Lambert certainly did, continuing her award-show reign by landing four wins — the most in the room — out of a field-leading nine nominations. For the fifth straight time, she was named Female Vocalist of the Year. She also won Vocal Event of the Year (for “We Were Us” with Keith Urban); Single of the Year (for the reflective “Automatic”); and Album of the Year (for the dynamic “Platinum”).
“I really poured my heart and soul into this one more than ever,” she said of her fifth album, noting that she turned 30 last year and “felt like I needed to sing about new stuff.”
The night’s biggest surprise: Newcomer Kacey Musgraves, who grew up in the same East Texas area as Lambert, picked up a win for Song of the Year for her critically acclaimed, controversial single “Follow Your Arrow.”
“Do you guys realize what this means for country music?” a stunned Musgraves asked the audience as she accepted her award for the song, which references same-sex kissing and smoking marijuana. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this award means so much because our genre was built on simple, good songs about real life – and that’s what this was.”
Musgraves’s not-so-veiled nod to the kind of songs that have taken over country music these days (alcohol-fueled party anthems about women and trucks) wasn’t lost on anyone. While “Follow Your Arrow” was too risque for radio play in some conservative parts of the country, it’s clear that CMA voters wanted to recognize solid songwriting.
See a full list of winners and nominees below, including Shelton (who won Male Vocalist of the Year yet again) along with Little Big Town, Florida Georgia Line and Brett Eldredge. Meanwhile, here are some highlights and lowlights from the night:
* Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as co-hosts
We said it last year and we’ll say it again: This is how you host an award show. After seven years on stage together, the duo’s chemistry and comedic timing is top-notch.Their monologue tackled everything including Ebola (with a parody song called “Quarantine” to the tune of “Jolene”); Renee Zellweger; the Secret Service scandal; and nude photo hacks. (The latter a parody of “I Walk the Line”: “I take naked selfies all the time/I’m scared I’ll find/They’ve leaked online.”)
* The collaborations with new singers/Nashville icons
Sure, the Meghan Trainor-Miranda Lambert “All About That Bass” duet was fun. The real stand-outs: Kacey Musgraves and Loretta Lynn on “You’re Lookin’ at Country”; Eric Church and George Strait on “Like a Cowboy”; and even Paisley/Underwood singing a few bars of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” before he was honored with the Irving Waugh Award of Excellence. The CMAs were best when blending the old with the new.
* Paisley spilling that Underwood is expecting a boy
Obviously a planned moment, and one that sent tabloid writers scrambling to post stories as Paisley “let it slip” during the monologue that newly-pregnant Underwood is having a baby boy.
* Kacey Musgraves winning Song of the Year
That was a shock for everyone, and it was pretty great to even see the normally unflappable Musgraves lose her cool. She’s right, that victory a huge deal for country music and songwriters everywhere, especially given the lack of support the song got on the radio.
* Florida Georgia Line singing “Dirt” instead of the rowdy new single “Sun Daze”
We’re so grateful they went with a toned-down acoustic version of their hit “Dirt” (simply sitting on chairs, strumming guitars) instead of the usual over-the-top party songs with bikers doing flips in the background. Time for a break.
* Jennifer Nettles on stage again.
Oh, we miss Sugarland. It was great to have Nettles’ powerhouse voice on hand for the Doobie Brothers singing “Listen to the Music,” a performance that got everybody up and dancing.
* The Band Perry’s Glen Campbell cover “Gentle on My Mind”
The group’s latest single and a beautiful tribute to the country music legend.
* Paisley excitedly telling Meghan Trainor she could be country if she changed “All About That Bass” to be about fishing.
Who doesn’t love a fish joke?
* Taylor Swift pandering
Nashville, move on! T-Swift so isn’t interested anymore. It made for a sort of funny bit when Paisley/Underwood diagnosed Music City with “Postpartum Taylor Swift Disorder” since the former country-pop singer has officially left for the pop world. (Paisley: “I’ll be the first one to say it: President Obama does not care about post-partum Taylor Swift Disorder.” Underwood: “I’m pretty sure that’s why the Democrats lost the Senate.”) It got a little sad when the producers randomly used a 5-second clip of Swift footage during the Vince Gill tribute. Look, guys, she’s in Tokyo promoting her pop album. She may have been nominated for Female Vocalist, but she didn’t even show up. Let it go.
* Ariana Grande and Little Big Town singing “Bang Bang”
Intriguing idea in theory, but wow, did it not translate at all. This is a country show: Shouldn’t Grande be the one to perform a country song?
* Luke Bryan’s sleepy performance of “Roller Coaster”
BOR-ING. Come on Luke, you’re famous for those dorky dad dance moves on national TV. Don’t let us down now.
* The obvious background graphics for Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane”
Great performance and huge applause at the end. But come on, making the screen look like an arrival/departures board? Let’s get a little more creative!
* Seizure-inducing lighting during Keith Urban’s “Somewhere In My Car”
Seriously, some of these graphics behind the singers were incredibly distracting/blinding. It couldn’t even be saved by the camera panning to his wife Nicole Kidman in the audience, looking proud as usual.
* Non-country music presenters
Tim Tebow? Lily Aldridge? Yeah, they obviously have Nashville connections, but there are so many newer singers that would have killed for a chance to be on stage.
Here’s a complete list of winners:
Entertainer of the Year
Luke Bryan *WINNER*
Female Vocalist of the Year
Miranda Lambert *WINNER*
Male Vocalist of the Year
Blake Shelton *WINNER*
Vocal Group of the Year
Eli Young Band
Little Big Town *WINNER*
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band
Vocal Duo Of The Year
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line *WINNER*
Love & Theft
The Swon Brothers
New Artist Of The Year
Brett Eldredge *WINNER*
Album of the Year
“Crash My Party,” Luke Bryan
“Fuse,” Keith Urban
“Platinum,” Miranda Lambert *WINNER*
“Riser,” Dierks Bentley
“The Outsiders,” Eric Church
Single of the Year
“Automatic” Miranda Lambert *WINNER*
“Drunk On A Plane” Dierks Bentley
“Give Me Back My Hometown” Eric Church
“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” Tim McGraw ft. Faith Hill
“Mine Would Be You” Blake Shelton
Song Of The Year
“Automatic” Miranda Lambert (written by Miranda Lambert, Nicolle Galyon and Natalie Hemby)
“Follow Your Arrow” Kacey Musgraves (written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally) *WINNER*
“Give Me Back My Hometown” Eric Church (written by Eric Church and Luke Laird)
“I Don’t Dance” Lee Brice (written by Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson and Rob Hatch)
“I Hold On” Dierks Bentley (written by Dierks Bentley and Brett James)
Vocal Event Of The Year
“Bakersfield,” Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw ft. Faith Hill
“Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
“We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert *WINNER*
“Can’t Make Old Friends,” Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
Video Of The Year
“Automatic” Miranda Lambert (directed by Trey Fanjoy)
“Bartender” Lady Antebellum (directed by Shane Drake)
“Drunk on a Plane” Dierks Bentley (directed by Wes Edwards) *WINNER*
“Follow Your Arrow” Kacey Musgraves (directed by Kacey Musgraves and Honey)
“Somethin’ Bad” Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert (directed by Trey Fanjoy)