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BACKSTAGE AT THE CMT AWARDS

Country consultant Phil Hill may think women are the “tomatoes” in radio’s salad, but Carrie Underwood brought the mozzarella and basil—winning all three awards she was nominated for at CMT’s Video Music Awards.

Taking the night’s big prize—the fan-voted Video of the Year, as well as Female Video for “Something in the Water” and Collaboration with Miranda Lambert for “Somethin' Bad”—the Cher-meets-Ann-Margret glamazon belter brought her Buckle total to 13, breaking her own record for most CMT Awards won in the process.

Always long on bombast and high tech, the show threw into a new arena as Lady Antebellum opened the show. They were joined by Zedd for a pivot that took mainstream country where it’s never been: EDM.

With hosts Brittany Snow and Erin Andrews, this year’s show packed a lot of non-6-1-5 starpower. The annual gag short film—this year working a ride-sourcing app called Guuber—featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, Justin Bieber, Tom Arnold, Rick Springfield, Hunter Hayes and new country comer Steven Tyler as a driver torturing passenger Alan Jackson with his “new single.”

Backstage, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, John Hughie and Rod Essig rubbed shoulders with Reba manager Narvel Blackstock, Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta held court and WME’s Greg Oswald and Jay Williams pressed the flesh with CMT’s Leslie Fram. It wasn’t all business as usual: David Spade—dressed as Joe Dirt, with a sequel on the way—posed for pictures with Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza, while comic Ron White sidled up to the American Airlines-sponsored bar next to Brooke Hogan.

Though the CMT Awards are about the videos—predictably, Luke Bryan took Male for “Play It Again,” Florida Georgia Line took Duo for “Dirt,” Lady A took Group for “Bartender” and Jason Aldean with Bob Seger took CMT Performance for “Turn the Page”—there was also the music. Beyond the pyro-centric FGL, Eric Church did a stripped-down but lacerating “Wrecking Ball” with producer Jay Joyce. Aldean and Bryan were bulked up, while Keith Urban took a leaner approach in a monochromatic box that shifted colors.

Out on the street, Kenny Chesney kept it real on the Lower Broadway honky-tonk strip with “American Kids,” culminating in fireworks, while Breakout winner Sam Hunt—dressed all in white, as was his entire crew in perhaps an homage to Kanye—slithered through the bouncy “House Party,” whose only country touchstone seemed to be its good-time lyric references.

CMT head Brian Philips couldn’t have been happier. “It was our biggest show ever; so many artists want to hang in Nashville now, the collaborative spirit is overwhelming—and our show benefits. It’s a big, loud, crazy carnival. The artists stretch and are great sports. This year was no exception.”

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