we get a bumper performance from LOCASH of their recent hit, “I Love This Life.”

J. J. Watt complains that every attractive woman in Nashville is married, with spotlights on Cassidy Black (Dierks Bentley’s wife), Lauren Akins (Thomas Rhett‘s wife) and Carrie. J.J. Watt needles her for marrying a hockey player and Carrie’s husband Mike Fisher getting ready to doff his suit coat to rise to the challenge. Carrie laughs, but you know she would not mind seeing that (she has said she finds it hot that Mike can “take care of himself” in fights).

Charles Kelley and Rob Riggle present the CMT buckle for Female Video Of The Year to Carrie Underwood and director Randee St. Nicholas for “Smoke Break.” She thanks the fans (not just hers but those of all the acts there) and CMT, her label team, her whole team, Scott McDaniels for all the videos they’ve done together, Randee St. Nicholas, and tells her “baby” she loves him. From Mike’s smile, she appears to mean him.

IHeart DJs Bobby Bones and Cody Alan are here to tell people that there is something called a CMT Social Superstar Award tonight and to urge people to vote. Then they introduce Michael Ray for a bumper performance of his forgettable #1, “Kiss You In The Morning.” Don’t worry, the remaining bumper performances will be more interesting.

Erin Andrews introduces Luke Bryan, who is up to perform his current single and soon to be #1, the completely cliche-free “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day.” Look, Luke is a simple country boy and I don’t find it hard to believe he actually leads this lifestyle. It’s just…we’ve heard this all before about the rural utopia and there’s no fresh insight about this lifestyle in the modern day in this song. That being said, this is a country song and it’s better than a lot of what Luke has released lately.

Little Big Town is up to present the CMT buckle for Breakthrough Video Of The Year to Chris Stapleton for his tremendously moving video for “Fire Away.” Stapleton thanks UMG Nashville, the actors in the video, the video director, and he thanks the fans for everything they’ve done for him and his family.

Martina McBride introduces the CMT OneCountry video for her new single, “Just Around The Corner,” which is being released in partnership with Band Against Cancer. The video focuses on a young mother facing a possible cancer diagnosis, whose son and husband help give her strength.

J.J Watt and Erin Andrews get into a deeply unfunny mean tweets battle, where Erin disses J.J. and J.J. can only say nice things.

J.J Watt actually says out loud that nobody ever mean tweets Florida Georgia Line. I feel so ignored. Tyler Hubbard’s man-bun means he’s being thoughtful as he sings their current smash “H.O.L.Y.”. This is one of those pop-soul boy band ballads that would’ve been big in the late ’90s, so you could say this is FGL finally embracing who they are. You can hear the electronic pitch correction on the choruses. But I’ll take this over that song where their idea of innuendo was a lyric about sticking a pink umbrella in a girl’s drink. *shudders*

Speaking of boy band aspirations, a faux-hawked Thomas Rhett is up to perform his current #1 hit, the melody-free “T-Shirt.” He drops the pretense that he’s playing that acoustic guitar strapped around his neck to greet the crowd.

Back inside, Cam and Fifth Harmony are up for their collaboration. They start with Cam’s “Mayday,” a frank, resigned and lovely midtempo about a soured relationship that’s run its course and then transition into a lightly groovy rather than beat-driven version of “Work From Home.” It’s a solid vocal all-around (especially from the terrifically-talented Cam) of two songs that make no sense together, but the group hug at the end is sweet.

Chad Michael Murray and Billy Gardell of an upcoming CMT show award the CMT buck for Group Video Of The Year to Little Big Town for “Girl Crush.” This is LBT’s very 1st CMT buckle, which is a little surprising (who beat “Pontoon”?). They thank Karla and Matthew Welch for their work on the video and observe that there’s a dog with 1.5 million Twitter followers, which is more than they have.

Cole Swindell introduces Dierks Bentley and a banjo-strumming Elle King for a performance of Dierks’s new single, “Different For Girls.” The intent of the song is to speak admirably of how much more in touch with their feelings women are post-break-up, whereas guys go out and act the fool to get over heartbreak. But in execution, the lyrics come off as pretty stereotypical, and there are plenty of female songs (and male songs, for that matter) out there that challenge this portrayal of the genders. Still, Dierks and Elle sound very good together, and this is probably the night’s strongest performance thus far.

The Brothers Osborne get no introduction as they launch into their bumper performance of their #1 hit, “Stay A Little Longer.” John Osborne rips into a pretty excellent guitar solo, which runs for most of their slot.

