Friday, November 12, 2010

Country Strong!

CMA Awards 2010

So last night Nashville threw itself a little hootenanny we like to call the CMAs – the Country Music Association Awards. 

Here’s how it goes down: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood show everyone else, in every genre, how this whole hosting thing is done. They have become the go-to comedy duo who can be relied upon to kill it while remaining (mostly) wholesome, on-script and on-cue. This is the sort of thing you expect from a seasoned pro like Paisley, but it always comes as a bit of a shock to see how slick a performer  Carrie Underwood has become in the few short years since she walked off the farm and onto the American Idol stage.

There was a lot of chatter drummed up about a special Loretta Lynn tribute, which featured Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow trading verses of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with hearty aplomb; the Grand Dame herself walked out to complete the song. I will obviously hold off on commenting on her frock, because that’s what we expect from the girl from Butcher Holler.

The other performance that got a lot of advance publicity was the Jason Aldean / Kelly Clarkson duet on his new song “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Each of these folks smack you upside the head with the quality and timbre of their voices when they open their mouths, and sure enough, they delivered. Both of them got the memo about dressing up, but alas they both turned up in all-black, rendering them invisible against the all-black orchestra and set.

OK, I’m obfuscating: the one thing everyone tuned in to see was whether Gwyneth Paltrow would go down in flames when she took the stage in her much-touted debut as, improbably as it sounds, a country singer. Would she, could she pull it off? And how does a waif who weighs all of 90 lbs stash the giant pair of hairy balls it takes to even attempt such a move? Do they make Wranglers like that? I want some! Country music television has been hawking the video promoting the movie she’s starring in, Country Strong, for a while now: it opened a few nights ago. It features Ms. Paltrow (a NY prep school girl now transplanted to England, let’s not forget) in the role Kelly Cornbread or something, a washed-up yet vibrantly healthy looking young blonde singer who has to rebuild her career once she gets out of rehab. Her husband is played by Tim McGraw, who has become so typecast in this role that you can literally wheel him around like Han Solo encased in that stuff Jabba the Hut freezes him in. The video features clips from the movie (obligatory dancing-on-the-bar scene; obligatory drunken breakdown scene, obligatory comeback on stage scene) that reveal a cross between The Rose and YouTube concert footage of Taylor Swift. Yes, it’s chick-flick hell. The big soundtrack song is the self-same “Country Strong,” a bit of old-timey pap that the real blondes in the audience could demolish the living shit out of. Along to help her out is the kindly Vince Gill, who looks like he’s lost some weight (go Vince!). So how did she do? Passable: she sang on key, she didn’t puke. She looked terrified and stood rooted to the spot like she’d been pinned there with a giant iron rod through her trousers. For this, she got a standing O. Let me tell you: country folk are polite.

Here’s the thing: country music is still a farm system; you have to play the sweet bejesus out of your singing chops before you get invited to the Game. By the time most people hear you you’re a hardened professional who would have fallen by the wayside long ago if you couldn’t REALLY SING. Gwyneth wouldn’t have made it past round One of the reality audition show that was won by the real star of the evening: Miranda Lambert.

Girlfriend had a good night. It was her birthday: she won an armful of gongs, including Album of the Year for her second CD, Revolution, and she utterly deserved it. Add to that, her hotter-than-hell fiancey (as she spells it) (and newly inducted Opry member) Blake Shelton won a bunch of trophies himself. Nashville likes their power couples; Tim and Faith have had a good run; it’s time for some new newlyweds to spawn some babies. She says she’s been on a no-pizza diet in order to pull off the red-carpet glam, but evidence of that was overshadowed by the potential spectacle of her massive boobies bursting forth from her low-cut dress. Any minute I expected disaster to strike, but no: the double-sided tape held fast.

Taylor Swift, of course, doesn’t have that problem. She is the biggest star in all of American music (oh, COME ON: try to deny it!). When the first single off her album was leaked during a flight to Tokyo, a decision was made on the spot to go ahead and release it: by the time the plane landed, that single, “Mine,” was already a number one hit. The album sold over a million units in its first week. Therefore, seemingly in the pursuit of fairness, she was not nominated for anything this year, so as to give everyone else a chance. Very sporting.

This allowed Brad Paisley to pick up the hallowed Entertainer of the Year title (after being nominated for five straight years). The evening’s touching moment came when, in accepting it, he genuinely choked up. You know what? I saw a lot of country acts live this year: and his H2O show was clearly the most entertaining: it was satisfying to see merit given where due. Country Strong? Hells yes, my friend. That’s what Miranda was relying on, at any rate. 

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