Last night the 49th annual CMA Awards took place where all kinds of awards and performances took place. There were certainly a fair share of ups and downs throughout the night. So let’s get to what I thought of each part of the show. We have to start though with the biggest and best of the show…
Chris Stapleton Shines Bright & Wins Big
Without a doubt the biggest story of the 2015 CMA Awards was Chris Stapleton. Going into it many of us critics and his fans didn’t give him much of a chance to win a single award. We just thought it was neat he was even nominated. One of the first awards given out is New Artist of the Year. Lo and behold Chris Stapleton wins it, beating out the likes of Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae and Kelsea Ballerini. This was an amazing feat. Then they get to Album of the Year, the one award everyone thought Stapleton had an outside chance at winning. He wins this too (with a Dave Cobb appearance too). This is turning into a euphoric show for Stapleton, his fans and fans of traditional country everywhere. He was nominated for one more award, Male Vocalist of the Year, going against the likes of Blake Shelton and Eric Church. And he wins again! A year ago many never even heard of Chris Stapleton, unless you were country music insider or songwriter. Now he’s beating out the biggest and hottest names of the genre and winning three major award on national television.
This wasn’t all that happened with Chris Stapleton on this show. Stapleton and Justin Timberlake delivered the undisputed best performance of the night when they sang Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Timberlake’s “Drink You Away” together. The entire place erupted after the performance and social media was ablaze. Both Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan mentioned Stapleton in their acceptance speeches for their wins. As of this writing Stapleton has the #1 selling album on all of iTunes and “Tennessee Whiskey” is #2 on the all-genre chart, only trailing the record-breaking Adele song “Hello.” This night and this show was all about Chris Stapleton. It was a historic night not only in the career of Stapleton, but perhaps all of country music. Think about it. Stapleton walked away with three awards, while Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett walked away with nothing. We could be looking back on this night as one of the biggest moments in country music history and could signify a drastic shift in mainstream country and country radio.
This couldn’t happen to a better person in Chris Stapleton, who was in tears when he accepted his third award of the night. I know I was teary eyed with several others watching too. He’s such a humble and hard-working guy who puts his heart and soul into all of his music. The 2015 CMA Awards was the Chris Stapleton show and he was deserving of every bit of adulation he has received.
Little Big Town Wins Awards for Song of the Year, Single of the Year & Group of the Year
If it wasn’t for Chris Stapleton, this night would have been about Little Big Town, who took home three awards themselves. This wasn’t a big surprise at all, considering “Girl Crush” was one of the biggest hits in all of music this year. I didn’t see it winning all of these awards, but I probably should have seen it coming. I don’t mind it winning at all, as it’s better than 90% of the other stuff on country radio. Little Big Town needs to savor this though because I don’t see them ever having this big of a hit ever again (similar to Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”). Their performance of the song was also one of the better ones of the night.
Hank Williams Jr. & Eric Church Open With “Are You Ready For The Country”
The show kicked off with Hank Jr. and Eric Church singing the Neil Young-penned “Are You Ready For The Country” and it wasn’t a bad performance. It wasn’t either’s best performance ever, but they were in-synch and they delivered for the most part. It’s the first single for Williams under the NASH Icon label and with Church being a part of the song might give it a good chance of getting radio play. Out of everyone in the mainstream to re-do this song with, Church was probably the best pick for Williams. And hey it’s definitely country music, which is a step in the right direction. This wasn’t the only big moment for Church of the night…
Eric Church Surprises The World With Brand New Album
In addition Church caught all of us off-guard and released a brand new album titled Mr. Misunderstood. His fan club had all received copies of it in the mail on Tuesday afternoon, which was the first inkling of it even coming out. Maybe he was inspired by Strait? Regardless this is an album many will be listening to and discussing in the coming week, including yours truly. Church may have only walked away with one award for the night, but this surprise album will surely be one of the buzzing stories in country music.
