47th Annual CMA Awards – Live Blog & Discussion Post!

It’s your 47th Annual CMA Awards live blog & red carpet & show discussion post!

Tonight’s show will feature performances by everyone from Carrie Underwood (a medley of her 4 most recent #1 hts), Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert (their smash duet “We Were Us”), Zac Brown Band with Dave Grohl, The Band Perry, and Little Big Town to Luke Bryan (twice), Florida-Georgia Line, and Blake Shelton. Also look for Taylor Swift to reimagine “Red” with the help of the legendary Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Eric Darken, and Edgar Meyer and Hunter Hayes performing with Jason Mraz. Two tributes should prove to be highlights: Alan Jackson and George Strait will sing in memory of George Jones, and Jennifer Nettles, Darius Rucker, and Rascal Flatts will celebrate Kenny Rogers (who will sing “Islands In The Stream” with Jennifer). Presenters include Kelly Clarkson and Kellie Pickler., plus Connie Britton and Charles Esten of Nashville (which will also be represented by performers Lennon & Maisy).

Your co-hosts (of the show, not the live blog, unfortunately) are country superstars Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. For the 1st time since 1999, Brad isn’t nominated for an award, so this won’t be awkward at all. It’s not like he tried to push country’s boundaries with a critically-acclaimed if challenging/flawed album encouraging people to go outside of formula…oh wait, he did. But maybe that was the “problem” since the formulaic bro country that has had a great year at radio and in sales is represented by some of the night’s big nominees: Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, and Florida-Georgia Line.

It’s setting up to be a night where CMA voters have the chance to make a statement about country music’s raging identity crisis (for a fantastic summary of recent events, see this great Entertainment Weekly writeup. In case you haven’t heard, 2013 has been a year of conflict in country, perhaps most prominently when Zac Brown spoke out against all the “tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke” songs that are “the exact same words, just arranged different ways,” written by the same people, and called tonight’s opener, Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” “the worst song I’ve ever heard.”

So, will Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, or fellow bro Jason Aldean take home Entertainer Of The Year, will the CMAs reward Taylor Swift for going full-on pop, or will the night’s top award go to the legendary traditionalist George Strait, who is winding down his touring days? Will the New Artist award go to the top-selling but critically-reviled Florida-Georgia Line, or the night’s top nominee, Kacey Musgraves, whose fresh, challenging songwriting has the mainstream media and critics all abuzz and represents the chance to support a female breakthrough in a time when they are few and far between in country (see: this EW story and this Vulture article)? Will Album Of The Year go to Kacey for her critical acclaim, Little Big Town or Carrie for their mix of sales, airplay, and good reviews, Taylor for becoming one of the if not the biggest pop star in the world, or Blake for not-very-well reviewed bro country?

We already have 2 categories whose winners were announced this morning: Video Of The Year (where Carrie was nominated for “Blown Away”) and Musical Event Of The Year (where Kelly Clarkson was nominated with Vince Gill for “Don’t Rush”). Both categories went to “The Highway Don’t Care” by Tim McGraw/Taylor Swift/Keith Urban. We also know that Taylor Swift will receive the CMA Pinnacle Award for achieving “both national and international prominence through concert performances and record sales at levels unique in Country Music. The artist has also attained the highest degree of recognition within the broad expanse of music worldwide.” This is an award previously given only to Garth Brooks, and a possible sign that the CMA powers that be know their voters are over voting for Taylor for solo awards but don’t want her to face a televised shutout.

The biggest campaigns this season have come from the usual suspects, Blake “Old Farts & Jackasses” Shelton (who is probably feeling the heat from Luke Bryan’s surge at the cash registers) and Taylor Swift. Taylor’s team made sure the Taylor Swift Education Center built from her $4 million donation to the Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum was opened right smack in the middle of the final round of voting, sent CMA voters a tour book, and plastered the weekly country trade newsletters and Music Row magazine site with ads for her. Blake’s team threw a campaign-themed party for industry people after he played the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in September (as noted here and here) full of reminders to vote for Blake at the CMAs, and also got voter attention when his team sent out a vinyl version of his album with a virtual record player (as documented here).

