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Grading the ACMs: Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Miranda Lambert and more. Who got an A?


Pop & Hiss brought you insta-reviews of all the ACM live performances, typos and all.

1. Brooks & Dunn & Taylor Swift & Sugarland & Carrie Underwood & Rascal Flatts. Here's one for those with short attention spans. Nearly everything the ACMs have to offer in a tidy little seven minutes! Host/country royalty Reba McEntire introduces the show by informing us that duo Brooks & Dunn is one of the most acclaimed acts in the history of the awards, but what follows isn't their time to shine. Instead, Brooks & Dunn become the anchor for whizz-bang medley. Swift rocked out with "Picture to Burn," looking more assured than ever. Underwood showed off her near-perfect vocals with a brief turn at "All-American Girl," Sugarland was delightfully poppy and Rascal Flatts represented some country good ol' boys. "That's what I call a stimulus package," McEntire said. We'd rather have cash, but it was a solid opening. B+

2. Kenny Chesney's "Out Last Night." The lead single from his upcoming greatest hits package is a pleasant enough up-tempo rocker, representing immediately how country award shows are different from the Grammys. Less than 15 minutes in, and we have an ode to being drunk. Rather than approach anything dangerous or reckless, Chesney spins this tale of hangin' at the local bar into a neat little slice of nostalgia. B.

3. Heidi Newfield's "Johnny and June." Standing in the center of a little circular fire moat, former Trick Pony singer Newfield tried to bring a bit of a rebellious edge to her her ode to Johnny and June Carter Cash. She handled the elements better than Swift last year, when the artist was dumped with water, and did her best to turn the cut into an arm-raiser. But standing around some fire doesn't necessarily bring any to the song. B-

4. Toby Keith's "God Love Her." Hey kids, you can be a little rock 'n' roll devil and ride your motorcycle, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to forgo your Bible studies. Keith's recent country hit was bar-band fun, accentuated here with a little horn section. Huey Lewis and  the News with a slide guitar. C+

5. Jamey Johnson's "In Color." The first ballad of the night comes from newcomer-ish Johnson. The cut has already won song of the year, and it's not. Performing largely in black-and-white here, this one is aimed straight for your heart. Isn't it sweet how he inspires us to reminisce about our grandmother and high school teacher? No. Skip the song and look through your photo album: C-

6. George Strait's "Troubadour." Enough. No more songs about looking back and remembering when you were young and raising hell and hanging out with tough-as-heck women. Strait suffers here because the show is one hour old, and this is already the fifth song about how good things used to be way back when. Nashville, no wonder why Swift is your biggest star right now. She stands out because she doesn't yet have a past to sing sappy songs about. What saves Strait here is that he understands his mortality and place in the world. B-

7. Taylor Swift's "You're Not Sorry." OK, so the performance hasn't even started, and we have to deduct an automatic half point here because Swift was introduced to the stage via a David Copperfield magic trick and Pop & Hiss is strictly anti-illusionists. Nothing really country about this tune, as this is pure ol'-fashioned power ballad. Swift doesn't have the strongest voice, and she's better rocking out than singing at a piano. A backing string section, however, kicks in to save her from having to hit any high notes. After the performance, Swift gets an award for selling lots of records. At first, it seemed like an impromptu little thing, but Swift had an acceptance speech at the ready. C. (But if there had been no magic: C+)

8. Lady Antebellum's "I Run to You." The first song of the night that comes close to a current-events reference, with this Grammy-nominated country trio singing about the power of love no matter how crazy this mixed up world gets. It's a perfectly acceptable, perfectly forgettable mid-tempo tune. C-

9. LeeAnn Womack's "Solitary Thinking." The most distinctive performance of the night thus far. Looking elegant in a slightly sparkly black dress, Womack was understated, and a little bit devious -- there's moving on, and then there's whiskey. With a slight keyboard burn in the background, Womack brought a little blues chic to "Solitary Thinking" and she wore it well. A

10. Keith Urban's "Kiss a Girl." One gets the impression that Urban could write this kind of silly mid-tempo rocker in his sleep. The cameras cut to wife Nicole Kidman, and she seems to be digging it. If Pop & Hiss were married to her, we'd probably be writing these super optimistic upbeat anthems too. C-

11. Miranda Lambert's "Dead Flowers." And that should be a wrap, folks. Introduced with a  decadently booming rhythm, Lambert's "Dead Flowers" is a study in tension. A sly guitar riff flirts with exploding, but that relief never comes. Lambert's tale of brokenhearted spite ("I'm driving through a hurricane, and all he can say is what a nice day," she snarls) is all about maintaining composure, even when you're nowhere near it. And that's an A.

12. John Rich's "Shutting Detroit Down." Now things are getting topical. The sometimes controversial singer has come a long way from 2008's buffoon of an anthem "Raisin' McCain." There's a lot to like in "Shutting Detroit Down," which takes a mess of an economic situation and simplifies it into a working class anthem. But it gets a little too simple, and errs with its anti-New York sentiments. The recession crosses state lines. B-

13. Miley Cyrus' "The Climb." Would have been a little better if Papa Cyrus hadn't introduced Miley's Nashville bid with a flurry of release dates for "Hannah Montana" and Billy Ray products. Nevertheless, "The Climb" is an A-list ballad, and Miley's wise-beyond-her-years' rasp goes a long way in selling this tale of determination. She seemed to sing it a bit careful, striving to hit her notes rather than go all out, but a massive string section landed at just the right moment. B