Blake Shelton Becomes The Most Hated Artist in Country Music
One of the biggest secondary stories of the night was Blake Shelton’s publicist announcing to the world 20 minutes before the show that he was dating fellow judge on The Voice and pop artist Gwen Stefani. It seems like a douche move to do this right before attending a show where your ex-wife is also attending. This screams Shelton wanting to “win” the breakup and basically rubbing it in Miranda Lambert’s face. It was a disgusting scene to watch and no doubt he pissed off several fans watching. Also if I were him I would avoid the Miranda fans because they were ready to throw daggers on social media.
Miranda Lambert Performs “Bathroom Sink” & Wins Female Vocalist of the Year
Lambert didn’t look too good up there performing “Bathroom Sink.” She definitely isn’t having the best year and you almost wanted to hug her. You can see why the anger for Blake was so high. Lambert was pretty short in her acceptance speech and just looked like she wanted to get off the stage quickly. But she accepted the award wearing a Chris Stapleton shirt and praised him for his big night. Look out for her next record because it could be her best yet.
Zac Brown Band Performs “Beautiful Drug”
This was such a godawful performance and I let everyone on Twitter know it. This song is bad enough at it is and what made it even worse was how flat Brown sounded throughout it. In fact he missed some big notes. The Zac Brown Band fanboys ate it right up, but the rest of us were waiting for it to just end. The good news though is that this song is at a snail’s crawl at country radio right now and we can only hope it flops to slap some sense back into Zac Brown. In my mind it was tied for the worst performance of the night. Speaking of…
Sam Hunt Performs “Take Your Time”
It speaks volumes that Hunt performed his mega-hit from months ago instead of his current single “Break Up In A Small Town.” Just like “Beautiful Drug,” this song is not gaining at all right now at radio. This of course a good sign that maybe country radio is considering dumping this un-country stuff and getting back to actual country music. We can only hope. This was tied for worst performance of the night.
Kacey Musgraves Performs “Dime Store Cowgirl”
This was without a doubt one of the top five performances of the night. Kacey sounded and looked absolutely stunning on the stage and I’m glad they gave her a full performance. Apparently her label has re-sent this song to radio in hopes that it gets a second chance from radio programmers. It’s one of her best songs off of Pageant Material and arguably the best single she has ever released. It deserves a chance, but I’m not confident.
Florida Georgia Line Performs “Confession”
These two followed Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake’s mind-blowing performance with their blandest song yet. It was the most hilarious moment of the night. This is probably going to be their next single, which is a curious choice. They previously said they were taking a break after “Anything Goes” was done at radio, but that song didn’t perform nearly as well as they thought. It’s perhaps a sign that we’ve reached the Nickelback level with them? “Confession” will say a lot about this group’s standing moving forward. They might not be winning anymore Vocal Duo of the Year awards anymore. Also tied for worst performance of the night.
Fall Out Boy & Thomas Rhett Perform Together
Well this happened and I wish it hadn’t. I even enjoy “Uma Thurman,” but it has no business being performed on country awards show. This also tied for worst performance of the night. This is starting to turn into The Pulse.
- Keith Urban performed “Ain’t That America” with John Mellencamp and it was good thanks to Mellencamp mostly. Urban’s performance of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” was pretty forgettable, especially after following Church and Williams.
- The Little Jimmy Dickens tribute was touching and appropriate. Kudos to everyone involved for making that happen.
- Kenny Chesney performed “Save It For A Rainy Day,” which has dominated country radio recently. It was an okay performance and it did nothing to chance my thoughts about it.
- I enjoy Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break.” But her performance was pretty stilted thanks to the audio. This on the production crew because Carrie’s voice sounded fine as always. It didn’t help she had to follow the absolute euphoria that erupted over Stapleton winning New Artist of the Year.
- Kelsea Ballerini followed Stapleton winning Album of the Year and it was the most unintentionally comical thing I’ve seen at an awards show.
