Welcome to the 49th annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards, cohosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood! So many questions going into country music’s biggest night of the year, maybe none more pressing than how the show (and the co-hosts in particular) will handle the potential awkwardness of Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton in the same room (and whether Blake will really stir the pot by bringing Gwen Stefani to the show). Blake is on the record as being ready to be a punchline, but Carrie has expressed a reluctance to joke about this summer of country breakups. Other questions: how will a show whose performances will range from the throwback ’60s countrypolitan sound of Kacey Musgraves to the poppier Drake stylings of Sam Hunt make it all make sense; who will win the vocal battle between reverb, live AutoTune and backing tracks; and oh yeah, will this year finally break a string of bloc-driven predictability when it comes to the award winners?
In addition to the much-anticipated co-host monologue, will feature performances from both of our co-hosts and fellow country A-listers like Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley (with Lindsey Stirling) Luke Bryan, Eric Church (with Hank Williams, Jr.), Florida-Georgia Line, Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban (with John Mellancamp) and Zac Brown Band. There will be moments for the next generation when breakthrough acts like Kelsea Ballerini, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves and Maddie & Tae take the stage, while Thomas Rhett collaborates with his idol
Bruno Mars Ed Sheeran Fall Out Boy. There will be a moment for legends when Reba performs with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn. And if you’re looking for a breakout, you will want to be at the ready when Chris Stapleton is joined by his friend and pop megastar Justin Timberlake for a duet medley. It should all make for a “big tent” show.
Co-hosts Brad & Carrie are teasing a “big experiment” this year for which we’ll want to watch from the very beginning of the show, maybe even before the opening performance from Eric Church and Hank Williams, Jr. As for the monologue, expect some politically-themed humor – Brad & Carrie insist they are “equal opportunity” when it comes to their political targets, so it may also be interesting to watch the Twitterverse after their monologue.
For our recap of this year’s nominations, check out this post. We already have two winners: Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” for Video of the Year and Keith Urban & Eric Church’s “Raise ‘Em Up” for Musical Event Of The Year. That doesn’t tell us a whole lot about how the rest of the night is likely to go as far as awards, but look for “Girl Crush” to dominate Song & Single of the Year with incumbents Luke Bryan (Entertainer), Blake Shelton (Male Vocalist), Miranda Lambert (Female Vocalist), Little Big Town (Vocal Group) and Florida-Georgia Line (Duo) likely to repeat. For some fun data on recent CMA Awards results, check out this infographic via Albright & O’Malley & Brenner.
The most interesting stories of the night could be how two acts not supported by country radio, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton, both nominated for Album of the Year and for their respective Vocalist categories, fare, as both released the most critically and industry-acclaimed music of the eligibility period, are probably co-favorites in the Album category and could pull upsets in their respective Vocalist categories. As far as blog-related interests, it’s generally acknowledged that Carrie Underwood once again had the strongest year among Female Vocalist nominee with critically-acclaimed and commercially impactful music throughout the past year but that the politics of these awards have not been in her favor, Keith Urban is already a winner tonight in his only category, and Blake Shelton has been campaigning for a 6th consecutive Male Vocalist trophy.
So join us tonight for a live blog and discussion, won’t you? Make sure to weigh in with your thoughts in comments!
*************************** Live Blog *****************************
There are several red carpet live streams available:
8pm Eastern – And the show begins!
We start with a pre-taped Star Wars sketch featuring heroine Princess Carrie Fisher (get it?) and hero Guitar Solo, freaking out because their Star Wars bit has been scrapped. They go on a hunt for Luke StageFaller (LOL), discover Little Big Town playing the Cantina Band, Darius Rucker as a Storm Trooper, and Luke Bryan hiding as “Garth Vader.” Well, this is goofy and it all ends with Carrie & Guitar resolving to host the CMA Awards like normal hosts.
