CMA Awards: Boys made the noise but didn’t drown out country’s newest star

The palace gates don’t get stormed in Nashville. Regime change in country music comes from the inside. And. Very. Slowly.

Which means you might have missed it Wednesday night amid the odes to good times and four-wheel-drive at the 47th Country Music Association Awards, country music’s annual celebration of itself.

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Kacey Musgraves, a 25-year-old Texan who sings with the quiet authority of speech, was nominated for six awards — leading the pack alongside superstar Taylor Swift. She walked out of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with the one that mattered most: new artist of the year.

Clutching her trophy, the singer-­songwriter said: “I can’t even put it into words” — which was tough to believe, considering her gift for articulating the disappointments of young adulthood at a time when so many other country stars are drowning them in Southern Comfort.

The night’s performances felt only somewhat emblematic of the escapist, party-hard ethos dominating country airwaves, but it still got plenty loud.

Florida Georgia Line lost that new-artist trophy to Musgraves but managed to make the noisiest rookie splash. The duo performed twice and took home prizes for best vocal duo and single of the year for “Cruise,” a joy-ride juggernaut that recently sat atop Billboard’s country singles chart for a record-breaking 22 consecutive weeks.

Luke Bryan opened the show with his rowdy chart-topper “That’s My Kind of Night,” but he lost top awards for entertainer and male vocalist of the year to George Strait and Blake Shelton, respectively. Rock mensch Dave Grohl materialized to punch out a tough beat for Zac Brown Band, but that collaboration somehow failed to eclipse the growl of Eric Church’s trash-talking new single, “The Outsiders.”

Country music’s real outsiders sat quietly in the audience, tending to their double-X chromosomes. Switch on country radio anywhere in America and you’ll notice an alarming gender gap. It’s reflected on Billboard’s country singles chart, where only three women appear in the top 20.

One of them is Miranda Lambert, who won her fourth female vocalist of the year award. Another is Swift, who was feted with the Country Music Association’s Pinnacle award for selling a million-­kabillion-thousand albums, bringing country music to a global audience.

Swift’s performance rekindled her ties to the genre’s roots. Still surfing on the success of 2012’s “Red ” — her fourth and glossiest album — she sang a bluegrass-ish version of the album’s title track alongside Alison Krauss and Vince Gill, driving the Maserati in the song’s opening line off into Appalachia.

Also austere: Strait and Alan Jackson, who paid tribute to the late George Jones by singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today” with supreme confidence. Enjoy it while you can, folks. Strait has threatened to retire from touring next year.

Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley hosted for the sixth straight year. Their opening monologue-singalong started with a funny tweak on “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War, and they playfully quashed various Twitter beefs that have broken out between country stars of late. But they also garnished the night with jokes about Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and Kanye West — proof that country still has a cool complex.

It shouldn’t, though. Musgraves is proof. On a night of boisterous performances, hers was quiet, a little timid, like conversation with someone you’re just getting to know.

She played her new single, “Follow Your Arrow,” a controversial song that mentions marijuana and a same-sex kiss but is ultimately about being free: “Just follow your arrow wherever it points.”

On a night when country music huddles together tightest, the wisest words came from its newest star.

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