The Academy of Country Music Awards: A Running Diary

The Academy of Country Music Awards: A Running Diary

Taylor Swift will bury you

The Academy of Country Awards are basically the least entertaining of the three annual country awards shows. They don't have the general sense of legitimacy that the CMAs have or the freewheeling randomness of the CMT Awards (which I totally forgot about this year). They're in Vegas, which means that only the most cheeseball possible mainstream celebrities will show up. And they're on CBS, the network that loves to awkwardly turn its B-list stars into awards-show presenters in the vague hope of synergy. And still I never got too bored watching this year's show. In the music business's apocalyptic end-times, that's a great testament to the durability of the Nashville production line, which cranked out a whole lot of great singles over the past twelve months.

8:00: Carrie Underwood starts the show singing "Last Name" under a gigantic lit-up C. This song is basically Underwood's attempt for another trashy-stomp crossover monster, a "Before He Cheats" part 2, and it absolutely rules. I won't give away the punchline to anyone who hasn't heard the thing, but it's the first time I've guffawed out loud watching CMT since Bobby Brown clowned Dee Snider on the Gone Country premier. This performance, though, yee. Underwood has a tendency to sound weirdly flat on live TV, confusing considering that she got her start singing on live TV. And she's a whole lot more convincing doing dewy "Jesus, Take the Wheel"-type stuff than chickenhead neck-snapping her way through something like this. She looks good, though.

8:04: Oh Jesus, we the fans are voting on the Entertainer of the Year award for the first time ever. Something tells me this isn't going to work out too well. She's not nominated or anything, but I feel like Hannah Montana probably has a fighting chance now.

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8:06: Reba McIntire is hosting for the bazillionth time. She gets booed for a Roger Clemens joke? Is everything sacred? She also makes a joke about how even when women and black people are now running for president, they're still not up for Entertainer of the Year, which is probably the closest thing we'll get to a political joke tonight. Reba, I should point out, was basically born to host these things.

8:08: Shot of a face-squinching Nicole Kidman in the crowd next to Keith Urban. I'm never, ever going to get used to seeing her at country-music events, ever.

8:09: One advantage the ACM Awards have over the CMAs: Toby Keith has not been so repeatedly insulted that he won't show up anymore. He does new single "She's a Hottie," which is completely autopilot except for the one part where he sort of raps. Someone should commission a scientific study on why this guy never looks like he's having any fun onstage.

8:12: It's the first random CBS-crossover presenter of the night! They really busted that one out early. Someone from Without a Trace, alongside Mindfreak Criss Angel, is presenting Single of the Year. Neither one of them gives a shit about country music. All the nominated songs pretty much rule (except the Big & Rich one), and I'm not the least bit sad to see the gut-wrenching pseudo-R&B Sugarland ballad "Stay" take it, even if I was pulling for "Don't Blink" and "Watching Airplanes."

8:16: The George Constanza guy, whose chief post-Seinfeld cultural achievements have been repeated Brad Paisley video appearances, is here to introduce Paisley. I'd love to know how that connection happened. Paisley does "I'm Still a Guy," his newest aw-shucks novelty-jam, which is mostly about how you shouldn't get your eyebrows plucked. It's no "Alcohol."

8:20: Taylor Swift wins Best New Female Vocalist, an award that may or may not have been specifically concocted so she could win something. She gets all teary-eyed and thanks her mom. Aw.

8:30: Miranda Lambert, who in a better world would be sweeping this thing, snarls her way through "Gunpowder & Lead," the song that makes killing an abusive ex-boyfriend sound like a really fun thing to do. Also fun: headbanging! Miranda Lambert is now the first person I've ever seen headbanging at a country-music awards show. Bass player mohawk-watch: it's still there! Her grey-haired biker-looking guitarist appears to be gone, though.

8:35: Lady Antebellum, who I'd never heard of before last week, win Best New Group. That "Love Don't Live Here" song is the first thing I've heard in like ten years that makes good use of the post-Vedder yarl.

8:42: Rodney Atkins sounds like total ass live. Good to know. I wish his hits medley started with "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)" and ended with "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)," but no such luck. I don't know about this guy. If his whole thing is that he wears greasy jeans instead of rhinestones, then why does his fiddle player look like a casual-friday stockbroker?

8:48: Jack Ingram wins Best New Male Vocalist. This show has too many awards.

9:02: Is there just bad sound tonight? Is that what's going on? Because Kenny Chesney sounds like he's in the process of swallowing his own larynx.

9:08: George Strait will still be doing leathery plainspoken grown-man laments after we're all dead. Can he tell his own songs apart? Because I sure can't.

9:15: And now "Shiftwork," the song that combines Kenny Chesney with George Strait and somehow makes both of them more boring.

9:26: Obligatory thank-the-troops moment.

9:28: Sugarland does "All I Wanna Do." Choreographed butt-dances should really not be a part of the Sugarland repertoire. This is what happens when genial Hee Haw goofiness goes too far.

9:30: Hey, it's Jewel! Hyucking at John Rich's jokes! Country music really provides a home to way, way too many out-of-it former pop stars. Seriously, if Lisa Loeb and Shaggy and the "Mambo Number 5" guy decided to reboot their careers by heading to Nashville, they'd be greeted with open arms. Anyway, she gives Album of the Year to Miranda Lambert, which is an outcome way better than anything I could've anticipated. She never wins these awards! This was just awesome to finally see.

