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THE CMAS: TRIPLES AND DOUBLES


It’s hard creating an impact that can strike a sonic boom in the glut of awards shows, hype and tabloid fodder. But when Kentucky bluegrasser/hit songwriter/outsider artist Chris Stapleton went three-for-three and turned in a show-stopping performance of “Tennessee Whiskey”/”Can’t Drink You Off My Mind” with Justin Timberlake, it was mission accomplished. 

Dungan and Mabe with Chris and Morgane Stapleton: All aboard for the bard with the beard.

With Stapleton taking Best New Artist (in an upset over Sam Hunt), Male Vocalist and Album of the Year (in a highly competitive category with critic faves Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town and commercial raves Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney), an industry reckoning with its reductive radio reality of hot chicks*tailgates*cold beer*creek beds*moonlight*good times showed signs of knowing the difference. Beyond all the talk of the swampy, soul-steeped Timberlake performance in the house, both Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan shouted out the collaboration in their acceptance speeches for Female Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year, respectively.

It was definitely UMG Nashville head Mike Dungan and Prexy Cindy Mabe’s night to shine. Not only did Stapleton sweep his three awards while Bryan pick up the night’s big honor for the second time, but Little Big Town also took home three, with the Group, Song and Single of the Year trophies for the much talked about “Girl Crush,” originally plagued by protest to radio stations about the (nonexistent) lesbian overtones.

Though the new preponderance of Grammy moments can lead to forced and awkward performances (plenty of people also talking about the Thomas Rhett/Fall Out Boy mash-up “with dancers” for the wrong reasons), the show’s opening take on Neil Young’s  “Are You Ready for the Country?” from Hank Williams Jr and Eric Church—featuring part of Cadillac 3 and the legendary McCrary Sisters—showed Bocephus still has more jam than all the bad boys put togetherand John Mellencamp’s teaming with Keith Urban for the populist “Pink Houses” into Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” gave the mid-lifers a lot to cheer for.

Urban and Church won Vocal Event (over Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson) on the Good Morning America announced pre-tel awards, while Scott Borchetta’s platinum blond songwriting sensations Maddie & Tae took Video honors with their gender-role-flipping “Girl In A Country Song,” which has garnered nearly 28m Vevo views.

Florida/Georgia Line won Duo, an upset given BroCo’s recent wave of being maligned in the media. But the repeat that resonated was Lambert (pictured above with Sony Nashville chief Randy Goodman, who’d powered through an on-the-verge of tears “Bathroom Sink,” a self-reflective ballad about bad choices and consequences making us who we are. “I needed a bright spot,” she told the crowd who’d watched the Miranda/Blake soap unravel since July.

The opening gambit of a scratched Star Wars bit saw hosts Carrie Underwood as Carrie Fisher and Brad Paisley as Han Guitarsolo trading gags with Darius Rucker, Bryan and William Shatner and then emerging in “stage clothes” to make jokes that got dangerously close to discomfort with an Ashley Monroe/Ashley Madison misdirect that set up a 21st century revamp of Hank Williams with “Your Cheatin’ Site.”

But the other big story is Apple Music’s full-tilt run at country. With a 90-second spot featuring Kenny Chesney–capturing the essence of the man behind the music and those intense stadium shows – positioned after the four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year’s performance and dropping the secret Eric Church Mr. Misunderstood as a Beyonce-style surprise release and Apple exclusive, the Cupertino behemoth set its sights squarely on the flyover—and delivered.            

Though the folks in the house didn’t know what was going on during the broadcast, by the time people hit the after-parties, the tsunami had hit. Between the Stapleton/Timberlake performance and Apple’s beachhead, CMA-driven conversation were those two topics.

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