In a twist that few could have predicted, the Backstreet Boys managed to steal the show at the 2017 Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night.
OMG! Faith Hill, Nicole Kidman, and Carrie Underwood freaking out & dancing like school girls to Backstreet Boys at the ACMs is the best!— Emilie Gilbert (@EmilieG33) April 3, 2017
Disclaimer: The author of this post is in a demographic that feels deeply nostalgic for 90s boy bands. But as social media suggests, for many other viewers, the BSB cameo was a much-needed shot of adrenaline to a relatively flat three-hour show with only a few standout performances. The audience appeared to truly come alive with “Everybody,” as cameras panned to stars such as Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris having a blast, dancing and mouthing every lyric. Even the normally-stoic Jason Aldean laughed and clapped along.
So what does it mean that the most energetic moment of the broadcast centered around a non-country act that hit its peak about two decades ago?
For traditional country fans, that’s bad news — especially because it adds fuel to the ongoing debate about the role of crossover genre performances on country award shows. While some feel that these ceremonies don’t “need” stars like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake to show up, producers rely heavily on these celebrity appearances to boost viewership outside the country realm. And when ACMs producers scour Twitter and Facebook and see comments about how the Backstreet Boys “saved” the show, or were the best part of the broadcast, that will only inspire execs to book similar acts in the future.
The Backstreet Boys performance was the best part of the ACMs.— Jessica (@Jessica_Teresa) April 3, 2017
After all, country award ceremonies serve to spotlight the genre, but ratings are the true goal. “Our job is to grow the audience as big as we possibly can,” CBS executive Jack Sussman said before the ACMs, adding that producers are focused on “maintaining the integrity of the brand and staying true to the core value of the show.”
Plus, although the goal is for the pop act to bring attention to the country singer (see: Chris Stapleton’s career-making night when he sang with Timberlake at the 2015 CMAs) there’s always the chance that the country artist will be overshadowed. Case in point: Florida Georgia Line’s “God, Your Mama, and Me” got a nice boost on iTunes, though that wasn’t the song that caused Nashville’s superstars to dance like nobody was watching. And while Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton and Reba McEntire had stellar performances, guess which clip probably be circulating the most on Monday morning?
The good news? Though a group like BSB is primed for mockery (hey, not everyone enjoyed the boy band era), regardless, it’s a treat for the audience to see country stars act like regular people: Turns out they rock out to cheesy 90s anthems just like everyone else. During award shows, TV viewers bank on those type of celebrity snapshots, especially when proceedings start to drag.
So even if some people can’t stand the pop acts brought in to make country music more “accessible” to the everyday viewer, at the end of the day, they serve to create more human moments — and that’s something any award show could use.