2014 CMT Music Awards - Show

The CMT Awards began with what passes for traditionalism these days: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, beards out, grooving through “La Grange,” a Texas blues-rock boot-scooter recorded 41 years ago. But before the opening medley was over, it quickly morphed into what passes for country these days. First came Florida Georgia Line, the good ol’ boys whose first big hit was a duet with Nelly, and Luke Bryan, the good ol’ boy who fell off the stage while dancing to Macklemore last week, doing their Drake-repping duet “This Is How We Roll.” Then R&B singer Jason Derulo showed up, and the lot of them sang his smash hit “Talk Dirty,” Bryan brazenly shaking his hips in a way that really puts Macklemore’s alleged cred deficiency in perspective.

The ensuing hours brought many more bros, of course — ever since Kenny Chesney took over country in the early years of this century by bringing Jimmy Buffett beach-bum music to a new generation, Nashville’s beers-babes-pickups chill-out economy is booming. But there was also Lindsey Stirling, the theatrical pixie who hit it big playing violin over dubstep beats, and R&B legend Lionel Richie, accepting an award for duetting with Bryan. Babyfaced balladeer Hunter Hayes, country’s own Ed Sheeran, sang “All Of Me” with John Legend, a soul singer who has long been affiliated with Kanye West, and Jennifer Nettles, the Sugarland singer who brought reggae patois to country radio. Brantley Gilbert, the backwoods broseph who’d have the #1 album in the country right now if not for Coldplay, sang “Bottoms Up” while wearing a camo tank and waving his hands not unlike a rapper. Dierks Bentley performed “Drunk On A Plane” surrounded by dancers in old-fashioned stewardess costumes. Little Big Town, decked out in all white, did a large-scale version of the splatted-with-paint stunt Rita Ora pulled on The Tonight Show. Despite claiming that “Boys Round Here” don’t know how to do the Dougie, Blake Shelton’s performance featured the word “redneck” sampled and manipulated in a manner that wouldn’t have happened without hip-hop. Eric Church, the cagey outlaw/marketing genius who turned the equivalent of Metallica’s “Black Album” into a country smash hit, performed too, with Lizzy Hale of modern rockers Halestorm. Vince Neil was there, but not Vince Gill. And don’t forget the ads for Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry’s episode of CMT Crossroads, a series that previously merged the Band Perry with Fall Out Boy.

Country is in a weird place, and it’s mostly a good weird. The rest of the pop spectrum is exerting an unprecedented amount of outside influence on the genre, resulting in a flurry of ideas not unlike all those colors that landed on Little Big Town. Some of them turn out pretty ugly, but if you squint, even many of the more awkward experiments look like new possibilities. As always, there are definite rules in country — check that monotonous montage from last December for the proof — yet those rules are changing faster than ever, growing ever more lenient. And as with any popular genre, you’re just as likely to find success breaking the established code of conduct as hewing to it.

You can thank Miranda Lambert for that, at least in part. When we named Lambert’s Four The Record Album Of The Week in 2011, Tom called her the best thing to come out of Nashville’s blockbuster country machine in years. First as the solo artist behind explosively titled vengeance anthems like “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” then as a member of the saucy supergroup Pistol Annies, Lambert has continually paid homage to country’s traditions while following her muse in all sorts of non-traditional directions. Look no further than “Something Bad,” her duet with Carrie Underwood that closed out last night’s awards broadcast. The influence of ’80s hair metal isn’t exactly new in country — I could imagine Garth Brooks or Shania Twain singing something like “Something Bad” in the ’90s — but the song’s wholehearted embrace of rock ’n’ roll sleaze, at the exclusion of traditional country signifiers like cowboy hats and fiddles, means something.

