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Opinion: The 2017 CMA Awards Played It Too Safe

Carrie-and-Brad
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

It was clear artists and fans inside the Bridgestone Arena for Wednesday night’s CMA Awards felt a special unity that those watching at home weren’t always a part of. Some of the best moments simply didn’t translate.

There was an opportunity for the 51st Annual CMA Awards to truly start a conversation that could have led to social change. Some called for a unified statement in support of gun control laws in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, or even a rogue acceptance speech that got it done. But that would have missed the mark.

The issue is much too nuanced for any sort of heavy-handed approach on national television. A more clever and effective method — one that would have left everyone in tears — would have been to let the families of the shooting victims be part of the storytelling. Imagine if the mother of one of the Las Vegas 58 was part of the unity the show’s co-hosts touted. Imagine if two, three, 24 or 58 mothers took the stage, maybe alongside an artist who was there, taking cover as bullets rained down from above. That’s not political. That’s not controversial. That’s real life, and when country music can tap into that, it’s so special.

Carrie Underwood‘s performance was brilliant and emotional, but it was better for those in the room who got to actually see the singer break down in tears. Those at home just sensed that she was emotional, until the very end when we saw her sobbing under dimmed lights. “Softly and Tenderly” was effectively an In Memoriam for artists and important country music dignitaries before it was about these victims. Showing Underwood in tears would have been bold.

Pics of Carrie Underwood’s Show-Stopping “Softly and Tenderly” Moment

Eric Church opened the 2017 CMAs with “Amazing Grace” — arm hairs across the nation stood at attention. Everyone involved promised the show’s opening number would be memorable, but they turned it over to … Hootie? Full cast performances lack attention to detail almost by definition, and this superstar version of “Hold My Hand” was vanilla at best, confusing at worst. What exactly did it accomplish other than to bring the stars together while viewers at home were left to wonder what’s next?

The most glaring example of the inside baseball nature of this year’s CMAs was the Troy Gentry tribute. If you’re a tangent country music fan, you had no idea why a 15-year-old hit was being revisited, because nobody introduced the Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts collaboration or talked about Gentry’s September death in a helicopter crash. Cameras flashed to a brunette woman crying alongside a young girl. It was the late Montgomery Gentry singer’s wife and daughter, but how could you know that?

Eddie Montgomery’s performance was nothing short of heroic. That defiant fire burned bright in his eyes as he paid tribute to his brother in arms and song. It was a truly great moment … if you knew what was happening. More would have been more in this case.

Expectations were high, given all of the tragedy and strife that the nation — that country music — has seen in 2017. There were so many opportunities to unify. Keith Urban‘s “Female” was a chance to take a positive social stand that nobody would have found controversial. The song was written in a post-Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment world, but the #MeToo element was missing. The television moment begged for a female face to put a stamp on this important song’s message. It is brand new, after all, and not everyone was paying that close of attention to his words.

Paisley and Underwood’s opening monologue was safe, reverting to a formula that has worked in years past. After a few sprinkled-in comments about world events and a dedication of the show to the victims of Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Houston, etc … Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood dove into political humor and parody songs with artists like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw eager to play along. Yes, the Barbie doll bit was funny and “Total Eclipse of the Garth” was clever. But it’s time to change the formula.

See Pics from the 2017 CMA Awards Red Carpet

The Best CMA Awards Moment? Here’s Our Top 5!

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Next: See Winners from the 2017 CMA Awards

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