Nearly a week has passed and I’m trying to parse out the implications of “country’s biggest night.” As I mentioned last year, the CMAs had traditionally been that organization that was the Oscars of country, that annointed the stars with awards that truly were prestigious because they were voted upon by the members of the industry. A conservative voice, it has always struggled to balance defining the industry’s ambassadors to the greater entertainment industry versus bandwagon-ing the hot thing of the day — sometimes with the same award.
You look at the undeniable “crossover” superstars at the time of their Entertainer of the Year wins: Barbara Mandrell in 1980 and 1980 (during the height of Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters TV show), Shania in 1999, Taylor Swift in 2009 and 2011. Each was dubiously a “country music” star but certainly an ambassador the community could promote as its own.
So just like that parent that can’t always be around to take care of things, but swoops in to take care of the necessary things, the CMA acknowledged the across-the-board success of Florida-Georgia Line and spread the love with all those “Highway Don’t Care” awards, they managed too to pull back the reigns and honor — because that’s the word — George Strait with Entertainer of the Year.
It was right around the moment Eric Church turned the classy (albeit “new country”) music show into a 1980s heavy metal concert that I started to think, “I really want George Strait to win Entertainer.” I’ll admit I have conservative tastes when it comes to country music but that performance, plus all that “Cruise” love was adding up to too much. Check this and tell me what country music sounds like:
It really is the single most memorable moment from the evening for me, the way this unrelenting rock song just showed up and encapsulated the angst of every traditional country music fan.
The show was a huge success. Most notable was the number of tweets for the evening: 1.6 million. This is the last genre to experience any significant erosion of CD sales, back when everyone was downloading without paying. Just a few years ago, it was one of the very few genres that saw any significant online presence. The growth is spectacular and, as much as I hate to admit it, we have cross-pollinators like Eric Church to thank for it (if, in fact, we are thankful). Notice the way the traditionalist country fans find their way into the conversation in live-tweets like this one from Entertainment Weekly.
Back to the awards: along with the George Strait win, the CMA didn’t just let Kacey Musgraves’ six nominations be its own reward. That New Artist win was deserving and it sent a message — to whom, I’m not sure (radio, maybe?) — that the voters were looking to acknowledge quality and possibly even attempt to influence the future of the genre.
I think Miranda Lambert’s fourth consecutive Female Vocalist win was more about matching Reba’s record than genuinely honoring her work this year. The gossip around the Internet in the lead-up to this show was a rather consensus vote that Carrie Underwood deserved it, especially given her snub in the Entertainer of the Year category, where she was undoubtedly a contender.
Yet it was an enormously entertaining show. The sound worked, the duelling stages — including the one in the audience — worked. It was a show worth watching, love it or hate the winners.
(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on November 12, 2013)