All the CMT Music Awards 2016 Performances Ranked Worst to Best
The 2016 CMT Awards aimed to achieve big TV moments through team play: seven of the major performances involved multiple singers, and many of these were cross-genre collaborations. Some were more successful than others (every collaboration is not necessarily the right fit). A few of the genre’s biggest names got to perform alone, including Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean. Here are Billboard’s rankings of all the performances from worst to best.
13. Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On”
In Aldean’s latest single, the guitars say '80s rock, while the drums suggest an awareness of hip-hop beats. He performed it outside with a massive complement of fireworks.
In one of the night’s most ambitious collaborations, three artists from very different genres teamed up to bring Pitbull’s recent single to life. The song builds from a surprising interpolation -- REO Speedwagon’s “Take It On The Run” -- but while Pitbull cruised the stage with his dancers, Pope and Lewis were left out of the loop.
Billy Ray Cyrus recently released a video titled “Hey Elvis,” and the singer stuck to this theme at the CMTs by starting his performance with a snippet of “Don’t Be Cruel.” Afterward, he slipped easily into Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” closing the track with an impressive growl.
10. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.”
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, “H.O.L.Y.” co-writer busbee suggested that “H.O.L.Y.” might have been recorded by Justin Bieber. But it ended up in the hands of Florida Georgia Line, and like most of their singles, it became a hit. Onstage, a six-piece string section added a new layer to the arrangement.
When introducing Dierks Bentley’s performance, Cold Swindell noted that the song is “sung by a guy who’s trying to see things from a girl’s perspective.” “Pretty smart guy!” he added enthusiastically. The song is based on the premise that men are the only ones that can sleep around to get over a broken heart, but Bentley’s duet partner Elle King appeared to express a conflicting sentiment in her hit “Ex’s And Oh’s,” which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 last year: “One, two, three, they gonna run back to me/ They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave.”
8. Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”
Bryan has played this song at several awards shows already this year. This time, he freshened it up by starting the performance as an acoustic one. In a night of tracks pitched for the back walls of the arena, the stripped-down opener was surprising and effective.
Setting the tone for a night of collaborations, Urban performed a single from his recently released Ripcord album with help from Morris and Eldredge. Urban had the easy job -- he was singing his own hooky tune and protected by his banjo. But Morris and Eldredge were sometimes left stranded awkwardly on either side of the experienced star.
6. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”
You know what you’ll get from a Stapleton performance: gravelly vocals and a casually excellent band that collapses the distance between country and the blues. Star producer Dave Cobb, who served as producer on Stapleton’s Traveller album, showed up onstage playing rhythm guitar.
Shelton’s single-entendre “Doing It to Country Songs” was one of the night’s most traditional tunes. The Oak Ridge Boys added to the track’s throwback Southern rock feel, and the bass vocal from Oak Ridge Boys’ Richard Sterben was a highlight (as always). The vocal group then segued into “Elvira,” a classic from 1981.
4. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt”
“T-Shirt” was written by an all-star cast: Ashley Gorley, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally. It’s uptempo, with here-and-gone verses that carry you quickly to the next chorus. Rhett excels when working with this sort of breezy track -- see “Make Me Wanna,” another one of his No. 1 Country Airplay hits.
The Little Big Town and Pharrell Williams collaboration represents the latest track in the country-disco vein -- a hybrid recently explored by singers like Brett Eldredge, Thomas Rhett and more. Pharrell stayed amusingly far from the action, absorbed in his drums, for most of the song, but he joined Little Big Town at the end for additional harmonies.
Cam’s power ballad “Mayday” came with reinforcements at the CMTs: all five members of Fifth Harmony. The country singer showed her fluency with pop -- “Mayday” was produced by Grammy-winning hitmaker Jeff Bhasker -- by singing a snippet of Fifth Harmony’s pop hit “Work From Home.”
1. Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells”
Like Luke Bryan, Underwood has played this single several times at recent awards shows. In search of a new approach, she started her performance with a spare, banjo-centric intro. But by the end of the song, Underwood was back in her comfort zone on the maximal end of the spectrum: her band battered away behind her and a large choir accentuated the song’s force.