Country in Name Only: Thoughts on the 2013 CMT Music Awards

Darius

What would we do without the CMT Awards? After all, it’s the only awards show celebrating country artists!

OK, even I can’t write that with a straight face. Read on for more thoughts on this “country” show.

What Does the C Stand For Again?: I’m no purist, but this country music awards show probably had less truly country music than any country show in recent memory. And I’m not even just talking about Lenny Kravitz and Nelly. Taylor Swift’s “Red” owed more to rock and pop, while Keith Urban and Hunter Hayes didn’t deliver much country flavor with their breezy performances. Instead of singing one of their excellent hits, Little Big Town jammed out to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” I’m not opposed to all of this genre-hopping, but at a certain point, you have to wonder what it means to be country in 2013. (Also: where were Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band? Maybe they would have brought the country flavor the rest of the show lacked.)

Hosts with the Least: CMT obviously liked Kristen Bell’s manic performance in 2012 enough to warrant a second stint as host here, swapping out Toby Keith for Jason Aldean. Bell had energy, and she might have been less grating paired with someone a little more engaged. Aldean looked bored and confused for most of the time, and the “Choose a Song for Us to Duet” gambit was one of the lamest pieces of awards-show banter I’ve ever seen. (Seriously? Choose any song and we’ll pick a random one?) Aldean’s only amusing line came off the cuff during his acceptance speech, when he ribbed his duet partner Luke Bryan for his emotional acceptance speech at the ACM Awards.

Best Showcase Sponsored By That Insurance Company I Refuse to Promote: American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison made a strong case for country stardom with a brief but tantalizing snippet of her first single “All Cried Out.”

Rest in Peace, George Jones: I’m not sure how he’s supposed to after the show devoted less than 30 seconds to honoring the man host Jason Aldean called “one of the greatest country singers” of all time. A two-line performance from The Mavericks and a wide shot of Jones’ face on a jumbotron isn’t gonna cut it. I expect the CMA Awards will rectify this egregious oversight with a more loving tribute in November.

Oh Yeah, They Gave Out Some Awards, Didn’t They?: Florida Georgia Line won two. Miranda Lambert won two. Carrie Underwood won Video of the Year. Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Luke Bryan won for their collaboration. Yeah, that’s about it.

Let’s Just Pretend Those Twitter Tracker Segments Didn’t Happen, OK? OK.

And now, the performances:

Jason Aldean & Lenny Kravitz, “American Woman”: High-energy guitar playing but low-energy stage presence, particularly from Aldean. Also, why not sing a song that’s more relevant to the show? B

Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart”: Did Miranda seem a little bit nervous tonight? This performance was competent but lacked the firepower of the comparable slot on the ACM Awards earlier this year. B

Kacey Musgraves, “Blowin’ Smoke”: Musgraves is probably the most intriguing country singer on the landscape at the moment. I predict she will rise to the level of Eric Church’s stardom within a year or two; she’s already got the critical appreciation. This performance didn’t do her too many favors, though. The song is fine, she sang it fine, but it lacked the energy or impact of “Merry Go Round.” B

Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum, “Wagon Wheel”: The crowd ate this one up, and for good reason. Rucker barreled through the audience, high-fiving his superstar friends, all without missing a note or losing a step. Lady Antebellum joined him at the end for some enjoyable harmonies. This song isn’t anywhere close to the “most-talked about country song in a long time” as Florida Georgia Line told us in the introduction, but it’s a darn good one. A

Hunter Hayes, “I Want Crazy”: The energy level on this performance? Ridiculously high. The quality of the vocal? Middling. B

Luke Bryan, “Crash My Party”: Solid. Middle-of-the-road. A little dull. Typical Luke Bryan. B

Taylor Swift, “Red”: Never mind that this performance retained only the barest elements of country music. Swift’s fierce stage presence and unusually sturdy vocals catapulted this performance to near the top of the pack. A-

Keith Urban, “Little Bit of Everything”: This song isn’t mind-blowing or life-changing, but it’s pleasant and catchy, and we can always rely on Urban to capture the song’s enjoyable vibe. B+

Lady Antebellum, “Goodbye Town”: The vocals and staging on this performance had a stronger sense of build than most of the night’s other acts. Hillary Scott’s pregnancy hasn’t hampered her voice at all. And Charles Kelley belted some impressive notes at the end. B+

Little Big Town and Keith Urban, “The Chain”: Few bands in music have stronger harmonies than LBT. Keith Urban’s searing guitar solo was the icing on the cake. A

Jason Aldean, “Night Train”: Carrying over his low-energy vibe from his hosting gig, Aldean sang well but didn’t do anything exciting. His performances tend to have a same-y quality to them. B-

Carrie Underwood, “See You Again”: Of course, the decision to dedicate this performance to the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma is an admirable one. I just wish the performance had lived up to its purpose. This song is more effective with the stripped-down approach that Kree Harrison took on her Idol cover. Instead, Underwood opted for a cheesy, cliched backup chorus and some shaky high notes towards the end. An unexpectedly weak performance from the typically reliable Underwood. B-

Florida Georgia Line & Nelly, “Cruise”: This enormous hit is catchy and propulsive, but Florida Georgia Line needs to work on its stage presence. Nelly’s rap was poorly integrated, even compared to the recorded remix version. A lackluster end to a decent but hardly thrilling show. B-

That’s a wrap, folks. I’m sure it’ll be a long time before another awards show comes along. (Checks calendar) Oh, the Tony Awards are this Sunday! See you then.

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One thought on “Country in Name Only: Thoughts on the 2013 CMT Music Awards

  1. Great review! I do think Red was the best performance of the night, even if just for the visuals. And one thing you didn’t talk about with See You Again was that Underwood’s vocals were below par tonight; she seemed tired. Of course she has the best voice on country radio today so we wont hold her to it! Generally, I feel CMT still struggles to execute a strong, polished awards show that the CMAs and ACMs pull off every year. Whether it was the various audio flaws, the teleprompter failing, and the occasional killing of time, it often distracted from the content. Plus, I cannot stand how the stars sit on the side and not in front of the stage!

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