Lambert’s new Platinum, out this week, brilliantly strikes that balance between old-fashioned and pioneering. It’s a record as reverent as it is wild, with personality that manifests itself in myriad ways. MySpace’s Caitlin White was right to describe it as “a sprawling cat’s cradle.” The feminist streak that runs through Lambert’s career is there as ever, right from opener “Girls” (which asserts that women have something other than a man’s love to live for) and again in “Little Red Wagon” (“I play guitar, and I go on the road, and I do all the shit you wanna do… I love my apron, but I ain’t your mama”) even as the Lambert-penned “Bathroom Sink” is bracingly honest about the pain in her life: “It’s amazing the amount of rejection that I see in my reflection.” The Little Big Town collaboration “Smokin’ And Drinkin’” is a gorgeous shimmering ballad; it’s followed immediately by the rollicking “Priscilla,” which faces the tabloid rumors about Lambert’s marriage to fellow country star Blake Shelton head-on. “God knows that shifting gears ain’t what it used to be,” she sings on the convenience-bemoaning “Automatic,” but she’s helped lead her genre out of those days and into shifts of its own. It’s unlikely we would have seen convention-busters like Musgraves and Brandy Clark find such a wide audience without Lambert blazing the trail.

That said, country is still a big business, and one of the results of its more porous borders is more crossover with other pop-star machines. Taylor Swift got huge in part by making the leap from country to top-40 pop songs co-written by Max Martin. But while Swift, along with ABC’s massively successful Nashville, was blurring the lines between country and pop at large, lots of other figures began crossing over in the opposite direction. One prime example is Lucy Hale, star of ABC Family’s immensely popular Pretty Little Liars. As numerous advertisements during the CMT Awards informed us, Hale’s Road Between is out this week too. It’s as formulaic as you’d expect from the debut album by the star of a teen drama — utterly professional but also utterly predictable. What’s worth noting, though, is that Hale’s handlers didn’t block her from going the country route. They see it as a viable mass market, and having heard her album, they probably understand how much that market bleeds over into the sort of straight-laced pop that Miley Cyrus started out making. Road Between is accurately titled in that it bridges country and pop signifiers. It doesn’t stand out because that’s how so much country already sounds these days.

Again, you can trace a lot of those changes back to Garth and Shania, some more of them to Big & Rich and Kid Rock, still more to Tim McGraw (who invented the Nelly country duet a decade before Florida Georgia Line) and especially his fan-turned-collaborator Swift. These sorts of dynamic shifts have been in the works for a while, only now so many changes are happening at once that country feels like it’s going through some sort of bizarre genre puberty. I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of mature beauty it blooms into when it’s all grown up — even if there’s a chance the genre will keep looking like a horrifying mutant instead, and even if we have to put up with the bros and their trucks for a little while longer.

CHART WATCH

Coldplay and Brantley Gilbert sold way less copies of Ghost Stories (83,000) and Just As I Am (69,000), respectively, than the six-figure debuts they pulled last week, but that was still enough to maintain the top 2 spots on Billboard’s album chart ahead of Mariah Carey’s latest. Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse moved 58,000 copies, good for a #3 debut but probably not what she was hoping for considering it’s her lowest debut sales week ever for a non-holiday album. To put Carey’s woes in perspective, the Frozen soundtrack, 2014′s only genuine blockbuster, sold almost exactly as many copies as Elusive Chanteuse this week, and it’s been out for six months.

Entering at #5 is Austin Mahone’s debut EP, The Secret, with 46,000; Billboard notes that the EP is a warm-up release for a full-length album later this week. Now 50 is in at #6 with 46,000, followed by Michael Jackson’s Xscape (#7, 35,000) and the Black Keys’ Turn Blue (#8, 32,000). Christian singer Crowder enters at #9 with 22,000 for Neon Steeple, and Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic rounds out the top 10 with 18,000.

Similar story on the Hot 100: #1 and #2 remain in Azalea’s grasp thanks to her own “Fancy” with Charli XCX and her guest spot on Ariana Grande’s “Problem.” (Billboard points out that Azalea will be doubly on top of the charts for her 24th birthday this Saturday.) John Legend’s “All Of Me” stays strong at #3, while DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” leapfrogs Pharrell’s “Happy” to reach a new high point at #4. Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” keeps climbing to #6, passing Katy Perry & Juicy J’s “Dark Horse.” Two upward movers are up next: At #8 it’s Canadian reggae-pop act MAGIC! with “Rude,” followed by Calvin Harris at #9 with “Summer.” The Jason Derulo/Snoop Dogg hit “Wiggle” remains at #10 for a second straight week.

