Last night, music and heart were in high gear as Nashville celebrated the biggest and brightest of country music with the 50th annual Country Music Association Awards at the famed Bridgestone Arena. Best known as the CMAs, the evening brought out the genre’s most beloved artists to help honor the best of the night and over the past 50 years.
The awards last night were quite possibly the best of any country music show this year, drawing out the best of the best — that is, every winner since the association’s inception. From Charley Pride to Dolly Parton, from Alabama to Little Big Town, every living entertainer was present, alongside all of today’s hottest up-and-coming artists. If you saw it for yourself, you too would have seen that the awards were a pretty special event and given the star-studded crowd it boasted, there’s no denying that plenty of the evening’s performances and segments will go down in history as monumental.
Our resident country music fans — and twins, in some nature — Meg Quinn and Tania Hussain waited all year for this event and as they do every country music award season, watched it together. To bring it all in, the two unofficial cowgirls share their top moments of the night’s glamorous ceremony, highlighting their favorites for performances, wins, stars, and moments from evening’s glamorous and historical event.
Meg | Opening, Maren Morris and Tim McGraw
This was difficult for me with so many incredible performances, but these were three moments in the show is where I was really floored. The opening number was such a great way to tribute the oldies too! Maren Morris had one of the best CMA debut performances I can remember, and I was brought to tears watching Tim McGraw sing “Humble and Kind” as so many different people’s faces from many different backgrounds flashed on the screen behind him. It was incredible!
Tania | Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan and Kelsea Ballerini
The whole show was full of stellar performances that like Meg, I was really in awe. But while I really loved the opening number because I’m a sucker for montages and the oldies, I loved Miranda Lambert’s performance of “Vice.” She is amazing with everything she does and I am certain we will see her sweep at the 2017 CMAs as her new record releases later this year. Additionally, I absolutely loved Luke Bryan’s performance of “Move”—it was seriously so fun! That dude knows how it shake it like he means it, and I just eat it all up. Moreover, I adored Kelsea Ballerini’s performance of “Peter Pan” with the interpretive dance and honestly, it’s a song that makes me cry and just so beautifully written. And it was pretty magical…
Tania: The same way Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake’s performance from the 2015 CMAs was talked about for a year, this is is a performance that will have so many talking for months. And the best part is, there was an immense girl power that illuminated on stage between the three of them that was just so magical. I really loved it and definitely got goosebumps.
Meg: This was a true moment — Beyoncé showing up at the CMAs was enough of an event but to perform with icons like The Dixie Chicks? All four ladies sounded great and killed it.
Favorite Album of 2016
Meg: To see Eric Church finally win a CMA after being snubbed so often, and to have it be Album of the Year for an album that he surprised released at the CMAs last year seemed so fitting that I wanted to cry. I am a huge Eric Church fan so maybe I am biased, but truthfully although Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban all had fine releases this year, Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood was the correct winner.
Tania: I was thinking Carrie Underwood or Keith Urban would walk away with this award because I absolutely loved both of their albums, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a “newer” face pick up an old favorite. Meg has been telling me to hear Eric’s album for months and months, and I have sadly failed her. I’ve only ever heard a few of his singles, but he is a phenomenal singer and I loved his performance with Rhiannon Giddens for “Kill A Word.” Not only did it show off his impressive voice and songwriting skills, but he really brought that meaning to life with his song and it made for a riveting performance which is definitely anchoring me to make his album a priority on my listen list.
Favorite Single/Record of 2016
Meg: One of the best moments of the night was seeing Lori McKenna win Song of the Year for “Humble and Kind.” She is such a talent and prolific songwriter to see her get recognition on this level made my heart happy — and for it to be for a song with such a powerful, moving, and important message made it all the better.
Tania: I wasn’t sure what to expect with this category as I know Cam made quite a splash last year with “Burning House” and Maren Morris broke onto the scene with “My Church,” but I absolutely love Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” and think it’s a well-deserved award, especially with our current political climate. Beautifully written by Lori McKenna, it’s a song that epitomizes what we need more of today and I love that it’s getting attention and picked up such an honor.
