Ludacris. Jason Aldean. A full arena on its feet waving its hands in the air.
The close of the CMT Music Awards on Wednesday night (June 8) was one of the most telling moments in the two-and-a-half-hour show, as a veteran rapper joined one of country’s boundary-pushing acts to perform “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song with a backroads storyline and a rap that brazenly namechecks George Jones.
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Hosted by Kid Rock at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the CMT Awards embraced a rather stunning blend of pop in its country, with none of the evening’s winners — including Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum — dominating the night.
Photos: 2011 CMT Awards Highlights
Justin Bieber shared the collaborative video of the year honor with Rascal Flatts for “That Should Be Me.” Kinda-country Jimmy Buffett’s “CMT Crossroads” performance of “Margaritaville” with the Zac Brown Band netted CMT performance of the year. Lady A segued from its current single, “Just a Kiss,” into a version of Prince’s “Kiss” with lead singer Charles Kelley taking a falsetto turn and playing drums.
Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow teamed up on “Collide,” Train’s Pat Monahan joined Martina McBride as a presenter, Luke Bryan dropped the Doobie Brothers and MC Hammer into the press-room conversation, and the Band Perry kicked off their performance of “You Lie” with a shred of the Eminem and Rihanna song, “Love The Way You Lie.”
“I love that about the CMT Awards,” the Band Perry’s Kimberly Perry told media backstage. “There’s always a lot of flavors circulating around the room.”
Swift — who’s taken a certain amount of criticism for leaning towards pop — earned video of the year for “Mine,” but she accepted the honor in a remote connection from Milwaukee with a banjo draped around her neck. She was clearly in the middle of the most country part of her current set.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve you guys,” she told fans, who voted on the winners in the 10 categories.
Shelton was the only multiple winner, claiming male video for “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” and taking web video of the year for “Kiss My Country Ass.” Shelton likewise accepted from a remote location — the Los Angeles set of NBC’s “The Voice,” a TV show that features him as the only country judge among three other pop acts.
“My gosh,” he said, “I can’t believe Shania Twain gave me an award.”
Twain’s entrance during the evening will likely be one of the most-talked-about parts of the show. She stumbled as she started down a runway but apparently came away unscathed, giggling as she took the stage.
Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” earned female video. Trey Fanjoy, who oversaw both that video and “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” took video director of the year.
Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” netted duo video, the Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” claimed USA Weekend breakthrough video and Lady Antebellum’s “Hello World” received group video.
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A few actors also fleshed out the breadth of the talent pool, with Kristin Chenoweth, Rick Schroder and Mary Steenbergen making appearances.
“This whole show is entertaining,” Chenoweth noted. “I think the Oscars could learn something from it.”
Kid Rock certainly appreciated the genre-busting nature of that entertainment, particularly the Ludacris-Aldean-Jones effort.
“Country’s kind of opened their arms and said, ‘Hey, if it’s cool and something good, we’re going to embrace that,'” he said. “I think country’s blazing the trail on just being open-minded.”