TRACK CITY

Bastille – “Bad Blood (Lido Remix)” (Week In Pop Premiere)
Before Bastille took over your radio with “Pompeii,” they released numerous singles from their album Bad Blood, including the propulsive title track. Norwegian electronic producer Lido was commissioned for this remix, which turns “Bad Blood” from the sort of synths-and-guitars arena anthem that’s Bastille’s specialty to a slinking, skittering bit of futuristic songcraft. NOTE: Lido has his own EP called I Love You coming 6/23 on Pelican Fly. Pre-order that here and get single “Money” right away.

OneRepublic – “Love Runs Out”
OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder has written hit songs for many a pop superstar, including critical darlings such as Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson, and Ellie Goulding. So as with Australian song-doctor supreme Sia Furler, it’s good to see him getting the chance to be out in the spotlight sometimes. Still, the Imagine Dragons-ness of this whole production makes me wish Tedder would stay behind the scenes. The song itself makes me think of Fitz & The Tantrums covering something from Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight, which is just gross.

The Ting Tings – “Wrong Club”
In which the group behind “That’s Not My Name” stays up all night for good fun and tries to ride the “Get Lucky” wave. As disco-inflected pop songs go, “Wrong Club” is perfectly fine, but its blatant attempt to jack Daft Punk’s swag is more than a little off-putting.

Agnez Mo – “Coke Bottle” (Feat. Timbaland & T.I.)
As esteemed music critic Maura Johnston pointed out over the weekend, “Coke Bottle” boasts the best Timbaland beat in recent memory, a popping, locking, sputtering series of blips and bleeps that sounds quite a bit like fizz emanating from the beverage in question. The production is so good that we can forgive Tim for deigning to rap on it. As for the others, Mo’s attempt at a hashtag-worthy hook is not entirely without merit, and it’s quite nice to hear Tip riding Tim’s rhythms on a guest verse again a la “My Love.”

Ameriie – “What I Want”
Remember “1 Thing,” Amerie’s Rich Harrison banger that matched up well against Beyoncé’s own Harrison-produced “Crazy In Love”? (Maybe you remember Amerie’s other music too; she landed two albums in the top 10 back in the aughts.) Well, Amerie — now known as Ameriie — is back with her first single since 2009′s label-drama-damaged Love & War. It’s not going to change your life, but I’m glad to have her back.

Stine Bramsen – “Move Forward”
Our first preview of Alphabeat singer Stine Bramsen’s solo album was “Prototypical,” a concise blast of soulful pop. “Move Forward” is even more impressive, a sleek disco-pop hybrid that slow-builds to euphoria.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Rihanna promises a “history making announcement” today in Paris. [That Grape Juice]
  • Iggy Azalea is already working on the follow-up to The New Classic and hopes to hit the studio in August. [Instagram]
  • Crazy how much “Stay With Me” changes when you swap out Sam Smith’s voice for Ed Sheeran’s. [BBC Radio 1]
  • Will.i.am would rather make 45 Vines than a new album, which is totally fine with me. [The Vodafone]
  • Leona Lewis, who won the UK’s X Factor in 2006, has departed Simon Cowell’s label after seven years to sign with Island, though some reports suggest Cowell was the one who cut ties with Lewis. [PopJustice]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

Comments (21)
  1. I don’t know much about country, but as far as new acts go, I like Caitlin Rose a whole lot.

  2. I… I finished a crossword puzzle today Iggy. That’s something… right?

  3. Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is easily the 2nd best album of 2014 so far, behind St. Vincent, but there hasn’t been much competition so far (Spoon will obviously take Album of the Year.)

  4. marko  |   Posted on Jun 5th +2

    In regards to the Ting Tings, you could still do a lot worse in blatant “Get Lucky”-jacking:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjkJ9-pAXHY

  5. I am not as high on all this so-called innovation going on in country.

    I was watching the Billboard Awards a few weeks ago with my wife, who is not from the US and is not so good at telling the subtle differences between genres of Anglo music. She couldn’t distinguish between rock, pop and country acts that performed at all. And honestly, she has a point. I had to strain to hear some banjo in those Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan songs. (Also, I strained to figure out how anyone could consider Imagine Dragons and Lorde rock music). If you ask me country music is having a bit of an identity crisis as the monogenre starts eating away at its soul. But country has sucked for a long time. Back in the 90s it all sounded like the Eagles, and now it’s just figuring out new ways to be terrible. Kacey Musgraves is not bad though.