- Brad Paisley performed “Country Nation” and it just made me long for his early days when he was singing “Too Country” with George Jones and Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. Bring back the old Brad!
- Maddie & Tae did not get a full performance, which was a big bummer. But their short, stripped-down performance of “Girl In A Country Song” was really great. Plus they won Music Video of the Year, so they weren’t completely ignored. I’m sure they will be featured more in the future on these shows. Keep the faith in these two.
- Pentatonix, one of my favorite pop groups, did a short a cappella performance of the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira.” A lot of country folks were making snarky comments about them, but hey it’s their loss if they aren’t familiar with this group.
- Jason Aldean sounded terrible performing “Gonna Know We Were Here.” I’ve dubbed him the Kim Kardashian of country music.
- Reba performed with Brooks & Dunn and they still sound pretty good. Bring them back to radio I say.
- Dierks Bentley performed “Riser” with Lindsey Stirling on violin. Dierks didn’t sound 100% tonight and it wasn’t his best performance. I always enjoy hearing this song though and Stirling getting to perform on the national stage was nice to see too.
- Luke Bryan won Entertainer of the Year and the world pretty much yawned. But I applaud him for his classy acceptance speech and giving a shout out to Stapleton. This gives you a good idea though how big of a night Stapleton had when nobody cared about Bryan winning this award.
This was one of the best country awards shows I’ve seen in several years. Stapleton having a big night was a huge reason why. But there were also several good, country performances throughout the show and most of the award winners were of quality. Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton walked away empty-handed. Sure there were some terrible performances too, including all-time awful ones in Zac Brown Band and Thomas Rhett with Fall Out Boy. But this was a night with overwhelming positives. I’ve haven’t been this positive about the future of mainstream country music in a long time. We can only hope this marks a major turning point in the genre returning to its roots and bringing quality artists in Chris Stapleton back to country radio.
Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases
- Eric Church surprised released his new album during the CMA Awards last night and it’s titled Mr. Misunderstood. We’ll have a review on it soon.
- Tim McGraw will release his new album Damn Country Music tomorrow. We’ll have review on this early next week.
- Josh Abbott Band will release their new album Front Row Seat tomorrow.
- Jeff Crosby & The Refugees will release their new album Waking Days tomorrow.
- Cam announced last week she will release her debut album Untamed on December 11.
- Hank Williams Jr. announced he will release his first album under the NASH Icon label on January 15, 2016 and it will be called It’s About Time.
Great Music Currently at Country Radio
The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.
Throwback Thursday Song
Brandy Clark – “Stripes” – This past week I decided to go back and give a good listen to Brandy Clark’s 2013 album 12 Stories and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The standout from the album and one of the most popular songs on it is “Stripes,” a song about how a woman won’t shoot her husband for cheating on her because she doesn’t like to wear orange or stripes. This wry humor combined with your standard cheating song was a nice touch and definitely recommend giving this album a listen if you haven’t yet.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Rise Against The Machine – “Bulls on Parade” – I’m not a big fan of rap metal, but this song just flat-out rocks.
Tweets of the Week
There were a lot of awesome tweets during the CMA Awards. But this has to be featured. For those unfamiliar, Jimmy Kimmel Live has a popular feature called Mean Tweets in which celebrities, artists and even President Obama read mean tweets about themselves. They’re hilarious and I warn you that they can be addicting to watch. Anyway tonight they came out with a country music edition and it’s very funny. In particular I was pumped to see Reginald Spears get featured twice, who has been featured in this space many times. If you’re on Twitter, he’s a must-follow. Anyway just watch this video.
iTunes Review That Rocks
This was left under Sam Hunt’s new acoustic mix tape album Between The Pines. Like this reviewer above says it’s not country (you’d think acoustic would mean it would be a little country), not even bro country. We’re to the point where bro country is an upgrade. I’m just going to go back to listening to music on the Americana chart.
Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below!