Meanwhile, Idols Carrie and Kelly are, in addition to previously mentioned nominations, both nominated for Female Vocalist Of The Year. Kelly continues to enjoy good will from the country industry but she obviously has no chance here. Carrie is getting plenty of media notices as the person who should win Female Vocalist on the back of her successful, well-acclaimed singles, their radio success in a difficult time for women at country radio, a big well-reviewed arena tour that sold out all its 2013 dates, and general visibility (plus regular Opry appearances). But current politics seem to favor three-time defending Female Vocalist Miranda Lambert (who, in fairness, released 2013’s most successful single by a female in “Mama’s Broken Heart,” and is 1/3 of the Pistol Annies, who also released a critically-acclaimed album this May). But watch out for Kacey Musgraves, who actually co-wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” and can’t be ruled out despite her newness and lack of commercial success compared to Carrie (and, to a lesser extent, Miranda).

So this could prove to be a very predicable night, or a very unpredictable night. That’s the kind of great insight you can expect from me as the night wears on! ;) But please join us anyway, won’t you?

* Disclaimer: The views in this live blog are mine only and do not represent the opinions of management or anybody else. Also, be warned: there WILL be snark, if I can help it.

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Luke Bryan kicks things off with a deeply heartfelt thought-piece on the recession. Just kidding, he’s gyrating to his smash hit “That’s My Kind Of Night.” Not a lot of audience shots, except for Darius Rucker and everybody around him sitting down. Quick cut to FGL on a mini-stage in the crowd, singing “Cruise,” followed by Taylor Swift out her seat hamming it up for her on-camera singalong. LOL. Kelly Clarkson just gave some epic side-eye to the FGL boys making their way to the main stage. That’s why Kelly rules! By the time FGL makes it up to the main stage, they restart “That’s My Kind Of Night,” and close it with lots of bro hugs.

Brad and Carrie come out for their monologue, and immediately start clawing each other. That’s because feuding has been all the rage in pop culture this year! They have a song parody for the occasion, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and immediately call out Luke Bryan and Zac Brown. Brad and Carrie hilariously sing them “Nobody cares! You both make great records and you’re both millionaires!” Luke and Zac laugh and hug it out. Brad and Carrie sing about more feuds (Kanye with Kimmel, Sinead with Miley, the Jonas Brothers with each other) and OMG, “Tom Petty hates us all!” Bahahahaha. That’s a reference to Tom Petty calling today’s country “bad rock with a fiddle.”

Brad & Carrie decide that since feuding is so much fun, they’re going to assign feuds to country people. They enlist Kellie Pickler to hand out assignments, and she gamely runs around. Who is Kelly Clarkson supposed to feud with? Her new mother-in-law Reba! Carrie tells them to enjoy their Thanksgiving together, lolz. Next, Kenny Rogers is meant to feud with Brad, and in a gag that needs no explaining, Darius Rucker is assigned to feud with…wait for it, Julianne Hough. LMAO forever. They really went there.

Now, Brad thinks he “twerked” his back. Carrie tries to explain to him what twerking is. Her definition? “Have you ever been to a Luke Bryan concert?” LOL. Carrie suggests Brad try out Obamacare. Oh, they’re going there. She says she started signing up last week and is almost done now. They head over to her laptop to work on signing him up, but the site is spinning and smoking. They amusingly repurpose George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” for “Obamacare By Morning”: “Over 6 people served.” Taylor Swift isn’t sure whether she should laugh or not, but the rest of the crowd is cracking up, especially George Strait.

Next, Carrie congratulates Florida-Georgia Line and Luke on their smash hits. Then Brad thanks Taylor Swift for not humping teddy bears or gyrating with Beetlejuice. Taylor takes a bow. Carrie says “I gotta say, if someone in music today was gonna get caught naked and licking a hammer, I think we all thought it’d be Blake Shelton.” LMAO.