9:36: I like barreling honky-tonk Brooks & Dunn way better than Jesused-out power-ballad Brooks & Dunn, but I'm still not sure why either one continues to exist. Reba runs in at the end of "Put a Girl in It," which I guess is the new single, and sings both of them off the stage.

9:40: "Stay," which already won Single of the Year, wins the somehow different Song of the Year. Jennifer Nettles cries a bunch. I love the idea that an acoustic ballad is somehow revolutionary for commercial country.

9:45: Taylor Swift, the heretofore undiscovered missing link between Nashville country and MySpace emo who also once did the Soulja Boy dance in a video, starts out "Should've Said No" wearing a gigantic black hoodie and pounding an acoustic guitar before her band roars in and stagehands dramatically rip away the hoodie. Then she grabs her poodle-hair guitarist and runs under a huge fake waterfall. I love this stuff. I wonder if Brooks & Dunn can feel their relevance slipping away when they look at this chick.

9:50: Rascal Flatts win some humanitarian award. These segments always remind me of those glaringly insincere NBA Cares promos. Stuff like giving money to charity and singing to sick kid is great and all, but it loses something when you show up to accept an award for it on TV, you know? Or maybe I'm just saying that because Rascal Flatts blow.

9:52: Urg, Dr. Phil and his wife. This show must really be starving for celebrities. They shock absolutely nobody by giving Best Vocal Duo to Brooks & Dunn. Did they even do anything over the past year? Montgomery Gentry stays getting robbed.

9:55: Oh damn, Trace Adkins is about to do "You're Gonna Miss This." Can I watch this? I can try, but this song always reduces me to a total puddle, which might make it hard to make fun of Rascal Flatts later. OK. OK. Let's do this. OK. The high-school daughter can't wait to leave home, but her mom says she should slow down and enjoy this part of her life because it'll be over too soon. OK. That's sad, but I can deal. Now she's older and married and living in a one-bedroom apartment. She want to buy a house and have kids, but her dad says that these are some good times and she'll want this back. Oh wow. That's really really sad. But we're doing this. We're getting through. Oh my god, but now she's apologizing to the plumber when her kids are crying but the wise old plumber knows that she's going to wish these days hadn't gone by so fast. Oh shit. OK, I'm done. Can't handle it. That song is just too sad. How did the "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" guy pull this off? "You're Gonna Miss This" is like the best power ballad ever. I can't even talk about it. Fuck.

10:02: Hasn't the country music establishment already given Garth Brooks every possible lifetime achievement award? Apparently not. Reba says he's the highest-selling solo artist in American history, which is just nuts. Garth, headseat mic and vertical-stripe shirt and all, sings a cheesily great hits medley that could probably go on for like five hours if he wanted it to. Virtually everyone in the room gets to make a living because of that guy. I'm buying "Thunder Rolls" off iTunes as I write this.

10:10: Oh what the fuck, it's someone from The Big Bang Theory and Kimbo Slice. And Kimbo is dressed like a cowboy. I feel sort of funny saying this about someone who could take my head off without even trying, but does this guy have to be such a cartoon character? Isn't it enough to be a complete badass? They give Top Vocal Group to Rascal Flatts in maybe the least suspenseful presentation of the entire night.

10:15: Obligatory Paris Hilton joke!

10:17: Keith Urban performs on the floor, just like Lightning Bolt! Part of his rhythm section is some girl going "chicka-chick-ahh." The song he's doing is some tossed-off fake-jugband come-on, and it sort of rules. Pretty amazing that Nicole Kidman's husband can pull off stompy down-home shit without looking like an ass. Popular culture just gets weirder every year.

10:22: Speaking of which, here's David Spade! Something terrible happened to this man.

10:25: Rascal Flatts do "Every Day," the newest entry in their seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap-seats power-ballads. This one is actually pretty good, and Gary LeVox isn't even dressed like an anime character, but it'll take a lot more moments like these before I feel comfortable not hating Rascal Flatts.

10:32: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood pay tribute to Eddy Arnold, who just died. They sing a pretty, tender, quiet acoustic version of "Make the World Go Away."

10:40: Kellie Pickler does her post-Parton pretty-hick act, which I'm liking more all the time. This song, about knowing you're beautiful, has none of the gut-punch wallop of the one about her mother walking out on her, but it's still pretty good.

10:45: Brad Paisley wins Top Male Vocalist, beating out a whole bunch of titans in the process. Nice to see this guy finally working his way toward elite status.

10:50: LeAnn Rimes sings a surprisingly grimy Southern rock song. This show is still too long, but it's good to see the producers aren't cramming all the boring stuff into the last hour.

10:53: Presenting: Karolina Kurkova and Dwight Yoakam? This show has the weirdest relationship with celebrity. Carrie Underwood wins Top Female Vocalist. Miranda Lambert: robbed again!

10:56: I'm not going to complain about this show being too long again if it means Montgomery Gentry get to close the show out. These guys rule so hard. Eddie is either visibly drunk or doing a great impression of someone who is. "Back When I Knew It All," the new single, is about the least greasy thing on their new album, and it's still pretty greasy.

10:59: Kenny Chesney wins that interactive Entertainer of the Year award. I feel like I've seen this before. He thanks his parents for having sex. That, at least, is new.

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