    Also, where has alt country gone? You never hear about it anymore, except maybe at Paste Magazine. Call me a fuddy-duddy if you will, but I like my country songs with lots of fiddles, yodeling, steel guitars, relatives in prison, anti-social drinking, hard times, etc. etc. Maybe you can throw one Shania or Taylor Swift song on just to mix things up, but that’s it. The grit that made country music great is missing from a lot of the stuff that passes for country these days.

  6. “Call me a fuddy-duddy if you will, but I like my country songs with lots of fiddles, yodeling, steel guitars, relatives in prison, anti-social drinking, hard times, etc. etc. [...] The grit that made country music great is missing from a lot of the stuff that passes for country these days.”

    Definitely agree, and I don’t even really like country that much, despite (or because of) hearing a lot of it growing up. I like the ‘old’ standbys like Hank Sr., Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, etc., and the aforementioned alt-country, but country as a genre is taking so much influence now from rap and top 40 pop that it doesn’t feel like what country was even as recently as the ’90s.

  7. Yay for more reasons to dislike Iggy Izalea! Now including a false sense of accomplishment. Though, with her album title, what else should be expected? If you’re going to be bold, you had better be good.

  8. hey if ya’ll are gonna bring up kerosene… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHTLioJGXb4

    • It’s similar but I hear worse rip-offs every day. And Miranda admitted it and was proud to give him credit. If only every country superstar wrote her own songs and they were similar to Steve Earle songs or better.

  9. Lidooooo.

  10. Hey guys, this is my first comment on this blog. I apologize in advance for the crazy length of my post.

    First of all, I want to thank Stereogum for writing this piece about the state of modern country music. In my experience, it is rare for indie music-centric sites to give much consideration to the genre, so I appreciate the intent behind this article. Having said that, I strongly disagree with a lot of what the writer had to say, including the central premise – that the place mainstream country music is currently in is “a good weird.” Frankly, country radio circa 2014 is a wasteland devoid of true diversity, and filled with mostly vapid, vacuous music, the majority which is, in my opinion, very far removed from the spirit of what makes country music as a genre worthwhile.
    I do agree that other pop music genres are having an unprecedented influence on mainstream country, and to some extent, perhaps that really can be attributed to the larger variety of influences that artists and listeners are exposed to these days. However, I think it’s really important to consider the underlying forces which determine what music makes it into the mainstream in the first place. Historically, because the advent of radio is what formalized the conventions of the genre, country music (more so than rock, for example) has always had a more top-down infrastructure. (Yeah, this is a little ironic, given the populist themes of the music.) Traditionally, country radio serves as the single focal point which defines the genre’s narrative, both for cultural and technological reasons. This has rendered country music particularly vulnerable to the massive changes that have taken place in mainstream music industry over the years, and particularly in the radio industry, which has *drastically* consolidated since the mid 90’s. A few decades ago, most radio stations were independently operated. Now, as another blogger recently noted, “One or two big companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus can flip a switch and unleash an entire cultural phenomenon.”

    http://hereitblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/radio-radio/

    Additionally, Billboard recently changed its longstanding chart rules to artificially boost songs which crossover to other formats like pop. This drastically erodes the autonomy of individual genre formats, and it has had a particularly unprecedented effect on the country format.