Favorite Musical Event of the Year
Meg: Seeing Dierks Bentley and Elle King win this for their song “Different For Girls” was puzzling, especially when you take into account they were up against Morgane and Chris Stapleton for their absolutely stunning cover of “You Are My Sunshine.” The Stapletons were my clear winners here as I am not a fan of “Different For Girls” at all because — is it? Is it, really?
Tania: I’m with Meg on this one. I’m not a big fan of “Different for Girls” at all. I was actually really mad that Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild didn’t win for Best Musical Event of the Year for their duet, “Home Alone Tonight.” It’s one of my favorite tracks off Bryan’s record, Kill the Lights and it did really well on the singles charts. Not to mention, Luke sang it on several of his tours this past summer and had Karen as a guest for multiple shows. It really was an experience for the fans and such a favorite during the shows. But c’est la vie.
Favorite Music Video of 2016
Meg: “Fire Away” was one of the top music videos that I saw this past year so I believe it’s the rightful winner here. It’s a video that told a complete and heart breaking story about the struggles of mental illness but did so without seeming preachy or cheesy at all, which is difficult to accomplish in videos.
Tania: “Burning House” by Cam was a stunning music video, so powerful and gorgeous with these beautiful metaphors and depth, but I can definitely see why “Fire Away” won. Stapleton is becoming a real force in the country music scene and this is such an important music video for our generation with its social statement on suicide prevention. The lyrics blend beautifully with the imagery and I am glad Chris won for Music Video of the Year.
Favorite New Artist of 2016
Meg: Seeing Maren Morris win Best New Artist right after her killer performance was so good it almost seemed scripted. While I didn’t fully love her debut album, I really love her and her musical style, so I am looking forward to what will hopefully be a bright future for her.
Tania: I absolutely love “My Church” because of its old school feel and vibe, so I’m really happy that Maren is getting recognized. I have not heard her album in its entirety, but I am certain she will be an artist we see more of in the years to come because of her impressive vocal chops. Plus, her speech proves she’s an adorable human being and someone who works really hard through the odds, so I’m a big fan of that.
Favorite Artist of 2016
Meg: This category seemed harder to predict than recent years, I thought maybe Chris Stapleton would win, but Garth Brooks took the award home. It seems like the right option as he had a very big and successful tour this year… and he’s Garth Brooks.
Tania: While I really expected Luke Bryan to pick up Entertainer of the Year again since he’s won for two years in a row now, I’m happy for Garth Brooks and will always have a soft spot in my heart for “Friends in Low Places.” He had an amazing comeback year and clearly, still one of the reigning kings of country. Moreover, his speech was super sweet and I love how he loves Trisha Yearwood. There’s been some talk about how the two got together, but love is love and you can’t fight that sh*t.
Best (Non-Award + Non-Performance Related Show) Highlight
Meg: Nicole Kidman dancing in the audience to Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks was amazing. She was dancing in the smallest, most dainty way that I thought about it for the rest of the night.
Tania: I absolutely loved the hosts! I thought Brad and Carrie did a phenomenal job again this year and they are such a funny duo. I know it was a solid pairing between Vince Gill and Reba McEntire for years, but these two really hold their own and make the show super fun. Brad has a very self-deprecating kind of humor and Carrie plays to it really wonderfully. I love their little duets and I really loved seeing them bring back the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Barbie dolls too! That was hilarious and again, super awkward. Also, I truly adored their bit with Peyton Manning who was in attendance for Kenny Chesney’s Pinnacle Award. Their singing in the tune of “Nationwide is On Your Side” was something I definitely will watch again.