The first performance of the night is Hank Williams, Jr. with Eric Church (who is releasing a surprise album tonight!) on the new Hank, Jr. single with Nash Icons, a cover of the Neil Young song, “Are You Ready?” Serviceable and the requisite American flag takes prominent place on the big screen behind them.
Next up, in a pretty nice lyrical segue, John Mellencamp emerges to perform
“Ain’t That America?,” “Pink Houses” (title corrected) and is joined by Keith Urban (whose mic turns on a few bars too late). That’s followed by Keith singing his most recent #1 hit, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” John Mellencamp is off stage for this, because that would have just been weird to have him up there for an already on-the-nose pairing. Nice of Keith to remind the audience that John Cougar is now John Mellencamp. A typically strong performance from Keith.
Brad & Carrie take the stage to run through all of the pop culture references of the moment, to the tune of the Willie Nelson-written “Crazy,” now “Cray Cray” to go with the times. In their hands, “Cray Cray” rhymes with “Nae Nae.” Shout out to Caitlyn Jenner for now being a “babe,” “bae” as Carrie reminds us. Also a reference to some dude calling women “tomatoes.” #saladgate And the song closes up Trump being ahead in the polls, to a chorus of mostly boos. Carrie points out that he’s slipping in the polls, but does not acknowledge the new Republican frontrunner or his theory on pyramids.
Next up, Brad & Carrie take on the topic of this year’s splits, mentioning Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Halle Berry & “what’s his name,” and then they finally address the elephant in the room, the big split between the beloved couple who are in the room but not even sitting together. Cut to…Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. Carrie points out that Kermit doesn’t look so good, that he looks a little green. Brad announces that on a completely unrelated note, he’d like to say hi to Blake, who laughs it off. That’s Kelly Clarkson’s husband and his manager Brandon Blackstock next to him. Brad is excited about Blake’s duet with Ashley Madison. No, no, Carrie corrects him, it’s Ashley Monroe whom Blake sang with, and they do an Ashley Madison-related riff on the Blake/Ashley #1 hit “Lonely Tonight” with a shoutout to Josh Duggar. Another song parody ensues, via Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart.” There is a reference to what happens when you’re bored with your wife…and your sister?
Carrie & Brad decide to focus on the positive, like how Carrie had a baby earlier this year, making this the first year she’s hosting with a child. No, Carrie says, this is not the first year she is hosting the CMAs with a child. LOL. They talk about how the likes of Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean are there, and also Kelsea Ballerini who just last year was sitting up in the nosebleeds for the show. Brad advises anybody up there sitting next to a pretty girl to make sure to get her number. Um. I’m not the world’s biggest Kelsea Ballerini fan but Brad just unintentionally reduced her success to “any pretty girl could do it.”
Brad starts randomly veering between shoutouts to other artists in attendance, like Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and singing. Carrie doesn’t understand why he’s randomly talk-singing, but Brad explains that he’s Sam Hunting, it’s all the rage among the younger demo. Sam Hunt is amused. A Star Wars Storm Trooper comes out, and it’s William Shatner, there to claim copyright on Sam Hunt’s style. Cute. He “Shats” a bit of “Girl Crush” before heading over to the gift lounge.
Brad and Carrie are excited to have Justin Timberlake in the house, there to sing with the person whom Brad describes as one of country music’s best voices ever, Chris Stapleton. Brad is really hoping Justin will sing his favorite song, the Christmas one about a package. Male appendage puns ensue, and Justin plays along. Shortly thereafter, Brad tries to go Miley and strip. OK? And with that, we wrap this year’s monologue, which felt more disjointed than in years past. But it was goofy fun.
OK, and this was funny from Carrie’s mom:
— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) November 5, 2015
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell present the night’s first award, Single Of The Year to Little Big Town for “Girl Crush.” An expected win and a deserved one for the year’s buzziest smash. They credit songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose for writing a terrific song, and they thank country radio and gatekeepers for not getting in the way.
