The 2017 ACM Awards — which took place Sunday (April 2) night in Las Vegas — were stuffed full of A-list performances from veterans and newcomers. And while standalone sets from Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum made huge impressions, collaborations got the most attention throughout the CBS telecast — and deservedly so. From a tribute to Chuck Berry to the jaw-dropping Florida Georgia Line/Backstreet Boys pairing, here are the 2017 ACM Awards performances ranked from worst to best.
23. Jon Pardi
It’s no slur on Jon Pardi that he’s at the bottom of this list — while “Dirt On My Boots” is an excellent song and he did it well, the abbreviated version he was permitted to perform at the ACM Awards prevents his performance from getting much higher on this list.
22. Brothers Osborne
As with Jon Pardi, same goes for Brothers Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault.” They did well, but the shortened version for the live telecast didn’t allow them to fully shine.
21. Rascal Flatts
While there’s nothing wrong with the latest from the country hitmakers, Rascal Flatts’ “Yours If You Want It” got lost in the flood of performances.
20. ACM Awards Opening Medley
We’re not going to complain about the multi-song medley that opened the awards show, but it was overshadowed by a slew of more heartfelt performances to follow. But props to Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood for pulling double duty.
19. Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley
Cole Swindell’s ACM performance with Dierks Bentley of “Flatliner” was energetic, but the vocals felt a bit off at points, and the song is too generic to really make a lasting impression.
18. Jason Aldean
“Any Ol’ Barstool” is a fine song, but not Aldean’s finest, and the straightforward rendering of it at the ACM Awards made it one of the night’s lesser performances.
17. Dierks Bentley
The video for Dierks Bentley’s “Black” boasts awe-inspiring visuals, but bereft of Icelandic vistas at the ACM Awards, the song was one of the night’s least memorable.
16. Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Joe Walsh
It was a nice touch that the ACMs opened with a homage to Chuck Berry — who undoubtedly laid the groundwork for country-rock when he helped invent rock n’ roll — with an all-star cover of “Johnny B. Goode.” But it definitely felt like a one-off awards show tribute collaboration: Effective, but not terribly memorable.
15. Maren Morris
As her win for new female vocalist of the year attests, Maren Morris is one of the most promising new voices in country right now. But while her laid-back, reflective “I Could Use a Love Song” makes an impression if you’re listening on headphones, the ballad got a bit lost in the shuffle of ACM performances.
14. Old Dominion
The country quintet might not be as well known as some of their ACM cohorts, but if they keep delivering the same amount of energy and professionalism on stage as what they brought to the ACMs with “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart,” that could very well change.
13. Brett Eldredge
With a penchant for inventive music videos, Brett Eldredge brought something different to his ACM performance of “Somethin’ I’m Good At,” starting his song backstage and proceeding to wander through the crowd while encountering an assortment of performers, from contortionists to people trapped in bubbles.
12. Kelsea Ballerini
In a sparkly pink leotard as irresistible as the song she was singing, Kelsea Ballerini delivered “Yeah Boy” from The First Time, upping the level of fierceness on the album version ever so slightly for the onstage performance.
11. Luke Bryan
It’s easy to get lost in the flurry of an awards show while singing a ballad, but Luke Bryan managed to stand out by performing “Fast” surrounded by Edison lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, allowing the old-timey illumination to augment his lovely ballad.
10. Sam Hunt
Performing “Body Like a Back Road” at the ACM Awards, Sam Hunt hit every note despite what appeared to be trouble from an in-ear monitor. But most memorably, he stepped down from the stage to sing directly to fiancée Hannah Lee Folwer in the audience, leaving her nervously laughing and Twitter swooning.
9. Thomas Rhett & Maren Morris
If solo Maren got lost in the ACM shuffle, she owned the spotlight when she popped up during Thomas Rhett’s performance to duet on their sensual, radio-friendly “Craving You.” While Rhett sounded committed to the tune, Morris was utterly devoted to her vocals. Watching the two go back and forth was one of the night’s highlights.
8. Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood
Keith Urban took the stage at the 2017 ACMs done-up to look like a character who walked straight out of a black and white movie (cf. Detox on RuPaul’s Drag Race). The classic Hollywood shading was perfect for his song “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” but it disappeared the second Carrie Underwood walked onstage to duet with him on a fiery version of their song “The Fighter.” While their duet on that song underwhelmed at the Grammys, they imbued it with a visceral urgency at the ACM Awards, making it a highlight of the night.
7. Little Big Town
In recent years, LBT have been taking risks left and right, and while not all their musical excursions have panned out perfectly, their flower power-centric ACM performance was a huge success, with rhinestones and hippie imagery complementing their twangy performance of the throwback gem “Happy People.”
6. Lauren Daigle & Rebe McEntire
Lauren Daigle is the closest thing Christian music has to a crossover star these days, and she proved exactly why when she took the stage with the legendary Reba McEntire at the ACM Awards to duet on “Back to God,” taken from Reba’s recent gospel album. The performance was so moving that the veteran McEntire was left teary-eyed at the end.
5. Chris Stapleton
Following his 2015 CMA set, Chris Stapleton became one of country’s hottest commodities — but he’s yet to follow that mainstream breakthrough with a new album. It looks like that will change sooner than later, with Stapleton debuting a red-hot new tune at the ACM Awards called “Second One to Know” that’s as gritty as anything on his excellent debut Traveller.
4. Lady Antebellum
As with most genres in 2017, the definition of country has become looser over the years. Even so, the lead single from Lady A’s upcoming LP is still surprising — “You Look Good” is a gumbo of country, R&B and New Orleans funk. While some genre hybrids fall flat, this one soars — and the expert level of musicianship on display during the 2017 ACM Awards made this performance a knockout.
3. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
The A-list country couple delivered the first TV performance of their duet “Speak to a Girl,” starting the song from different ends of the stage before meeting in the middle, bathed in golden light. They both poured their pipes into the duet, and when Hill jumped into McGraw’s arms at the end, it seemed so genuine you almost felt like a voyeur for watching their intimate moment together.
2. Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert’s breakup ballad “Tin Man” was a show-stopping standout of the 2017 ACMs. Even though it’s (presumably) inspired by her high profile breakup, she didn’t need the gossip backstory to command the stage: Her stage presence and affecting lyrics brought the busy night to a full halt while she sang.
1. Florida Georgia Line & Backstreet Boys
The country duo and the veteran boy band had previously collaborated on the harmonious “God, Your Mama and Me” on wax, so it was no surprise (although a total delight) when they performed it together to close the 2017 ACM Awards. It was, however, a real treat when they segued into BSB’s “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and all seven entertainers performed some of the original video’s choreography. Cynics might call it out for being a blatant bid for social media buzz — at least, until they watch it. Once you witness the seamless musicality and sheer joy of the performance, it’s impossible not to be sold.