Here’s the thing about country music award shows, whether it’s the CMAs, the ACMs, or CMT Music Awards, you know going in that there’s never going to be the awesome highs or the awful lows that rock-oriented awards show, like MTV’s Video Music Awards have simply because the audience won’t tolerate such egregious hijinks.
For example, last weekend's MTV Movie Awards are still a hot topic based on the number of F-bombs dropped and Justin Timberlake’s cupping Mila Kunis’s breasts. Try either on a country music awards show and the sound of viewers collectively clicking off their TVs will be deafening. And that’s not a bad thing (We’re choosing to believe that Sheryl Crow’s underwear flash was truly accidental.) But it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun: the opening “Thelma & Louise” spoof starring Taylor Swift and Shania Twain (whose trip was edited out of the west coast airing) and featuring Chord Overstreet, Kenny Rogers and Kid Rock was the best awards opening of the year--and yes, we’re including The Oscars here.
Here are five things we learned from watching last night’s CMT Music Awards (for a rundown of the actual show, go here):
You can’t miss by going patriotic: About half of Toby Keith’s catalog is made up of jingoistic drivel (and I say this as someone who likes a great deal of Keith’s material. I doubt there is any other artist whom I feel has a greater distance between his really strong songs and his really dreadful ones). Last night, he unveiled a brand new song, “Made in America,” which is all about folks who have the “red white blue” flying high and whose hearts break at seeing all the foreign cars and having to wear shirts made of cotton not grown in the U.S.A. The hook is “He ain’t prejudiced/he’s just made in America.” Country music remains the last bastion of patriotic songs that are meant to embrace all that is grand in this great land, but all too often just reinforces outdated notions of America. (We particularly lived the cutaways to Shania Twain-- a Canadian-- and Keith Urban--an Australian- looking slightly quizzical--during Keith’s song). And if you can’t sing a patriotic song, wear something patriotic like Zac Brown, who wore a vest that replicated a flag.
The country genre still suffers from an inferiority complex: Even though Taylor Swift, who launched from country music, has become one of the biggest artists in the world, the country genre still seems to look to the worlds of pop and rock to give it validation. For example, the CMT Awards featured appearances from Paramore, Train’s Pat Monahan (identified only as Train, never by name), Justin Bieber, Sheryl Crow and Ludacris. Can you imagine Tim McGraw or Jason Aldean dropping in on the MTV Video Music Awards? Of course not. At least Bieber, who won an award for his duet with Rascal Flatts, and Crow, who performed “Collide” with host Kid Rock, had reasons to be there.
Low star power equals low voltage show: No awards show can have all its biggest names all the time, but with acts like Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton all out on the road, filming their reality show or just MIA, it made for a show light on superstars (no disrespect to Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts or Jason Aldean). Swift and Shelton at least delivered video acceptance speeches, which was nice.
Dancers and country music don’t mix: The CMT Awards trotted out country dancers for a few numbers: Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and Big & Rich’s “Fake I.D.” (from the upcoming “Footloose” remake). It makes perfect sense for Bryan’s number to have dancers since the inane song is about watching country cuties shake it in a club, but country music can’t quite loosen its grip on its “family values” image, so that means we get girls in bras but they can’t be too revealing so some of them have to wear cover ups. It’s neither fish nor fowl. And Big & Rich’s dancers, clad in Daisy Dukes, trotted out line dancing moves from 1992. They were doing everything but the boot-scooting boogie. Pathetic.
Country artists really can sing: Not that this is new, it just gets reinforced during country music awards. Perhaps because they aren’t expected to dance and sing at the same time—standing as still as a statue is a perfectly fine performance choice for a country artist—that means they are allowed to show off their voices....and, for the most part, they have chops to spare. The best singer last night was Wynonna, in a very weird opening number with Kid Rock that ended with a shameless pitch for her website, but no one embarrassed themselves. To be sure, a few artists hit clams, but we’ll take that any day over lipsyncing.
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