The real winners have been crowned at the 48th Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, but we have a few more honors from the telecast that you should feel free to weigh in on:
• Worst moment not to have Taylor Swift in attendance: It’s a tie: Kenny Chesney’s opening number, “American Kids,” featured a boho-chic dance party on stage—and we got zero shots of stars shaking if off in the crowd. The Doobie Brothers got people moving to “Listen to the Music” and “Takin’ It to the Streets,” but Jennifer Nettles, who joined them along with Hunter Hayes and Lady A’s Hillary Scott, can only do so much.
• Best moment not to have Taylor Swift in attendance: Veteran cohosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood always like to go topical in their opening monologue, which once again killed. In addition to singing an ode to the nude photos of country artists that will be leaking online, they hit on the Ebola scare (they sung “Quarantine,” to the tune of “Jolene,” for Maine nurse Kaci Hickox). The real epidemic that has America worried, however, is Postpartum Taylor Swift Disorder: PPTSD. “Why isn’t our government doing something about this?” asked Paisley. “I’ll be the first one to say it: President Obama does not care about Postpartum Taylor Swift Disorder.” Underwood got the punchline: “I’m pretty sure that’s why the Democrats lost the Senate.” (The roar of laughter and applause was uncomfortable if you’re not a Republican, but the joke is funny.) Watch the full monologue below. P.S. Pregnant Underwood is apparently having a boy.
• Best representation of other country artists going (temporarily) pop: Meghan Trainor and Miranda Lambert partnered for a version of “All About That Bass” that seemed to confuse, then delight, King George, while Ariana Grande sounded amazing on “Bang Bang” with Little Big Town backing her up with their smooth harmonies. (LBT’s outfits lighting up red to match their two rows of drummers for “Day Drinking” was a technical achievement, but also overkill. Ariana makes her grand entrance at 1:55.)
• Best return of George Strait: Paisley lamented the tour retirement of last year’s Entertainer of the Year, to the tune of “The Cowboy Rides Away”—but Underwood interrupted him to tell him George was there. “It really does feel that way, Carrie,” Brad quipped. Carrie offered to call an Uber if Strait needed a ride.
• Worst return of George Strait: Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of Strait teaming with Eric Church for “Cowboys Like Us.” Because Church is an outlaw (out on the run)—on paper. That’s one of my favorite Strait songs. So when George started it, I teared up a bit. But Church’s intensity felt out of context at times (first at “drink one more cold one”) and took me out of what could’ve been an epic moment.
• Best Kacey Musgraves moment, Part 1: She accepted Song of the Year with her “Follow Your Arrow” co-writers giving the night’s best acceptance speech: “Oh my goodness. Do you guys realize what this means for country music?” she began. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this award means so much because our genre was built on simple, good songs about real life, and that’s what this was. And it’s because of the fans and the people that connected with it that spread it and took it farther than I ever thought it could be. So thank you so much.”
• Best Kacey Musgraves moment, Part 2: How wonderful was it when the Queen of Country Music, Loretta Lynn, joined her for “You’re Looking at Country”? That’s right, audience: You stand. (Of course, they cut straight to the nominees for Best New Artist afterward, and only one of them was female. Sigh.)
• Best show of emotion: Vince Gill almost burst into spontaneous tears seeing Merle Haggard and James Taylor pay tribute to him in the video leading into him being presented the Irving Waugh Award of Excellence—an honor only Johnny Cash had received before him. Watch it in full. His speech is heartfelt and charming.
Runner-up: That long, long hug Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan gave his wife before taking the stage.
• Best pitch to have the CMAs strip down all performances one year: Brad and Carrie did a beautiful, abbreviated rendition of Gill’s “When I Call Your Name.” Every year, the two of them do something accompanied by just his guitar that I wish would go on longer. (Their 2008 rendition of “Make the World Go Away” to honor the late Eddy Arnold, for instance.) Okay—so maybe CMT just needs to get Carrie and Brad to do an hour of country classics like this for a special.
• Worst Dressed Man: You should always wear sleeves to an awards show, Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line.
• Best Dressed Band: The guys backing Tim McGraw who all wore classy white jackets and black pants.
• Worst Carrie Underwood Dress: That wrinkled blue number she sported while introducing final presenter Garth Brooks.