14. Carrie Underwood's red lava colored dress and "I Told You So." This dress was big news. Reports from the rehearsals had the press sworn to secrecy on it, and Underwood herself was quoted as saying it was like "lava." It even got teased on the commercial break. All this attention meant the dress was at risk of overshadowing the song, which is a shame, since Underwood showed off her vocal prowess with her take on the Randy Travis ballad -- although she emphasized the heartache rather than the nuance. As for the dress, the thing was spread across half the stage, and the scarlet-colored outfit could have housed an entire band in its train. It's tough to buy despair from a girl with an outfit this grandiose. B-

15. Reba McEntire's "Strange." Nothing wrong with Reba's new single -- a classy upbeat rocker, driving by a snappy little banjo kick. The song gets its official release after the show. B

16. Trace Adkins' "Till the Last Shot's Fired." This one is probably a bit review proof. Performing in  front of black-and-white images of wars past, Adkins was the grand orator, but didn't over-sell the charity anthem. Things get a little ghastly, as Adkins dons the role of a dead solider in the song's final verse, but the West Point Glee Club added the requisite haunting vocals. B+

17. Sugarland's "What I'd Give." Hopefully, the kids who turned in for Miley and Taylor have gone off to bed, as Sugarland brings things into a little more adult area here. "A tangled lace of arms and legs," Jennifer Nettles sings, swaying and grooving for the camera. The plucky slow-dance strings and fluttering hand-driven rhythms probably work a little better with candlelight, as this background mood music. C+

18. Blake Shelton's "She Wouldn't Be Gone." Acoustic and minimalist, but far from light, Shelton brings his voice to a growl, and muscles through a seemingly simple take on regret. B-

19. Rascal Flatts' "Here Comes Goodbye." Hey, who turned off the country awards and turned on this 1988 high school prom? Oh, never mind, that's just Rascal Flatts, arriving with an energy-killing piano ballad. This one comes with a wanky, over-the-top guitar solo that arrives in the final moments, and dumps a bunch of emotionless, show-off notes all over the place.  Was going to give it an F, but then it looked like singer Gary LeVox had tears in his eyes, so D.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (11)

However wrote the comments is obviously an idiot and not an aficiando of Country Music, but then what do you expect from the LA Times, country to you, is an outing on I-10, anywhere past Santa Monica.

Does Martens (the writer) even like country? Obviously not if he gave Miley Cyrus a better grade than Jamey Johnson. LAME. Maybe because Miley's not even country? And Taylor Swift has a weak voice, but she does deserve credit for all the tween fans and easily aroused boys she's introduced to country ... if that's what you call her songs. But, I do love Miranda Lambert and I don't think Sugarland should be "graded down" for being too provocative. J. Nettles has an amazing voice.

I'm sorry, but that was NOT a good performance by Miley Cyrus, trying to gain acceptance from the Nashville folks by spectacle, rather than singing her heart out on a terrific song. This was a HUGE blunder, and I think country radio says NO THANKS Miley, you just stay right there in Hollywood where you belong.

Blake Shelton had the best performance. I like it better the unplugged version better than the original.

I about fell out of my chair when they announced Taylor Swift as Album of the year.

In my disbelief, I yelled, "YOU,VE GOT TO BE KIDDING" !!! There must not have been many albums to choose from ! ! She needs to try a different tune instead of the same ole one on every song. Booring!! Does she know there are more cords than 2 on her guitar?

She might be OK singing in a local bar, kerioke.

Can we say "NO CLASS" Billy Ray Cyrus!!!!!!

ok yeah who ever wrote this must not know country music all that well. really miley getting a B...come on!
so lets see where to start. Johnny nd june is a great sog. and im pretty sure they were going off "the ring of fire" i know thats sons not about an ctual ring of fire but it made sense for her song. she did an awesome job.
evertime i hear a ugarland song i smile. they have some of the best songs out there. i loved "what i'd give"
carrie was amazing like normal. ive seen her live and she has a close to perfect show every time. who cares what her dress look like. she always look good.
keith urban's song was awesome and very simpy the way cpuntry music should be.
How can you say that about geroge striat the king of country. the guy has had close to 60 number one hits. and being awarded artist of the decade.
Lady Antebellum was awesome too. it's there first slow song to be a single and its great.

so pretty much every artists did an awesome job even the ones i didnt mention.
next time get a country fan to write a review.

WTF...why would someone actually grade the performances of these artists..Everyone who performed was amazing and all deserve A+..
and no way does Taylor Swift deserve a c...she was fantastic and Taylor Swift's music is country so what if Your not sorry is more ballad..shes still a country artist...and who cares if Billy-Rae told everyone about Hannah Montana dates....
and how can Carrie be awarded b-..she won flipping entertainer of the year...carrie underwoood is so so much better than miranda Lambert

Of all the nominees for Album of the Year, Taylor Swift is by far the most undeserving. It is obvious that money is what won that award and not quality and originality. Her promotors, business managers,and record label execs should have been named as co-winners. As my dad would say "follow the money". Read the critical acclaims for all the albums nominated and then decide who should have won. JAMEY JOHNSON WAS ROBBED!!!!

First of all I have to say that the 2009 ACM's were AWESOME! I believe every artist did a fantastic job.
The problem I have with these grades is that they are not realistic and if you didn't see the ACM's and you are going by whay you read on here. Don't.
The performances were so much better than what the grades reflect.
The LA Times need to get an actual country music fans to write these reviews because It is obvious to me that this person knows nothing about country music.
I believe that the right people recievced the awards.
Also to comment on the person that said that Taylor Swift was undserving of the Albumof the Year Award you need to get your facts straight before you comment on something like that. Because if you know Taylor Swift like I do you would know that she wrote every song on the album, she takes time out of her schedule to really interact with her fans, and she is the most deserving of that award.

i think miley deserved the ba nd everyday she keeps on growing as a singer. The performance was not ha best but it was quite good.


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