    My point is that the real reason the viral video about “Why Country Music Was Awful In 2013” is so monotonous is not due to some kind of genre formalism or strict traditionalist rules about what country music is supposed to be. I assure you, those ideals were chucked out the window a long time ago. The overwhelming sameness of country radio is due to a commercial gold rush caused by the current popularity of what critic Jody Rosen calls “bro-country.” This current batch of shallow, laundry-list-oriented songs are simply (stereotypically) Southern-fried versions of *bad* commercial rap/rock/pop songs, most of which bear little resemblance to any traditionally identifiable strand of country music. It is the country music equivalent of nu-metal. In fact, the popularity of this music is due in part to the death of rock radio, as listeners from outside the genre search for a new, similar sound on the FM dial. I find it very telling that the producer behind bro-country phenomenon Florida Georgia Line (among others) is none other than Joey Moi, the producer responsible for most of Nickelback’s recorded output.

    I agree with the idea that individual artists should have the freedom to experiment with whatever genres or influences they choose, and theoretically, such explorations might yield interesting results. I think I would personally disagree with some about what type of music is appropriate to be marketed as “country,” though I don’t claim to be the ultimate authority on that subject. But I do think the genre is at its best when it builds from its roots, and that the historical emphasis on roots and musical traditions in the country genre is not a bad thing. However, even if others don’t agree or particularly care about that sentiment, I still submit that one of the strengths of genres is that they give individual artists a sense of direction, and define the parameters in which they practice their craft. Corporate-approved pandering to the lowest common denominator of other genres of pop music doesn’t result in true progress. What it results in is a big bucket of Southern-fried monogenre crap.

    Finally, it seems to me that part of the value of the “This Week In Pop” feature is that it provides a sense of balance and context to what is happening in the music world beyond the indie rock / pop music sphere which the site usually covers. In other words, both the independent and mainstream musical worlds are represented. When the a like Stereogum veers into commenting on country music however, this is not the case. I realize a lot of the readers here may have little interest in country music, but given the fact that many indie rock-oriented publications have broadened their scope to consider other genres, it would be cool if a site like Stereogum would keep one eye slightly open to the cool stuff that is going on in the independent country music world, which is thriving below the surface. I noticed that Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music” recently appeared in the “Heavy Rotation” lineup on the site’s front page. I love that album; it’s one of my favorites of the year regardless of genre. Would Stereogum ever consider doing a larger feature on an artist like Sturgill Simpson?

  11. By the way, I appreciated seeing the wonderful Brandy Clark get a shout out. I think her “12 Stories” is a great example of a contemporary country artist addressing contemporary issues in a context that is true to her genre’s roots. She really tells the truth in her songs.

    Incidentally, the commercial dominance of “bro-country” is the reason solo female artists (outside of three token exceptions) who happen to be leading the way in mainstream country right now in terms of substantive, progressive content, are struggling so hard to make a dent in country radio. Currently Clear Channel and Cumulus are single-mindedly pandering to male, teen to twenty-something demographics, and apparently songs by artists like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, and Kellie Pickler don’t “test well” with such audiences. You know things are bad when attractive twenty-something (all but one) women can’t even break into the commercial mainstream.

    Speaking of which, I am somewhat surprised at the enthusiasm for Miranda Lambert here, as I consider her recent output to be pretty hit-or-miss, and not as interesting as what some of the other solo female artists in country and Americana are doing. I think I will have to give “Platinum” another listen.

    • “Platinum” is Miranda’s best since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Kacey, Brandy, Ashley, Caitlin, etc. might have made more interesting records in the last few years than say “Four the Record”, but they all owe a huge part of their career to Miranda who opened up new lanes for females, and most of them worked directly with Miranda before they got big.

  12. fuck blake shelton too

  13. Those thar hot babes would work well in this
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjK_yVdGNGk
    video

  14. I was watching some awards show (I think it was Billboard) a few weeks back. My girlfriend wanted to know why I was watching an awards show basically dedicated to everything I hate. I told her “It helps my me re-affirm my love of the good stuff”

    But I digress…..there was some guy singing a “country song”. I do not know who this person was. All I know is that he had very short and very manicured hair. He was wearing patent leather boots with tight slacks and a skintight black shirt with a variation on the classic rhinestone theme.

    And because I have so little knowledge about that world of music I was really taken aback. When did male country artists start to look like gay guys from the late 90′s heading to the club? Seriously? I’m not saying it’s a bad look. I’m just saying it’s a very specific look and definitely not what I think of when I think of a “country” artist.

    I’m genuinely asking here.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2