Yee to the haw.
Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images for CMT
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic crowded all the key nation awards exhibits — the Academy of Country Music Awards, Country Music Association Awards, and Country Music Television Music Awards — into the autumn. With efficiency and venue restrictions on prime of all of it, it was exhausting for a present to face out (except it was for a nasty purpose, just like the COVID-addled CMAs). Now in 2021, the celebs and audiences are (hopefully) vaccinated and the exhibits are again into their common slots. At April’s ACM Awards, this meant a low-stakes present stuffed with enjoyable dwell performances and never a lot else. Two months later, the CMT Music Awards introduced extra of the identical, touting a collaboration-stacked invoice stuffed with nation’s largest and brightest (apart from Maren Morris and Gabby Barrett, who needed to drop out for personal causes), and some awards for music movies too. It wasn’t a present to recollect, however it was nonetheless certainly a present — one thing that appeared far out of attain final June. Here are the highs, lows, and whoas of the 2021 CMT Music Awards.
LOW: Lady A units the bar low.
Band-name mess apart, Lady A’s output as of late has simply been a nap, removed from the emotional hits like “Need You Now” that they made their title on. Opening music “Like a Lady” is unremarkable country-radio filler, and singer Hillary Scott’s efficiency was too shaky to show it right into a second. An look by rising star Carly Pearce was a vivid spot, however couldn’t save the opening quantity; the Shindellas deserved far more than ten seconds within the highlight. At least Lindsey Ell’s guitar solo rocked (and reminded us that nation exhibits want extra of these).
HIGH: But Chris Stapleton will get issues again on monitor.
Not that the CMTs, one of many extra pop-oriented of nation’s awards exhibits, would’ve let it occur, however Chris Stapleton’s efficiency of “Arkansas” might’ve truly opened the present. Stapleton has a voice that may’t miss, and his band’s efficiency within the spherical was a real barn burner, full with a pedal-steel solo. “That’s how you get a party started, right?” host Kane Brown requested afterward. Yes, that’s how.
WHOA: Hailey Whitters’s (abbreviated) second within the highlight.
One of nation’s largest essential darlings of 2020, Americana-tinged singer-songwriter Hailey Whitters was an ideal option to kick issues off on the Ram Trucks Side Stage. Here’s hoping intrigued viewers take a look at the rollicking full model of “Fillin’ My Cup,” although (and its extraordinarily enjoyable video, too).
HIGH: Luke Combs as soon as once more delivers.
No matter what number of occasions Luke Combs performs his beer-soaked breakup anthem “Cold As You” at awards exhibits, the music stays as dependable as a go-to hang-out.
WHOA: Linda Martell will get her much-earned CMT Equal Play Award.
Mickey Guyton didn’t mince phrases as she launched Linda Martell, this year’s winner of the CMT Equal Play Award and the highest-charting Black lady ever in nation music. “All of her accomplishments came in the face of the constant indignities she endured as a Black female country artist,” stated Guyton, who can attest to those self same struggles 50 years later. Martell couldn’t attend to just accept the award, however the CMTs nonetheless honored the icon with a mini-documentary on her career, that includes an interview together with her (“The very first chord of the guitar, I knew it was gonna be all right,” she stated, remembering being the primary Black lady to play the Grand Ole Opry) together with reward from musicians like Rissi Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens, Darius Rucker, and Jennifer Nettles. And reasonably than paint Martell’s story rosily, Guyton reminded viewers of a tragic fact. “Her career was cut short for just one reason: the color of her skin,” she stated of Martell, who launched only one album in 1970. Over 50 years later, it’s higher to see her get her flowers late than by no means.
HIGH: Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall carry out The Marfa Tapes the way it’s meant to be heard: round a campfire.
The proven fact that their rendition of “Tequila Does” was prerecorded could have been disappointing, however the trio nonetheless introduced the low-key, late-night vibes that make these songs sound greatest.
LOW: This once more?
One of probably the most oft-tread paths to nation success is music that insists it’s the true stuff, a return to nation’s roots within the face of pop dilution. But who’s to say music like that — a diluted efficiency in its personal approach — is extra genuine than nation that doesn’t hit listeners over the pinnacle with worn-out lyrical signifiers? Thomas Rhett’s new music “Country Again,” the title monitor off corresponding album Country Again: Side A, guarantees that very same model of “back to basics,” however it led him to one of the boring performances of the evening. If so-called “real” nation is so a lot better, Rhett’s efficiency itself ought to’ve made that case, too.
WHOA: Gladys Knight delivers probably the most high-energy efficiency of the evening.
If final year’s wonderful Verzuz with Patti LaBelle didn’t already show it, Gladys Knight nonetheless has it, as she confirmed as soon as once more on the CMTs stage. Mickey Guyton’s “Cross Country” efficiency with Breland was a bit shaky (however good on the newcomer for what was hopefully the primary of many big-stage performances), however 77-year-old Knight steered the set again as solely she will be able to, overflowing with power and a glowing smile as she dueted Pips hit “Friendship Train” with Guyton. Surely somebody will complain that it “wasn’t country,” however it’s exhausting for that critique to carry up when the pair introduced extra vocal fireworks and owned the stage higher than any of the evening’s different performers.
WHOA: H.E.R. crashes yet one more awards present.
At this level, if there’s an awards present occurring, you may rely on H.E.R. to be there. Grammys? Oscars? CMT Awards? That’s proper, the R&B singer-songwriter carried out with Chris Stapleton, main even extra folks to marvel who she — sorry, H.E.R. — is within the first place.
HIGH: Carrie Underwood and Needtobreathe take us to church.
Carrie Underwood’s full pivot to church music could also be a bit complicated, however it’s definitely introduced some enormous awards-show performances. That didn’t cease on the CMT stage, the place she joined with Christian country-rockers Needtobreathe for a strong, predictably enormous efficiency of their duet “I Wanna Remember.”
LOW: Where are the standout speeches?
Maybe the largest signal that awards exhibits have returned to regular is that a lot of the evening’s speeches concerned a rattling off of requisite thank-yous with out a lot else. At least we might as soon as once more rely on Gladys Knight, who shouted “Congratulations, Gabbyyyyy!” whereas “proudly” accepting on behalf of an absent Gabby Barrett.
LOW: Luke Bryan performs glorified karaoke.
Luke Bryan is the Academy of Country Music’s reigning Entertainer of the Year, however you couldn’t inform from his CMT efficiency — a stale, sappy efficiency of “Down to One” that didn’t come off as rather more than karaoke with a backing band. As an American Idol choose ought to be capable to let you know, that’s by no means good.
WHOA: How about these hosts?
Our hosts had been greater than a little bit in all places all through the evening. Unlike, say, pals and collaborators Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton, who co-helmed the latest ACM Awards, probably the most chemistry between Kelsea Ballerini and Kane Brown was the truth that that they had the identical initials — a proven fact that they made too many bits out of. Kelsea Ballerini loosened up because the evening went on, however the enjoyable she had internet hosting didn’t translate to her melodramatic efficiency of “I Quit Drinking” with LANY’s Paul Klein. Brown, in the meantime, appeared nervous and caught to his script; his most entertaining second got here throughout his closing efficiency of “Famous Friends” with Chris Young, which at the very least proved how he ended up the most-awarded artist of the evening (incomes Male Video of the Year and Collaborative Video of the Year with Young). They didn’t deliver any of the evening’s main highs or lows — so, ultimately, perhaps they had been becoming for a middling outing just like the CMTs.