Suddenly, Brad is on his phone texting, and Carrie tries to remind him he’s got a job to do. Brad asks Carrie if she’s heard about how Keith Urban keeps things hot with his wife. Sexting! Brad says he’s doing it right now, which Carrie finds disturbing. Cut to his wife, Kimberly Williams Paisley, who pulls out her cell phone and doesn’t have any messages from Brad. Why? That’s because he’s sexting Keith Urban! Heh.

Brad and Carrie move on to the 2 major pop culture phenomena of today: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” featuring Miley Cyrus twerking and Duck Dynasty. What do they have to do with each other? Nothing, until now! Brad and Carrie have a new version of “Blurred Lines,” hilariously called “Duck Blind.” The Duck Dynasty cast joins them, and one of the guys twerks right into Carrie. So that’s who these people are. Oh, these lyrics, they somehow combine trucks, girls, and “nasty,” into something completely daffy (“country girl, I know you hunt it”) and Carrie’s melismatic riff just when Brad is asking what rhymes with “truck” is really funny. All things considered, this is going to rank up there as one of their best if the best monologue they’ve done, and proof of how Brad & Carrie are far and away country’s best hosts. The monologue was a little wild but almost always hilarious.

The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty present Single Of The Year to Florida-Georgia Line for “Cruise.” Not a surprise.

Jason Aldean performs “Night Train,” the title track and quite possibly the best song on his current album. Competent performance but not one to get people out of their seats.

From the crowd, Brad and Carrie (Carrie is now dressing in a flowery plunging pink dress) introduce one of “music’s most critically acclaimed artists,” Kacey Musgraves. Dressed in yellow peplum, Kacey performs her buzzy new single “Follow Your Arrow.” And ABC is bleeping out “roll up a joint or don’t.” For freak’s sake.

After a commercial break, Carrie introduces her pals Lady Antebellum to perform “Compass.” A likable performance from a likable group. They’ve always had great stage presence and this song is a great showcase for that.

Jake Owen and Pretty Little Liars/would-be country star Lucy Hale present Song Of The Year to Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary for “I Drive Your Truck,” which is sung by Lee Brice. Had a feeling Kacey Musgraves would split votes with two of her songs nominated, but “I Drive Your Truck” is very deserving. Jimmy Yeary says the song was inspired by Jared Monti, who died while stationed in Afghanistan as a member of the US military. His father still drives his truck. Wow. The songwriters get played off, and Carrie teases upcoming performances, including one from Keith Urban and “[her] girl, Miranda Lambert.”.

Brad Paisley introduces Little Big Town, whom he says will be the first act that night to perform “Sober.” Heh. They start out a cappella, which is a fantastic choice. Ahhhh, just soak in these harmonies.

New Artist nominees Lee Brice, Kip Moore, and Brett Eldredge present the CMA for Vocal Duo Of The Year to Florida-Georgia Line. There really wasn’t another duo with a chance this year, which is why it’s so ironic that the presenters said “it takes a lot to be nominated for Duo Of The Year.” It really didn’t.

Brad is back in a jailbird striped suit that’s too big on him, while Carrie’s wearing a white sleeveless blouse with high-waisted glittery trousers. Brad hands Carrie a giant Predators foam finger (in “fang fingers” formation). Carrie is very happy and gives a big shoutout to her husband’s team. Brad tells her Miley wouldn’t have done it that way. Heh.

Brad and Carrie introduce Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert to sing their smash duet “We Were Us.” Love the catchiness of this one, and for the 1st half of the song, the mix is much better than the studio version of the song, so you can actually hear them sing the chorus! The second half has a few dodgy mic moments and the instruments get too loud, but all things considered, the performance should help sell the song.

Brad encourages people watching to Shazam the CMAs, then introduces Taylor Swift with and all-star band of Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Eric Darken, and Edgar Meyer to perform an acoustic version of “Red.” Taylor leads with guest vocals from Alison Krauss and Vince Gill, whose mics are unfortunately down. Taylor usually handles acoustic performances decently, and her vocals are fine. The arrangement kind of exposes the flimsiness of the lyric, and the “re-e-e-d”s feel out of place. But with the talent on stage and Taylor reining in her stage theatrics, it’s not a performance you can really dislike.