Dierks Bentley returns to the stage to pay tribute to Merle Haggard. It’s a speech in tribute, and the only false note is the claim that we can hear Merle Haggard’s influence in everybody performing tonight. But it’s a classy moment.

Kellie Pickler and Danica Patrick, wherein Kellie pretends she’s drinking and Danica grouses at having to be the “designated driver.” They present the CMT buckle for Male Video Of The Year to Thomas Rhett for “Die A Happy Man.”

Erin Andrews introduces herself as the president of the Carrie Underwood Fan Club, the CareBears. Sure. And Carrie is up to perform “Church Bells.” She starts with just banjo accompaniment, before shaking off a lace black cape and singing to a full arrangement. But wait! The performance is made even more epic with the additional of a gospel choir! This “Church Bells” performance ends with a riff-off between Carrie and the choir, and pyro and, for a punctuation mark, a bell tolling. The crowd is on its feet!

Next up, a preview of the upcoming CMT show, Still The King.

Kelsea Ballerini and Jake Owen present the CMT buckle of Performance Of The Year to Carrie Underwood for “Smoke Break” from CMT Instant Jam. She thanks the fans who have been supporting artists out on that road.

Erin Andrews gets into memes. Then she introduces Dan+Shay and Chris Janson as two acts who have toured with Blake Shelton, because next up is Blake performing with Oak Ridge Boys. They launch into “Doin’ It To Country Songs,” which is a typically punny & suggestive country tune before Blake urges the crowd to listen and learn as they transition into the Oak Ridge Boys’ classic, “Elvira.” The crowd is digging it, as they should.

As we go to commercial, Maren Morris is up with her breakthrough hit, “My Church,” and sure enough, she sounds terrific on it. She’s set to have to the #1 country album this week with her debut album, which came out this past Friday, and her sales projection suggests she’ll translate her airplay into sales better than any new country act since Sam Hunt.

BTW, re: Nashville, TVLine’s Michael Ausiello reports the deal with CMT is not quite done yet:

Leona Lewis and Cam are introduced as an artist set to play Grisabella in Cats and an artist who rocked the CMT stage earlier that evening, respectively. Way to diss Leona’s performance! They present the CMT buckle for Social Media Superstar to Blake Shelton. Given the randomness of the category and the nominees, this category was clearly set up to allow Blake to give a speech. Blake acknowledges the silliness of the award with the charm that’s made him a star. He thanks the people who have helped him make videos, and he thanks the fans.

Erin Andrews fangirls for Tim McGraw and thinks that Tim and his guns could take JJ Watt, and Tim defers to Mike Fisher, who is sitting right next to him. Erin then introduces the “past, present and future of country” in Chris Stapleton, who slays his rocker of a his current single, “Parachute” with his wife Morgane Stapleton by his side.

JJ Watt is now clad in what I can only describe as his Jason Aldean costume (wicker-ish cowboy hat that makes it look like he has no neck and plaid shirt) and there’s some emoji wall silliness. Oh, there’s good reason for the costume, he’s introducing Jason Aldean to perform his current single, “Lights Come On.” Jason is one step ahead, if you can call it that, with the sleeveless plaid shirt. His mic cuts out at the beginning but is back on soon enough. Jason name-checks himself in the song and fireworks ensue.

Vince Vaughn is up to present the CMT for Video Of The Year, which means this show is almost over. The winner is Tim McGraw‘s “Humble & Kind,” a very, very deserving winner that went viral for its inclusive presentation of universal values shared across a variety of cultures. The song, penned by Lori McKenna, is likely to be up for Song Of The Year nominations later this year. Tim accepts congratulations from Luke Bryan, Mike Fisher and Carrie (who says “Good job.”). Tim thanks his director, Oprah, Tyler Perry, people at his label. He observes that when as artists they release music, they hope to move the fans, and he thanks the fans for caring. Classy speech, but it’s a shame we didn’t hear Lori McKenna’s name.

And to close proceedings, Little Big Town and Pharrell Williams (on percussion) take the stage to perform the disco-groovy “One Dance.” Cool, trippy lighting on this one makes it look like they are performing within a 3D structure at one point.

And that’s a wrap! What did you think of the show? Weigh in with your thoughts in comments, and thanks for joining us!

About Deb B 432 Articles
Also known as Windmills, I cover country music news and live televised country events, in addition to recapping ABC's 'Nashville.' Additionally, I occasionally do long-form chart analysis that has been cited by Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, The Guardian, The New Republic, NPR, and more.