Dress #2 for Carrie, and we have a tribute to Little Jimmy Dickens, which includes a video montage and a sight gag in which his ashes are in a tiny urn inside an urn. It’s sweet.
A beanie-free and therefore bald Zac Brown leads Zac Brown Band in a rendition of their current single, the poppy, EDM-influenced “Beautiful Drug.” A bit rough on the vocals at times. The guitar solo presents an opportunity for a big coordinated jumpfest on stage. I’m going to be honest: it feels weird for the energy of a Zac Brown Band performance to come from the beat instead of the band itself.
Next up, Kenny Chesney performs his most recent #1 “Save It for a Rainy Day” with a tiki hut on the screen behind him, because beach. Completely competent performance.
Brad introduces Sam Hunt to perform his smash “Take Your Time.” He’s looking vaguely priestly with a short sleeve black top over a short-sleeve white shirt with a pastor-ish collar. Nice to hear that they’ve toned the reverb down from 20 on Sam’s voice. For those of you wondering if this is country? It’s not. What it is is a smash, and that’s why country is claiming it.
Miss America Betty Cantrell and Darius Rucker are up to present the night’s next award, for Song Of the Year. It goes to the right winners, Hillary Lindsey (who is expecting her first child with fellow writer Cary Barlowe), Lori McKenna and Liz Rose. Liz Rose thanks Little Big Town for being behind the song since hour one as well as her husband and kids. Hillary Lindsey thanks producer Jay Joyce and LBT, Lori McKenna thanks her family, Capitol Nashville, Sandbox Entertainment, and Hillary rushes in a specific shoutout to Cary Barlowe. Great to see three women take this award!
Little Big Town performs “Girl Crush,” and nails it. There’s really not more to say than that. Terrific performance, easily the class of the night so far.
2014 CMA New Artist of the Year winner Brett Eldredge joins buzzy new act Cam (whose rising smash “Burning House” will be a strong awards contender in 2016) to present the CMA for New Artist Of The Year to OMGGGGGG Chris Stapleton!!!!!! This is a guy radio won’t play, with a divine voice and country-soul singer/songwriter music that’ll gain plenty of more attention as being among the year’s best in any genre. Totally deserved, if shocking. This means Sam Hunt will get shut out this year. He thanks his wife, Morgane Stapleton and members of his team. He seems genuinely surprised and grateful.
As we recover from that happy shock, Carrie Underwood is up to perform her current t5 hit, “Smoke Break.” She’s dressed in fringe and thigh-high boots and she’s strumming rhythm guitar. Her mic is lower than it should be but there is nobody better than Carrie at fighting that off and sounding strong anyway. Well done, Carrie!
Brad Paisley does a weird boxing announcer affectation and muffs his teleprompter reading while introducing Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. Stapleton starts out with his cover of “Tennessee Whiskey,” featured on his terrific album, Traveller. That’s his wife Morgane Stapleton providing the perfect complementary background vocals, and Justin strums guitar while urging Chris on. Justin takes over for the second verse and acquits himself admirably. The latter half is a jam out on Justin’s “Drink You Away.” Are you melting? I’m melting. This is amazing and probably the only thing anybody’s going to be talking about tomorrow. The CMA Awards producers must be thanking their lucky stars that the CMAs got to be the 1st mainstream industry outfit to nominate Chris Stapleton for anything.
And now, ladies & gentlemen, Florida-Georgia Line. Credit the CMA producers for having a sense of humor in their choice to follow Chris Stapleton & Justin Timberlake. FGL and the loud backing track there for harmony perform their new single “Confession.” The song itself is not terrible. Tyler Hubbard (the guy with the man bun, wearing the tunic) is flat.
Cole Swindell and two members of the World Cup-winning US Women’s Soccer Team, Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe present the CMA for Vocal Duo Of The Year to Florida Georgia Line. Eh. The gap in success was still too big for anybody to mount a real challenge to them, I guess. But now that Maddie & Tae are starting to score some hits…here’s hoping.