Carrie introduces Florida-Georgia Line, because we’re not done with them yet. They’re performing their most recent #1 hit, “Round Here.” “How we do it ’round here” involves alcohol, Chevys, chicks with torn jeans, etc. Very original.

Hunter Hayes is up with Jason Mraz to perform “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me.” They start their performance in the hallway, where Jason misses his cue. Oops. Hunter’s quite the pro helping him along. They make their way through the crowd in the arena and up on stage. Not the best vocals, but a cute performance.

Hunter and Jason present New Artist to KACEY MUSGRAVES! Yessssss!!!! This is an upset in the sense that critical acclaim and moderate sales beat out big bro country sales.

Eric Church is up to perform his new single “The Outsiders,” a hard rocking tune that gets accented with flames on stage. Here’s the thing: here’s Eric singing all about being an outsider who follows no rules…at a big mainstream country awards show after his single got an hourly spins debut from all Clear Channel stations. The song feels a little tryhard, but the performance sure gets a big reaction from the crowd. This is definitely a song that plays better live than in studio.

Carrie, now sporting a side bun and a new dress, introduces The Band Perry to perform their current single “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” which Kimberly Perry dedicates to someone (her new fiance, perhaps?). The performance is a little bigger vocally than it needs to be.

After plugging Kenny Rogers’s album and really encouraging people to buy his album and others, Sheryl Crow presents the CMA for Album Of The Year to Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story, which is the worst album in the category by a mile. But his team wasn’t taking any chances when they campaigned, because Blake’s grip on Male Vocalist and Entertainer is threatened by Luke Bryan. Blake graciously praises his producer Scott Hendricks, who thanks his family, the Warner label, the musicians on the album, etc.

Brad Paisley steps up to note that Dolly Parton was recently in a car accident but is doing OK. She did have airbags. The ones in the car didn’t deploy, natch. He introduces Tim McGraw who sings his bro-tastic #1 “Southern Girl,” with pre-recorded Autotune bonus hook (his guitarist pulled the short straw and has to lipsync that hook). Catchy tune but the “girls” in these songs are always the same. Cutoff jeans, etc. But since we’re talking about clothes…high waisted flat front pants, Tim? OK.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence but I’m going to go ahead and find it hilarious that Carrie had to explain who votes on the CMA Awards after Blake Shelton’s album win.

Carrie and Brad introduce Blake Shelton to perform his soon-to-be #1 “Mine Would Be You.” This is the 1st single off his album that I don’t dislike and this is a solid performance by a guy who really can sing. Well, he loses the song a little bit at the end when the instruments get loud. People stand up for him, but Taylor noticeably doesn’t.

Lennon & Maisy perform an adorable acoustic version of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” as a precursor to her Pinnacle Award presentation. They bring out Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban, all of whom brought Taylor on their tours as an opening act. We get a promotional/biographical video, featuring clips from “Sparks Fly,” “Love Story,” and country classics like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” with cameos from Vince Gill, Mick Jagger, Julia Roberts, Ellen Degeneres, Keith Urban, and Justin Timberlake. Taylor talks about what she learned from each of the people she’s opened for, which is cool of her, and she graciously thanks her label, her family, her fans, etc. She seems genuinely touched by the package the CMAs put together for her. So here’s the thing: we still have a George Jones and Kenny Rogers tributes coming up, and it wouldn’t be right for them not to be as big as this.

Carrie Underwood is up to perform a quickfire medley of her 4 #1 hits from Blown Away, going from “Good Girl” to “Blown Away” to “Two Black Cadillacs” to “See You Again” to “Blown Away” to “Good Girl.” Whew! Powerhouse vocals there and she never gets overwhelmed by the music. Especially enjoyed the melody change on “See You Again” — closer to the acoustic, less anthemic presentation I would’ve loved to hear in full from Carrie. The end gets a little glory-note-y, but all in all, nice work on a ridiculously challenging medley. There’s some nice creative staging to reflect each of the songs. Carrie’s dressed in black short suit and amazing booties, and her stage presence is strong for this.

