Female artists dominated this year’s ACM Awards in a way that would have been unimaginable just five years earlier, with nearly all of the major winners of the evening coming from a female solo artist or a band that prominently features a female vocalist. More significantly, this year’s ACM dissented from the CMA this fall in the marquee categories of Entertainer and Female Vocalist, which makes this fall’s CMA Awards that much more unpredictable.
Here’s my spin on the show’s highlights:
Carrie Underwood wins Entertainer of the Year
Perhaps we should have known not to underestimate the fan base of Ms. Underwood, who helped deliver the singing siren her second consecutive win for Entertainer of the Year. With Taylor Swift dominating the Grammys and CMAs, it was easy to forget that Underwood has continued to do quite well in her own right. Her string of hits at radio – eleven consecutive top two hits, nine of which reached #1 – is unprecedented. She’s also had ten gold singles, three of which have sold platinum or better. Her third album, Play On, has moved her cumulative album sales past eleven million.
She’s consistently proven herself as a live vocalist and entertainer as well, with her once-awkward stage presence now a distant memory. She remains the genre’s most constant and dedicated ambassador, shown again with her heartfelt acceptance speech for the quite silly Triple Crown Award. So while I’m surprised by her win, I can’t say that I’m disappointed or that there’s another person who deserved it more.
Miranda Lambert wins Female Vocalist, Album, and Video
I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking, since Lambert’s won Album at this show before and the ACM was the first to award Patty Loveless in the Female Vocalist category, proving that the CMA doesn’t always get it right before the ACM does. “The House That Built Me” is shaping up to be a career record for her, making Lambert the presumptive favorite at this year’s CMA Awards. Much can happen between now and then, but it’s not difficult to imagine her repeating in these categories and adding Single and Song to boot.
Rascal Flatts had quite the run, but it’s clear that Lady Antebellum is now the group to beat. “Need You Now” is arguably more deserving of the hardware it won than its predecessor “I Run to You”, which earned Lady Antebellum a CMA and a Grammy. This group is a force to be reckoned with, and has the potential to dominate its Vocal category for a long time.
Brooks & Dunn win Vocal Duo
I should’ve seen this coming, as all of my colleagues at CU were able to. The ACM has always loved these guys, giving them two Entertainer wins and sticking with them when the CMA switched over to Montgomery Gentry and Sugarland. It helped that Sugarland was completely off the radar this year, clearing the way for a sympathy vote. But as I watched them perform “My Maria”, the cover song picked by fans over two excellent originals, it felt like 1996 all over again. They’re good at what they do, but it’s hard not to notice that their music never evolved much over the twenty years they spent in the spotlight.
Brad Paisley wins his fourth Male Vocalist trophy
It’s funny that the guy who waited forever to finally win this race has now become so dominant in it that nobody’s been able to take it from him. I can’t picture somebody else getting this in the fall. Can you?
Taylor Swift shut out
Our predictions for Swift varied, with all of us expecting her to win both Entertainer and Video, and some of us expecting similar victories in her other categories. But the shut-out makes sense. “You Belong With Me” lost to “Need You Now” in the big races, and to belle of the ball Miranda Lambert in Video and Female Vocalist. Her speed dialers just couldn’t keep up with Underwood’s in the night’s biggest category, resulting in the first Swift-free country awards show since the 2008 CMA Awards, I believe. It felt rather abrupt after her CMA and Grammy sweeps, but it also felt good not having to wince at her being named a standard-bearer after yet another mediocre performance.
Laura Bell Bundy, Kenny Chesney, and live music
Though at least Swift sang live, and she wasn’t the only one to sound less than great while doing so. Chesney lip-synched his heart out without moving a step on stage, while Bundy did an amazing song-and-dance number with a live mic that recalled the very best of Reba McEntire’s showstoppers from the nineties. The Broadway background helped her command the stage in the way that our B-listers simply couldn’t, and let’s be honest: the genre is mostly B-listers these days.
There’s certainly more to talk about. Thoughts?