Biggest Upset (and Who Should Have Won)
Meg: Award-wise the night started off on the wrong foot for me with “Die A Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett winning Single of the Year. I would’ve placed all four of the other songs — “Record Year” by Eric Church, “My Church” by Maren Morris, “Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw, and “Nobody To Blame” by Chris Stapleton— higher on my ballot than it.
Tania: I really wanted Maren Morris to go home with Single of the Year for “My Church.” It’s a song that really touches on self-discovery and the depth you find when going through a rough patch. Every little bit you fight against is your own way of healing as you find some sort of salvation in that moment. She deserved it and while Thomas Rhett is a great singer and well-respected, I don’t think his song held up to Maren’s. That said, could the Beyoncé and Dixie Chicks number have been longer? Because, yes we all wanted that. That was a big upset. Yes?
Star of the Night | Maren Morris
Tania: What a difference a year makes. After winning for Best New Artist, she tells the crowd she was sitting in a bar in Nashville watching the CMAs last year and then this year, boom. Not only was her speech so sweet and inspiring too, but her performance which was right before it was stellar and goosebump-inducing. Definitely a performance I will remember for years to come!
Meg: She might only have won one of her awards for the night, but between that win and her performance directly preceding it, Maren’s definitely one of the names I am remembering the day after.
Best Red Carpet Look
Faith Hill | I absolutely adored everything: her soft makeup, her straight hair she kept behind her ears, and her gorgeous long sleeved peplum Armani Prive dress that didn’t look like the usual dress we see at the CMAs. She rocked it completely.
Carrie Underwood | Some might say that Carrie plays it safe on the red carpet, but I thought the gown she came into the ceremony with was beautiful. She wore 12 different dresses that night, but she definitely wowed in that breath-taking Michael Cinco beaded dusty pink gown, perfectly encrusted with Swarovski crystals, pearls and organza flowers all over. And her makeup was as always, flawless.
Meg: This was the best CMA Awards in recent memory, from the very first minute of the opening number to the end when Brad and Carrie were closing out the show. Often I find that when awards shows are celebrating a big anniversary it can feel very over done and clunky without any flow through the night, but the CMAs celebrated 50 years so well. They perfectly balanced paying tribute to years past by playing montages and singing bits of old songs, while keeping the focus on this years crop of artists so we never really lost sight of why we were watching the CMAs in the first place.
Tania: This might just be my favorite CMAs in history. Like Meg, I enjoyed so much about it. From the opening montage with memories from yesteryear, to the collaborations on stage welcoming every artist to the closing with Brad and Carrie — there was a lot to love about it. My twin summed it up well when she said some shows can seem kind of overdone, but this one wasn’t like that at all. It balanced everything quite beautifully, while welcoming the evolution of country music with inviting Beyoncé. And I have to say, prior to the ceremony, there was a ton of fodder about Beyoncé being at the awards and how she isn’t country. But if you really understand country music at its heart and look beyond the traditional sound, it’s about opening its arms to everyone and it’s been like that for years. The country community, much like its capital city of Nashville, it open to everyone and I love that the most about it. It’s hearty, rooted in love and there’s always a song for all of us.
What were your favorite moments of the show? Share with us in the comments below!
About the Authors
Meg Quinn is a Senior Writer for “The Hudsucker.” After going through high school thinking she “didn’t like to write,” she found her love for it her freshman year at college and it’s only deepened since then. Upon graduating from Rutgers University with a BA in Communication in 2013, she began working in online marketing for the hospitality industry. She currently splits her time between NYC, where she works, and NJ, where she lives—but hopes that one day she’ll be able to live and work in the same state (that’s the dream). Follow her on Twitter as @msmegquinn.
Tania Hussain is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief here at “The Hudsucker,” and an Associate Editor at Womanista. Currently attending Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and studying Journalism, Tania loves writing and meeting new people. In addition to being an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley, and baseball fan, she adores pancakes, fine cheeses, film, and music. The Hoosier at heart has a passionate wanderlust for travel and road-tripping. Follow her on Twitter as @westlifebunny.