Eric Church is up to perform the lead single and title track from his surprise album out today, “Mr. Misunderstood.” It’s a country-roots rock tale of a guy growing up with musical influences that the people around him didn’t quite get. This sounds more Mellancamp than the Keith Urban song that name checks him did. Eric is a little flat but if he’s going to play the “outsider,” this song is so much more effective and believable than “The Outsiders” ever was.
Carrie has been wearing the same dress (the multicolor one, dress #7 of the night, I think) for 10 minutes. WTF? She and Brad introduce Thomas Rhett and Fall Out Boy for a medley of Thomas’s smash “Crash & Burn” and Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman.” It makes no sense vocally or musically, to be honest.
Kiefer Sutherland and Lee Ann Womack are up to present the CMA for Album of the Year, and Kiefer Sutherland has some high praise for the great Ms. Womack. They present the CMA for Album Of The Year to Chris Stapleton!!!!! YASSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! He thanks his producer Dave Cobb (who has produced a bunch of great artists/albums, including the buzzy Sturgill Simpson sophomore set, the two most recent Jason Isbell albums and the terrific Lindi Ortega album, Tin Star). Stapleton also thanks his label, UMG Nashville. Incidentally, that label has won 5 of the 7 awards given out so far.
Cut to Kelsea Ballerini performing her #1 hit (the 1st solo female debut single to go the #1 since Carrie’s “Jesus Take The Wheel”) “Love Me Like You Mean It” in a short performance before she announces some of the country radio winners. Good stage presence despite the awkwardness of the short performance.
ESPN’s College Game Day anchors introduce Brad Paisley to perform his college football-mascot name-checking current single “Country Nation.” His voice is buried in the instrumentation and unlike Carrie, he doesn’t have enough power to be heard over it. There are lots of mascots dancing behind him in the bleachers on the stage.
Carrie’s eighth (?) dress is a Wonder Woman-ish affair, and she introduces Blake Shelton, who performs his current single “Gonna.” He sounds a little tired, but he’s having fun. Occurs to me there hasn’t been a single audience shot of Miranda Lambert yet. She performs in the next hour.
Next up, a short performance by the 1st female act to take a debut single to #1 since Carrie did in 2006 with “Jesus Take The Wheel” – Maddie & Tae perform that #1 hit “Girl In A Country Song,” which pilloried bro country cliches, including some that came from the catalog of the guy who performed before them. They sound terrific with their close harmonies. And what is that Maddie is playing? Why yes, that’s a mandolin, an actual country instrument. Shame that it’s a short performance. They, too, are tasked with recognizing CMA radio winners, in this case, the broadcast personalities.
Outfit number next from Carrie is a bright red sparkly number. Brad has been trying to strip all night for some reason. I don’t get it. They introduce Luke Bryan, who performs his recent #1 smash “Strip It Down.” He’s a bit flat and uncertain and wobbly in his lower register but I’ll take over the “row, row, row your boat” “we turn this cornfield into a party” nonsense.
Next up, Pentatonix is up to present the CMA for Vocal Group Of The Year. But first, they salute the Oak Ridge Boys with a rendition of “Elvira.” This is fun! The award goes to Little Big Town. No surprise there and they certainly had the year’s biggest hit. Kimberly Schlapman says this month marks their 17th anniversary as a group. They thank the fans, producer Jay Joyce, their management, their label, etc.
Miranda Lambert is up to perform her self-penned (as in, she actually wrote this song alone) “Bathroom Sink.” It’s trademark Miranda – frank in dealing with her own failings and insecurities – see the lyrics, “It’s amazing the amount of rejection that I see in my reflection but I can’t get out of the way”). She looks emotional. The sound does her no favors but she gets through.
