Is it still 2011? The 45th annual CMA Awards just wrapped and as they showed shots from the opening musical numbers over the closing credits, they seemed so long ago that I’d forgotten they’d taken place.
Before I unleash here, let’s get it straight that I love country music. I grew up in the south, went to college in Nashville and started my career there, so these criticisms aren’t coming from some left coaster who has an elite disdain and instant dismissiveness for the genre so prevalent in people in Los Angeles and New York. Plus, I have greatly enjoyed the CMA Awards in years past.
Having said that, this year’s show suffered from tragically bad pacing, generally boring performances, enough tacky fashion mistakes to make a K-Mart shopper scream for mercy, sloppy announcing, and a pandering to pop music that was insulting to the country genre.
Here’s our breakdown of the best and the worst, worst, and worst of the night.
Co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, returning for a fourth year, have a fun, energetic brother/sister banter and were thoroughly charming. They brought to life often tired jokes with nice timing and a playful willingness. As one point, Paisley joked about hosting the Oscars, but if the Muppets aren’t available, the Academy could certainly do worse.
The tribute to Glen Campbell, featuring Vince Gill, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley playing the trio of Jimmy Webb hits that hallmark Campbell’s career, accompanied by Webb, was poignant, moving and a musical highlight. That is until even it went sideways: they called Campbell to the stage, but when he strapped on a guitar like he was going to join in while the orchestra continued playing “Galveston,” the show cut to commercial. Huh?
Miranda Lambert’s spirited performance of “Baggage Claim.” Her outfit, with its silver emblem that cut up into her chest, was rather unfortunate, but she didn’t let it dampen her blazing (literally, at one point), spunky set. Plus, she had her trademark pink microphone.
Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter’s languid, low-key performance of the beautiful “You and Tequila.” Seated on stools, strumming acoustic guitars, and showing off their great harmonies, the pair provided an intimate, authentic moment.
The endless thumping for current and upcoming movies. Maybe this was the Oscars. Between Blake Shelton and Kenny Loggins’ weirdly off-kilter, awkward rendition of “Footloose” that opened the show, “Twilight/Immortals” star Kellan Lutz, Miss Piggy shilling for “The Muppets,” and Reese Witherspoon (who, at least, is from Nashville), I had to make sure that they weren’t handing out statues of naked gold men to the winners.
Did these people look in a mirror before leaving home? Country males have always, for the most part, been hopeless when it comes to fashion, dressing way too casually for the occasion or wearing the cowboy tux (you know the atrocious look: the tux jacket with jeans), but many of the women, especially the always-impeccably dressed Taylor Swift and Jennifer Nettles, have really brought a sense of style. Not tonight. We’ve already mentioned Miranda Lambert (did we add she had on fringe as well?). Sara Evans, who is tall and model thin, wore skin-tight tux pants and a black top with a horrific corset belt that cut her in half and was tremendously unflattering; Carrie Underwood, who changed every commercial break, had some gorgeous outfits, but also had some cringe-worthy misses, including some weird short set styled like a men’s suit and topped with a fedora, and a floral number accompanied by some pink sparkly thing in her hair as if she were 5 years old. But that can all be forgiven. What can’t be is Natasha Bedingfield’s fuzzy brown skirt that looked like it was made from Mr. Snuffleupagus. What?
The inferiority complex that continues in country music. It seems like every fading pop artist decides to try his or her hand at country, whether it’s Jessica Simpson, Bret Michaels, Aaron Lewis or dozens of others (Darius Rucker is the only true success story in the list). This year, it’s Lionel Richie, who has recorded a duets album of his hits with country artists. So the CMA Awards gave him a huge plug and allowed him to perform three tunes with three artists, including a wretched version of that country chestnut, “Dancing on the Ceiling” with Rascal Flatts (who were having a really off night in both their Richie performance and their duet with Bedingfield). Some of the cross genre fits were fantastic, like Zac Brown Band playing “Georgia” with Gregg Allman or the aforementioned Chesney/Potter duet (which is our favorite song on Chesney’s album). But Sugarland’s pairing with Matt Nathanson (who copped some serious Bono moves) to play “Run” from his album, seemed like a abuse of country fans’ time, even though Nathanson and Nettles had wicked hot chemistry, and was downright cruel to the seldom seen Kristian Bush (yeah, he’s the other person in the duo), who’s been marginalized enough.
Bless Faith Hill’s heart. Her last studio album (excluding a holiday set) was 2005’s “Fireflies.” Tonight marked her big return. Excuse me, but after years in the studio, first with Brendan O’Brien, then Bryan Kennedy and now Byron Gallimore, the best they can do is "Come Home," a warmed-over Ryan Tedder song that already appears on a OneRepublic album? Really? I’m sorry, but that does not bode well when that’s the strongest track you’ve got. Plus, her performance was totally off kilter. She sounded rough in spots seemed to think she was performing an uptempo song and started jumping around and bouncing. What I heard was a very weak ballad.
What did you think of the show? Share your thoughts below.