Country's next-gen stars spur a night with many highs and few lows
By Ken Barnes Special to MSN Music
As the 46th Country Music Association Awards telecast wound its way through
three hours of performances -- occasionally interrupted by awards -- on
Thursday, you couldn't help but think you were witnessing a changing of the
The performances and the awards reflected a new crowd of upstart rising
stars, whose music is steeped in rock and pop to a greater degree than ever
before. It made for highly entertaining viewing and a lot more bests than
New blood in performances: It's hard to say if it was a
conscious CMA decision, but the abundant live performances seemed stacked with
the creative core of Nashville's newer stars, mostly doing some of their best
songs. The Band Perry, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, the Eli
Young Band, the Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and country's crossover
queen Taylor Swift all excelled. Solid performances by more seasoned stars such
as Brad Paisley and Keith Urban also contributed to as strong a night of
televised live music as you could ask for.
New blood in awards: Blake Shelton had won three CMA awards
before Thursday night. He matched that number, riding his recent string of hits
and exposure on "The Voice" to wins in the Song, Male Vocalist and Entertainer
of the Year categories. It was his first time hitting the big entertainer
jackpot. Sweetening the pot were the two victories for Shelton's wife, Miranda
Lambert, who shared the song award with her husband and won Female Vocalist.
(Her "Fastest Girl in Town" was also the most ferocious performance on a night
with no shortage of them.)
Hunter Hayes, who's even younger than Taylor Swift (by a year, at 21), was
named New Artist of the Year. Thompson Square interrupted Sugarland's five-year
run as top duo, while Little Big Town knocked off three-time Vocal Group of the
Year winner Lady Antebellum. All signs of positive change.
Full Nelson tribute: It wasn't all new country. Along with a
brief but touching nod in song to new Country Hall of Fame inductee Connie Smith
from hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, country's gray eminence Willie
Nelson was given a lifetime achievement award and a musical salute featuring
Lady Antebellum, Shelton and Urban, plus a duet by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
and, naturally, Willie himself singing "On the Road Again" again. It warmed the
Hosts hit their stride: Paisley and Underwood seemed more at
ease than ever, and their growing rapport bolstered the comedy bits, which
ranged from mirthful (a Maroon 5 parody called "Moves Like Haggard,"
interspersed with a "Gangnam Style" workout) to pointed (several jests aimed
squarely at Swift) to blue (many "motorboating" references derived from Little
Big Town's "Pontoon" hit) to flat (an attempt to induce labor on a very pregnant
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland that induced few laughs). Underwood gets better
every year and Paisley is a more-than-worthy successor to Vince Gill in the
Before moving along to a couple of rather half-hearted worsts -- it was a
good show, remember -- special mention should be made of what must be called a
simultaneous Best/Worst event of the night. Underwood delivered a powerful
rendition of her brilliant country-turbopop hit, "Blown Away," which was
terrific, except that in light of recent meteorological catastrophes, it might
not have been ideally timed.
Unplanned obsolescence?: With all the rising stars and their
dynamic music, performances by the likes of McGraw, Hill and Kenny Chesney
seemed a little past their sell-by date. (Although Chesney's "Come Over" is one
of his stronger recent numbers.) And, although Toby Keith won just his third
award in 27 tries, he didn't even get to claim it on TV. (He won for video, one
of three categories not televised.)
Questionable award choices: Not a lot to quibble with in the
Association's votes this year, which is a minor miracle. Little Big Town's
"Pontoon" is a harmless novelty that was inferior to its four competitors, but
it's hard to begrudge them their first win (or their second, for vocal group).
You could argue that Thompson Square was a more deserving new-artist winner than
Hayes, but T-Square made up for it by going directly to best vocal duo without
passing new artist. And no one would expect the Willie Nelson/Snoop
Dogg-and-many-others collaboration, "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," to
actually win, but one can dream &
Veteran music journalist and editor Ken Barnes has covered popular music
for USA Today, Radio & Records and other national consumer and industry
I am a country fan, you cant call that country music. it pop call it like it is. Brad Paisley was great when he first started in his career , now his music is pop as well. Come back George Strait and Reba.
Blown away is an awful song that is not even a little bit country. Pontoon is just plain Terrible! Hunter Hayes sounds like a little girl trying to do an Rascal Flatts imitation. Oh, and I dont even know where to begin with Taylor Swift. It seems like the only reason that she dates is to write bitter songs about the men (or should I say boys after her latest escapade?) after she cans them.
Didn't even bother. That's not country music. There are some good songs and artist there, but they are pop or pop/rock. Why they classify that as country I will never know. Not bad music...its just NOT country!