(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Oy vey. Such a night.
So, the CMA got the message. The message that there is a major shift underway in country music’s audience. That’s become readily evident in Taylor Swift’s domination of popular music — not just her country music base — in the past year.
And if the CMA had failed to acknowledge this new shift, it was risking a huge loss of credibility, not just with that new audience but also with the media and the world at large. So, in a move that was inconsistent with CMA’s past reluctance to accept rapid change, the voters acted to wholeheartedly sweep Taylor into the family fold. The fact that she swept all four of her nominated fields (entertainer of the year, female vocalist, album and video) meant total acceptance.
Nashville itself as a music center was risking its gravitas in the world if it ignored such a popular groundswell as Swift had generated with all of her recent accomplishments, from multi-platinum sales to headlining status. And it wasn’t too shabby that she had become the biggest-selling artist in the U.S. in any musical genre.
In the past year, it was apparent that Taylor had become a force of nature unto herself, developing a momentum that was fed by such unlikely events as Kanye West’s apparent public drunkenness and social ineptitude. If you had written him a script and paid him off, he could not have been a more effective public buffoon. Of course, Taylor’s four most important seconds of her life were when she reacted to Kanye’s act by saying nothing and looking like a devastated young girl — which is what she was.
Now that she has effectively wrought a major revolution in country (and pop) music, I think she, and a lot of other people, need to give some serious thought to what this means and what it will mean. And to how it can be transmitted to a lasting effect. In a way, Taylor’s win reminds me of the Obama army and its dramatic rise and its overthrow of Bush-era politics.
OK, you win! Now what? How do you govern this thing? How does this become a lasting change for the better? I know one thing: There are a lot of CMA voters who woke up this morning and thought, “What did we just do? Who did I just wake up next to? Four major CMA Awards at age 19? We just gave her the keys to the kingdom. Now what?”
Signs of the change were also signaled in Lady Antebellum’s two wins. That a novice group would win two major awards — vocal group of the year (dispatching the entrenched Rascal Flatts after six years of holding the award) as well as single of the year (over a strong field that included the Zac Brown Band, Jamey Johnson, Billy Currington and Brad Paisley) sends a huge signal that credible musical change is being rewarded. Make no mistake about it, though, Lady A well deserved both those wins. Their songwriting skill and harmonies have been far and away one of the best new signs on the country horizon in the recent past.
Another indication was Jamey Johnson’s striking song, “In Color,” from well over a year ago, finally being given its just reward now as song of the year. CMA voters, long slow on giving recognition to new people and new things, now like Jamey. And he is the total opposite of Taylor’s smooth poppy-sounding teen country. The fact that country music can still happily accommodate such extremes of music is a testament to its inherent strength.
Co-host and double CMA Award winner Brad Paisley said only half-jokingly in a post-show interview that the awards show used to be an old man’s event — made up of all the label heads and executives and their cronies and friends. This year, he said, all those old guys were all still here, but now they are surrounded by young people.
On that level, it ultimately worked as a presentation. But, for this as a TV show as a whole, I have to say there were long periods of time during the show when I wondered if I was watching a music awards show on TV or if I had somehow been transmogrified to an endless evening at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. I mean, there were so many doleful, down and slow songs that I half-expected the guitar to be passed to me next, and perhaps to be followed by a joint to be passed as well. Along with a glass of cheap, warm red wine.
But, that’s awards shows for you. By nature, they’re sloppy messes meant to be all things to all people. I hope there was something for you there. Maybe including hope for the future.