Next Jason Aldean performs
“My Kinda Party” “Take A Little Ride” “Tattoos On This Town” “Gonna Know We Were Here.” He’s flat and can barely keep up with the song.
Carrie (dress #10) and Brad attempt some silly political humor about Hillary Clinton (email joke) and Ben Carson’s mumbling, which is odd until we realize that they were stalling until the producers were ready to cue the Kacey Musgraves performance. Kacey launches into a lovely version of “Dime Store Cowgirl,” which country radio has failed to support. It’s a sweet song about her journey, promising that “it don’t matter where I’m going, I’ll still call my hometown home.” Not a new sentiment, maybe, but the song is elevated by Kacey’s sweet vocals and the winning specificity of her lyrics. Brad Paisley is excited about My Little Pony, which fits in with the unicorns prancing around on the screens behind Kacey’s performance?
Brad gives a shoutout to Mac Macanally for winning the CMA for Musician Of The Year for the umpteenth time before introducing Dierks Bentley performing his current hit “Riser,” accompanied by Lindsey Stirling on violin. Dierks has some gravel in his voice to emphasize the determination in the lyric. He had to fight for this song to be a single because it’s the center of his album of the same name, and seeing as “Riser” is starting to connect at Itunes, it looks like it’s paying off.
Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley (now launching a solo side project via the lovely song “The Driver”) and Sports Illustrated cover girl Hannah Davis present the CMA for Female Vocalist Of The Year to Miranda Lambert. Again. No surprise, it’s become pretty clear that it doesn’t matter how acclaimed and successful other acts like Carrie and Kacey are, Miranda will take the country industry awards anyway. She says she needed a bright spot this year and gives a shoutout to Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton.
Teasing next year’s 50th Annual CMA Awards, Carrie & Brad introduce Reba, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, who perform a spirited medley of “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and “Play Something Country.” Fun!
Erika Christensen and Jennifer Nettles present the CMA for Male Vocalist Of The Year to Chris Stapleton. YESSSSSSSSSSS! This is a guy that everyone is glad to lose to. He gets emotional talking about his father, who passed two years ago. His unaffected gratitude and grace are a part of why he’s winning tonight, but seriously, check out his album Traveller.
The final award of the night, an afterthought for what will be remembered as Chris Stapleton’s night, is Entertainer Of The Year. And the winner is, for the second consecutive year, Luke Bryan. Luke, who released a Stapleton cowrite “Drink A Beer” on his previous album, gives a gracious shoutout to the man of the night before thanking everybody on his team and his family. Luke refuses to “wrap,” which I initially mistook for “rap,” because that’s the state of mainstream country today. Luke is himself a very likable guy, and that’s part of why he was able to repeat as Entertainer (his numbers are also huge of course).
Brad & Carrie close the show with thanks, and that’s a wrap. The Country Music Association Awards. More like the ChrisStapleton Masters All Awards, amirite? Well-deserved, and a pretty good show overall. What did you think?
P.S. Awards breakdown: There were the 12 CMA Awards given out this year for music. Of the 10 that go to performing acts, 7 1/2 of those awards (Entertainer, Female, Male, Vocal Duo, New Artist, Album, Video and 1/2 of Musical Event) went to acts represented by William Morris Endeavor Agency. Little Big Town and Keith Urban (for his part of the Musical Event winner) are the only acts to win CMAs last night without being represented by WME, and they likely benefited from having Capitol/UMG Nashville in their corner. Of the 6 artist categories (Entertainer, Female, Male, Vocal Group, Vocal Duo, and New Artist), 3 (Entertainer, Female and Vocal Duo) went to acts that are both represented by William Morris Endeavor agency and who tour with Live Nation. The 3 other awards went to acts part of the UMG label family, with 2 of them going to somebody also represented by William Morris. On the label front, UMG Nashville won 8 of the 11 awards that had anything to do with a label. Big Machine Label Group won 2 of the remaining 3 and Sony Nashville won 1.