2021 CMA Awards Review: Country Music Tries To Forget A Bad Year

It’s turn out to be kind of a seasonal custom for the Country Music Affiliation to do one thing that makes individuals indignant simply earlier than its annual November awards present. In 2017, there was the notorious entreaty to reporters to chorus from asking questions on gun management on the pink carpet, whereas final 12 months noticed the optimistic promise — or veiled menace — of a “No Drama” present. And this 12 months, there was Morgan Wallen and the likelihood that a nation star who was filmed saying the N-word again in February may truly win the CMA for Album of the Year.

Happily he didn’t. And, little doubt, the vast majority of CMA executives, voters, and artists all exhaled when presenter Susan Sarandon introduced Chris Stapleton’s Beginning Over because the winner. That victory — Stapleton’s fourth of the evening — underscored the theme of the fifty fifth annual CMAs: a largely well mannered and predictable affair with occasional flashes of greatness and spontaneity, together with mild however deliberate efforts to make nation music really feel like a extra various place. This being a divided nation, there have been additionally some brushes with unhealthy religion politics too.

Luke Bryan was the first-time host of this 12 months’s CMA Awards. We all know this as a result of that’s largely what he talked about in lieu of touchdown his punchlines (although Bryan’s joke about vaccine-misleader Aaron Rodgers being “immunized” was fairly sly and earned a disapproving look from Carrie Underwood, whose husband Mike Fisher has publicly supported Rodgers’ “medical freedom.”)

A working gag had Bryan leaning on visitors like Darius Rucker, Woman A, and his American Idol judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie for internet hosting recommendation, a shtick that by no means fairly circled again to humorous. For the report, his greatest punchline got here when introducing Luke Combs, who’s now the upper billed nation singer. “I used to personal the Luke actual property!” Bryan mentioned in mock protest.


Over the previous couple of years, the CMA has made some incremental progress when it comes to showcasing extra than simply straight white individuals. This 12 months’s present took a few extra steps in that path, largely due to the way in which new artists are shaping the style. Early on, Brothers Osborne received Vocal Duo of the Year, their fourth win within the class and first since 2018. Singer TJ Osborne, who publicly got here out of the closet in February, was overjoyed and kissed his male companion on digicam as he walked to the stage.

“It’s been a loopy rollercoaster of a 12 months for us, particularly me emotionally,” he mentioned within the acceptance speech. “To have you ever all help me, it actually does really feel like love wins tonight.”

This second — TJ kissing his boyfriend, them profitable the Duo of the Year award — felt vital. Homosexual individuals have received on the present earlier than (Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, in fact). However the show of affection between two homosexual males as certainly one of them goes to acquire a prize on “Country Music’s Largest Night time”? That appeared new. That was floor being damaged.

Later within the present, Osborne recalled watching the CMAs as a child and dreaming of sooner or later acting on the present. “I all the time felt like it will by no means be potential due to my sexuality. I want my youthful me may see me now,” he mentioned, because the band struck up “Youthful Me.” The tune most likely may have spoken for itself, because it’s certainly one of their greatest singles, however there are apparently nonetheless individuals within the Year of Our Lord 2021 who aren’t conscious that TJ Osborne is homosexual. (Or that vaccines work, for that matter.)


Quite a few Black singers additionally took the stage all through the evening, a sight that the racial-justice nonprofit Colour of Change would really like to see extra of. In a marketing campaign introduced Wednesday morning, the group mentioned it will be petitioning the CMA and its awards to “undertake racially simply insurance policies.” Whereas the result of that initiative has but to be written, this 12 months’s present included performances by Black artists like Breland; Mickey Guyton with Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards; and Jimmie Allen, who grew to become solely the second Black winner of the CMA’s New Artist of the Year. The primary to achieve this was Darius Rucker again in 2009. “After 10 years of being right here, dwelling in my automotive, dwelling in a trailer, that is superb,” Allen mentioned.

This 12 months’s winners have been a little secure within the sense that Chris Stapleton put out an album and it helped him win just about all the issues. He got here into the night tied with Eric Church for 5 nominations and left with 4 trophies (Church left with zero). Some cool trivia: Stapleton shared his Single of the Year and Album of the Year wins with mixing engineer Vance Powell, whose credit additionally embrace the late, nice Nashville garage-rock outfit Diarrhea Planet.

Stapleton gave a masterclass in nation soul together with his efficiency of “Chilly,” pulling in a full orchestra to add to the wounded drama of the smoldering tune. Afterward he backed up a brassy, bodacious medley of “Night time Life” and “You Are My Sunshine” by Jennifer Hudson, making a case for himself because the 2021 CMAs’ Performing MVP — together with its greatest winner.

Luke Combs


Luke Combs was named Entertainer of the Year on the 2021 CMA Awards.

Jason Kempin/Getty Photos

Talking of winners, Carly Pearce was a shock victor in Feminine Vocalist of the Year, her first time being nominated within the class. She was so overcome with emotion that fellow nominee Ashley McBryde had to assist regular her till she may say thanks. “I’ve had a loopy 12 months and I need you guys to know this implies all the things to me. Country music saved me!” she mentioned. Pearce and McBryde additionally had a standout efficiency, going full Reba McEntire and Linda Davis for the deliciously scandalous duet “By no means Wished to Be That Woman.”

There have been additionally songs about making music by Luke Combs and Keith City, songs about boats from Previous Dominion and Zac Brown Band, and requisite statements about affirming one’s nation roots from Thomas Rhett and Blake Shelton.

Dan + Shay sang from a terrifying top on a hydraulic platform. Eric Church had pyro. The evening’s greatest gimmick? Chris Younger and Kane Brown’s use of their fellow stars’ historical yearbook photos. Eric Church? “Most definitely to put on sun shades in the dead of night.” Dierks Bentley? “Most definitely to sleep by means of an interview.” Willie Nelson? “Most definitely to ask for those who’re holding,” naturally.

Taking this notion of being well mannered to its extremes, the CMAs additionally made room for stars who’ve been sharing some polarizing political views of late, particularly Jason Aldean. He joined Carrie Underwood in entrance of a pile of development rubble to sing their tortured ballad “If I Didn’t Love You.” Aldean has been vocal about his emotions on vaccine mandates (which Tennessee doesn’t have) and grievance fantasies that his maintain over this nation as a wealthy, straight white man is beginning to slip. He most just lately posed carrying a shirt that read “This Is Our F—ing Country” from an attire line based by his spouse and his sister.

All that apart, the fifty fifth CMAs proved to be a largely upbeat present with a number of genuinely good moments. Chief amongst them: Luke Combs cementing his top-tier celebrity standing by claiming his first Entertainer of the Year honor regardless of being shut out of the opposite classes. Nineties hero Alan Jackson introduced him with the trophy. “I don’t deserve to win it,” Combs mentioned, “however I’m certain as hell glad I did.”

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