It often seems like women have almost as hard a time catching a break at country awards shows as they do on country radio, judging from the fact that neither the CMA Awards nor ACM Awards could come up with a single female to nominate for entertainer of the year for the last two years running. That women problem didn’t run over to the CMT Music Awards, where Carrie Underwood was not only nominated for the top prize Wednesday night but won it, picking up the fan-voted video of the year award for “Cry Pretty.”
That Underwood was not in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to accept the prize was nothing personal. She’d just finished an off-site performance of her new single, “Southside,” a few miles away for an outdoor crowd of glowstick wavers at the Parthenon. Underwood also won favorite female video for “Love Wins,” putting her tally of CMT trophies at a record-breaking 20, reflecting a strong catalog but also the efforts of one of country music’s more determined fan armies.
The gender imbalance in country was brought up more than once by the perfectly gender-balanced host group, Little Big Town, whose Kimberly Schlapman at one point donned a mullet wig — a la freshman artist Morgan Wallen, who currently has his first No. 1 song — in a joking suggestion that maybe that could work for the ladies. Little Big Town also performed their new feminist anthem “The Daughters” (an inordinately well-intentioned, arguably quixotic track that, perhaps not surprisingly, has already dropped off the charts).
Women artists also ganged up for some all-star moments. Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker joined forces for the one retro number of the night, the latter’s 1970s smash “Delta Dawn,” eventually joined by Lauren Alaina, Trisha Yearwood, Raelynn, Martina McBride, Carly Pierce and Deana Carter.
Maren Morris sang what was almost certainly the finest 2019 song of the evening, the very untwangy “Shade,” which was shortened to make room for Sheryl Crow to come out for a duet premiere of an upcoming release of hers, the decidedly twangy “Prove You Wrong.”
Men did not lack a strong presence on the show, with Luke Combs and Kane Brown continuing to prove their place as the genre’s biggest and newest stars. Brown, who won male video of the year for “Lose It,” appeared early on the telecast from outside the arena on a stage set up on Lower Broad, singing “Short Skirt Weather,” a song that has inexplicably not been chosen as his new single, even though it would have been in the running to be country’s song of the summer if it had.
Meanwhile, if you were wondering what could serve as the climax of a younger-skewing country awards show in 2019, the answer is Combs, who closed out the two and a half hour telecast with his brand new “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” Combs shared his award, for CMT performance of the year (i.e., a live number originally broadcast on one of the network’s signature shows), with Leon Bridges, his “Crossroads” partner. Both Combs and Brown were up for the top video of the year award, with enough shared career momentum that it wouldn’t have been surprising if either had bested Underwood.
Back on the subject of women, it was surprising to see critical favorite Ashley McBryde pick up breakthrough video of the year. Even though the competition wasn’t that strong this time around, and few would contest McBryde was most deserving, there’s still an expectation that a fan-voted show will coalesce with what we hear from supposedly fan-voted country radio playlists.
The telecast packed 20 performances into 150 minutes, including “Someone I Used to Know” by the Zac Brown Band (which won group video of the year), “We Were” by Keith Urban (who shared a collaborative video award with Julia Michaels), Dan + Shay (winners for duo video with “Speechless”), Luke Bryan’s “Knockin’ Boots,” Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More” (which ended with her butterfly wings going fully pyrotechnic), Toby Keith’s “That’s Country, Bro” (the one nod besides Tucker’s to a career predating the 21st century), a “Crossroads”-based Boys II Men and Brett Young hookup, and mostly single-chorus cameos from newbies Jimmie Allen, Runaway June, Tenille Townes, Mitchell Tenpenny and Wallen.
A complete list of winners:
- Video of the Year – Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty”
- Female Video of the Year – Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins”
- Male Video of the Year – Kane Brown, “Lose It”
- Duo Video of the Year – Dan + Shay, “Speechless”
- Collaborative Video of the Year – Keith Urban and Julia Michaels, “Coming Home”
- Breakthrough Video of the Year – Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”
- Group Video of the Year – Zac Brown Band, “Someone I Used to Know”
- CMT Performance of the Year – Luke Combs and Leon Bridges, “Beautiful Crazy” from “CMT Crossroads”