CMT Awards 2015: All the Performances Ranked Best to Worst

Keith Urban performs onstage during the 2015 CMT Music Awards
Kevin Mazur/WireImag

Keith Urban performs onstage during the 2015 CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on June 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  

This year's CMT Awards offered a slew of exciting numbers from veterans and up-and-comers, a skit with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a brave inter-genre collaboration. Even more exciting, a number of singers played new singles for the first time on national television.  Here's Billboard's rankings of all the performances from best to worst.

Comeback Queen Carrie Underwood Rules 2015 CMT Awards

Jake Owen – "Real Life"
Owen's new single approximates late '90s Weezer: melodic, thudding, slightly bratty. His performance had the highest production value of any at the show: the singer was carried to stage on an inflatable pool float, and there were tons of backup dancers and beach balls. Good clean family fun.

Lady Antebellum – "Long Stretch Of Love"
Lady A started the show with a high energy rendition of their latest single from 747 before segueing into a cross-genre collaboration with Zedd and singing the EDM producer's "Beautiful Now." Sure, a blatant play for crossover, but the group brought their trademark three-part harmonies into a space that tends to sacrifice that type of detail in favor of streamlined pulse. Then, for good measure, Lady A moved back into their single, and Zedd switched to the piano -- extra points for effort.

Keith Urban – "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16"
Urban performed the first single from his next album, which doesn't have a name yet. The track's title is a three-pronged assertion of country tropes, but the actual tune ranges far from Nashville: Urban played a funky bass, while the partially-programmed beat and high backing vocals showed that he's doubling down on the pop instincts of his last album, Fuse.

Eric Church – "Like A Wrecking Ball"
Country soul has been exploding lately – Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart at the moment, is basically a Stax ballad retooled by Nashville. (See also Thomas Rhett's "Make Me Wanna" and Miranda Lambert's "Holding On To You.") But Church was ahead of the curve with "Like A Wrecking Ball," a sensual soul number from his 2013 album The Outsiders. He performed it with minimal assistance -- just a drummer and an organ player -- but he didn't need much help: his voice is one of the most distinctive among country's current crop of male vocalists.

Kenny Chesney – "American Kids"
"American Kids" came out almost exactly a year ago, but it still sounds as fresh now as it did then. It's streamlined and lightweight, a relentlessly upbeat blast of melody, and Chesney and his band tore into it with relish. The performance also had the benefit of post-song fireworks.

Jason Aldean – "Tonight Looks Good On You"
Aldean's rendition of "Tonight Looks Good On You" leaned towards the Police and other late '70s, early '80s soft rock, with interlocking layers of guitars and light, funky bass. He's been singing about seduction with increasing frankness -- and increasing success -- since his smash "Burning It Down," and he reprised that formula here.

Carrie Underwood – "Little Toy Guns"
Underwood brought her usual explosive vocals to "Little Toy Guns." She also had the benefit of a Beyonce-like wind machine, plenty of pyrotechnics, and an impressive light show.

Sam Hunt – "House Party"
Hunt stood out for his tight, all-white outfit and tunic-length t-shirt. But he chose to play "House Party," one of the least interesting songs from his debut album Montevallo.

Reba McEntire – "Going Out Like That"
Reba has been a force in country for 5 decades; she knows how to command a moment. Her backing vocalists added extra spark to her latest hit, helping kicked a potentially cliché post break-up tale to life.

Florida Georgia Line – "Anything Goes"
Prince famously endorsed Saturday night on "Little Red Corvette," but FGL prefer Friday. They delivered the title track of the sophomore album in front of bursting jets of flame, and rammed the message home with some coordinated foot-stomping.

Zac Brown Band – "Homegrown"
Zac Brown preached the values of small towns and simple living with a bass-heavy, easy going version of "Homegrown." He brought both a banjo and a fiddle on stage with him, a rarity at this event.

Luke Bryan – "Kick The Dust Up"
Bryan followed FGL, but he couldn't match their energy. "Kick The Dust Up" is a plodding track about turning "a cornfield into a party," but it doesn't inspire the revelry of its subject.

Darius Rucker – "Homegrown Honey"
Rucker performed his recent top 10 country hit outdoors. The crowd remained mostly immobile -- Rucker sings about "dancing to the groove like it just ain't nothing," but there wasn't much groove to be found here.


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