Kellie Pickler is up with Sean “Puffy” Combs, who is here why, exactly? He asks if people are surprised to see him there. Well, yes? He’s there to plug his new music channel. They present the CMA for Vocal Group Of The Year to Little Big Town.

Brad Paisley introduces the George Jones tribute by saying the only comfort to having lost the legend this year is that we would’ve lost him sooner if not for his wife Nancy Jones. George Strait and Alan Jackson sing “He Stopped Loving Her Today” against an Opry-esque backdrop. It’s a beautiful tribute. I wanted more. Why doesn’t George Jones get his own video package?

After a quick change into a geometric cutout dress, Carrie excitedly introduces Zac Brown Band with Dave Grohl with a new tune, “Day For The Dead.” The song mixes upbeat mostly acoustic verses with electric guitar/fiddle/mad percussion breaks and a louder chorus. And it feels like a jam, like most uptempo Zac Brown Band songs. Wait, Zac Brown starts beatboxing for a really cool breakdown and we hear somebody else from the band sing!! OK that made the song.

Carrie introduces Brad Paisley who starts a crowd sing-along for later in his performance of catchy uptempo album track “Mona Lisa.” Next single? He runs through the crowd while nailing a long guitar solo, and winds up on the B-stage, startling a guy in a suit (who thinks Brad was going to kick him). Fun performance.

Jennifer Nettles sings a clip of “Sweet Music Man” to honor Kenny Rogers, followed by Rascal Flatts for a shaky, occasionally off-pitch clip of “Just Dropped In,” followed by Darius Rucker for a soulful version of “The Gambler.” That’s a crowd pleaser! Next up, another crowd pleaser, Kenny and Jennifer on “Islands In The Stream.” Just a nice feel-good moment. At least Taylor’s singing along to this too. So is Jason Aldean.

Connie Britton and Charles Esten from Nashville are up, and Connie Britton awkwardly and hilariously riffs on the idea that she knows what the nominees for Female Vocalist Of The Year feel like because she’s been there. The CMA Award for Female Vocalist goes to Miranda Lambert, who ties Reba McEntire and Martina McBride for the most wins ever in this category. She’s kind of overrewarded at this point (should’ve been Carrie this year but see my preview above) but Miranda’s a gracious winner and she gives a nice shoutout to each of her fellow nominees. Kacey seems like she made a face there? Hmmm.

Carrie in dress #? introduces Luke Bryan for a personal performance dedicated to his brother and sister who passed away – the song is called “Drink A Beer,” but it’s really a song about losing a loved one. It’s a song cowritten by Jim Beavers and Chris Stapleton. The latter has these amazingly soulful pipes, and provides background vocals for Luke. Good song, good performance, infinitely superior to Luke’s opener. For an incredible song with incredible vocals, check out Chris Stapleton’s “What Are You Listening To,” and try to take whomever wins Male Vocalist Of The Year seriously after that:

Kelly Clarkson is up to present the CMA for Male Vocalist Of The Year, and she is made more for spontaneous Miguel shoutouts than teleprompter reading. The award goes to Blake Shelton. Whatever. He didn’t think this was going to happen? His team sure made sure that it did, and I’m pretty sure Blake was at his post-Bridgestone Arena campaign party. Nice speech otherwise though, with a fun shoutout to his publicist for cleaning up after him. No shoutout to the other nominees, but that would force him to say something nice about Eric Church, so…

Robin Roberts is up to present the CMA for Entertainer Of The Year, and it goes to…KING GEORGE STRAIT! You kind of had to see it coming after his surprise nomination, people couldn’t not vote for him. King George thanks his label, his family, etc.

With the CMAs running over, Brad and Carrie hurriedly introduce Darius Rucker to close to show with “Wagon Wheel” as the credits roll. Fun times.

Overall, my quick take is this was a much better show performance-wise than the last couple CMAs. The awards were pretty much afterthoughts, as they often are. But Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, both bigger than Blake Shelton (and Jason’s music generally gets better reviews), got shut out this year. As for Blake and Miranda’s continued winning streak in the Vocalist categories, Brian Mansfield of USA Today said it best:

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.