Gone Country: Miranda Lambert gets snubbed, silence is golden and Sturgill busks for the ACLU at the 2017 CMAs

10:38 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Music

Well, my father always said that the only thing dumber than buying a lottery ticket was buying two, and he also said betting and gambling are for people who hate having money. So it’s a good thing I didn’t put any money down on any of my picks for the Country Music Association award winners Wednesday night.

I went 4-8, and the CMA played it safe in a night that was already riddled with controversy. What else happened? Read on to find out.

Miranda Lambert got snubbed

Miranda Lambert was nominated for five CMAs: Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Song of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year and Music Video of the Year. She won one: Female Vocalist of the Year, which she has now won eight of the 12 times she’s been nominated. She also served up the night's most traditionally country moment with her performance of “To Learn Her,” from her nominated “The Weight of These Wings” album.  

I’m not sure if this snubbing was deliberate, but Lambert has been one of the most outspoken advocates for more country airplay for women, going so far as to call the lack of ladies on the radio “B.S., straight up.” She deserved to win for “Weight,” but instead that award went to Chris Stapleton. His “From A Room, Vol. 1” is great, but, as the title says, it is only Volume 1. I think it’s fair to say that this album can only be judged once Vol. 2 is released in December. Meanwhile, Lambert’s “Weight,” a double album, is an ambitious piece of artistry that only comes along every once in a while.

However, Lambert touched on the feeling of unity that everyone else talked about on the red carpet and in their acceptance speeches when she received her award: “I feel like there’s a family in this room right now.”

Speaking While Not Speaking remained the gold standard

Hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood cracked some jokes in their opener about the blatant press restrictions placed upon the journalists covering the awards. But aside from that, keeping mum about any issue stayed the industry standard Wednesday night, as artists and performers let anything else —their performances, their fashion choices, their Maya Angelou acceptance speech quotes — do the talking for them on issues ranging from “unity” and “harmony” to presidential politics, sexual assault prevention and gun issues. 

None of this is surprising, but Nashville’s stigmatization of anyone who dares to voice an opinion that hasn’t been workshopped has got to stop. Safe choices extended to even the awards, as the CMA went back to familiar winners (Little Big Town, Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks) that wouldn’t offend anybody.

Brad Paisley wore a shirt that said “Unity” during a performance, Little Big Town quoted Maya Angelou, Dan + Shay and Lauren Alaina performed The Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” every award winner mentioned the word “family” more than the last four “Fast and Furious” films combined, and the closest thing anybody said that approaced a comment was Little Big Town’s “Kindness is an attractive quality. We can change everything because of harmony.” All of that might really be the mindset of many of these artists. But to the casual fan watching last night’s awards, you wouldn’t know that there was anything happening in the industry regarding sexual assault allegations, or lack of diversity on the radio, or a lack of avenue given to anyone who is not mainstream.

Some would argue that an awards show is a perfect opportunity to get away from all of those topics. And, after all, most awards shows these days have become a little too politically charged. But at a moment where many fans are wondering when country music stars are going to speak up about ugly issues that have recently affected many in the industry, tampering down expression is not the answer. 

Carrie Underwood did, however, deliver a soaring, haunting performance of “Softly and Tenderly” to honor the victims of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, as well as pay tribute to all of the country music artists we’ve lost this year. Her performance was one of the highlights of the night, even if the swooping camera seemed to not want to focus on the In Memoriam photos. 

The people who weren’t in the building still made headlines

As I mentioned earlier, Taylor Swift won a CMA this year, her 12th so far. How, you, ask? She wrote Little Big Town’s “Better Man.” The fact that she won is more an indication of the CMA’s need to connect with the youths than anything. Swift wasn’t there to accept her award, but her win was a hot topic of conversation online. (She alsp has a new album coming out this weekend — maybe you’ve heard of it?)

The other big talker was Sturgill Simpson, who quietly deleted his social media accounts a while back and hasn’t let on what he’s going to do next. We found out a part of that plan when he showed up outside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, busking on a street corner with a sign that said “I don’t take requests but I take questions about anything you want to talk about because facism sucks.” all of the money he received will go to the ACLU. Check out the performance below, from his now-restored Facebook page (Warning: Some NSFW language):

Simpson has never been officially nominated for a CMA award, but his “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” album won a Grammy for Country Music Album of the Year in 2016. Among his answers to some questions he received:

“Nobody needs a machine gun, coming from a guy who owns a few guns. Gay people should have the right to be happy, and live their life any way they want to, and get married if they want to without fear of getting dragged down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and enslaved by the industrial prison complex. And hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you very much.”

“I think that’s my fault. I think you have to submit to be nominated. And I’m not sure that we ever submitted, or if anybody submitted for me. I honestly don’t know. So that could have been my fault. I’m not going to say that I was snubbed, because I’m not sure that’s true. It’s really cool to see Jason [Isbell] get recognized on that platform though. I’m on a label now, and he’s a truly independent artist.”

“He’s a fascist (expletive) pig, and I’m not afraid to say that, because at this point anybody who’s still supporting that guy can’t be anything in my mind but an ignorant (expletive) bigot. So there it is. Anybody that’s surprised to hear me say that is going to unfollow me or stop listening to my record was probably not listening that close anyway.”

Traditional country still had its moments

Alan Jackson mahaged to work in two performances, with “Chasing That Neon Rainbow” and “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.” Little Big Town performed a great tribute to Glen Campbell with a rendition of “Wichita Lineman,” featuring Jimmy Webb on the keys. Chris Stapleton’s Album of the Year win and third Male Vocalist of the Year win in a row is revolutionary for the genre right now, even if his winning has started to become commonplace. And a lot of “old guard” artists like Reba, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were still nominated.

All things considered, Wednesday night’s ceremony was better than CMAs of years past, but most fo what was played could still barely qualify as country music, and the CMA still has a problem with finding relevant women to nominate, or even acknowledging that there’s any kind of issues going on behind the scenes.  

See a full list of the CMA Winners here:

View full experience