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CMA Awards 2009: All the performances, as they happen [UPDATED]


Pop & Hiss brings you instant reviews, typos and all, of all the performances at the Country Music Assn. Awards. It was a big night for Taylor Swift, who won entertainer of the year. She ended a three-year run from Kenny Chesney,

Related: CMA Awards 2009 Scorecard: Complete nominees and winners

Taylor Swift, "Forever & Always." Nashville is going straight to its A-list star, opening the show with pop music's most popular living singer at the moment. She'll have two songs tonight, and first up is "Forever & Always." To sum it up: The 2009 CMA Awards are off and running with a train wreck. The energy and excitement of Swift's MTV Video Music Awards performance, in which she was running through a subway, is completely lost. Beginning with a fake interview with Nancy O'Dell was cute, especially when Swift noted that "If guys don't want me to write bad songs about them, they shouldn't do bad things." But turning her "Forever & Always" into a chair-throwing angsty performance, complete with a stripper --  or fireman’s pole  (depending on your level of innocence) -- was ill-advised. She looked strained in trying to capture the anger of the song, awkwardly rolling on the floor and yanking at her hair. This is a D. But she has another performance in which to redeem herself.


Darius Rucker, "Alright." Performing after Carrie Underwood praised his ability to switch from rock ’n’ roll to country, Rucker unveiled a good-time pop-rock tune that wasn’t all that different from his Hootie and the Blowfish days. Although perhaps the reference to Patsy Cline was more of a nod to Nashville. Rucker, like Swift, sounded a bit off. But if Swift’s performance was oddly bad, this was just predictably bland. Rucker worked the crowd like he’d be selling records in the lobby after the show, running through the audience and high-fiving those in the expensive seats (the CMAs are open to the public). Pop & Hiss would say more about the song, but we’ve forgotten the performance while writing this summary. So a C.

Miranda Lambert, "White Liar." Here we go. Nashville should take note: All country award shows should be opened by Lambert. Though "White Liar" isn't the most fiery song on her recent "Revolution" (Pop & Hiss was pulling for "Sin for a Sin"), there's plenty to like here. Lambert is just the right mix of sweetness and grit, pulling the song to a mischievous stop in its final moments to reveal its lyrical twist. Her band is kickin', and she's on point. A

Brad Paisley, "Welcome to the Future." Songs about nostalgia have become a modern Nashville staple, and Paisley reveals his cute and relatable charm with this tune. Kids and parents unite as Paisley looks back on his days when he longed for a giant coin-op machine and tells us that now he has Pac-Man on his phone. References to video chats and homecoming queens stand side by side. As Paisley wields a sparkly blue guitar, he's a safe and modern star, coming across as the kind of rock 'n' roll heartthrob who isn't afraid to accessorize. B

Zac Brown Band, "Devil Went Down to Georgia." Faithful and crowd-pleasing, Zac Brown Band had the chops and the sharp violins to pull off the cover. But it’s an odd choice, considering this is one of country's most popular young acts and a group that will surely be in contention for best new artist at the Grammy Awards. An original would have been a better choice. We've heard this tune before, but the smokey D&D-like effects were kinda cool. Still, a cover here? D+

George Strait, "Twang." Country, straight-up. Sandwiched in the middle of three performances, Strait didn't get a prime showcase, but there's nothing to dislike here. This is lean-back, kick-up-your boots country, and Strait does it as well as anyone. A-

Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now." With the barren trees of fall and strands of Christmas lights, this backdrop was all elegant holiday loneliness. Hillary Scott isn't the world's most charismatic vocalist, but this ballad suits her just right. It's a gracefully easy melody line, and Lady Antebellum is better when not trying to rock out. Charles Kelley trades off with her, sounding like the completely uninteresting dude next door, but this single belongs to Scott. B

Carrie Underwood, "Cowboy Casanova." So long Nashville, as Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" carries a slinky groove more fit for a dance club. Underwood's high heels and revealing outfit, as well as her backup singers in cocktail waitress attire, struck a more risque vibe. She could have been [insert pop star here] at your standard MTV award show, sporting a very glam outfit as she strutted and swung across the stage. But a spunky Underwood is better than ballad Underwood, and "Casanova" does a swell job of disguising what is -- for all intents and purposes -- a Top 40 cut with an occasional flash of country guitar notes. B-

Vince Gill and Daughtry, "Tennessee Line." A relatively stark stage kept the emphasis straight on the vocalists here, but there wasn't enough Gill. This seemed more marketing ploy than song, setting up the inevitable future country album from Daughtry. D

Keith Urban, "'Til Summer Comes Around." Urban is channeling the Eagles here, giving a low-key, back-lit performance. The song builds nicely, and Urban shows off some bluesy guitar notes toward the end. Would rather him cut a little loose, as the show needs some fire to get it into its midpoint here, but there's a compelling spookiness to the song that works. It also gives us time to reflect on just how many Fourth of July's the Australian-reared singer has had in his life to reflect upon. B+

Tim McGraw, "Southern Voice." Bringing some fun back into the proceedings, McGraw seemed to stumble over a couple of his own lyrics, but smiled and plowed through it. It's a giant, silly, pop-culture referencing festival, but try not to sing along to "Hank Aaron smacked it, Michael Jordan dunked it." What does it all mean? Who knows, but admit it, you still sing along to "We Didn't Start the Fire" as well. B

Sugarland, "Keep You." This is Sugarland at what the duo does best. Jennifer Nettles stays just out in front of the small violin orchestra, leading the quiet moments to a whisper and not letting the orchestra overtake her as the song builds to a climax. Kristian Bush is a bit in the background here, as the camera keeps tight on Nettles, but she sounds terrific and she could silence the room. B+

Brooks & Dunn with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, "Honky Tonk Stomp." The duo's final CMA performance, until they're brought back for some sort of tribute years from now. Fast and full of pool-hall charm, they bow out with a loose rock 'n' roll number. B-

Jamey Johnson & Kid Rock, "Between Jennings and Jones."
Going into the performance, it would have been easy to point out that that one thing Johnson doesn't need is Kid Rock. As the song started, and Kid Rock sported his country-via-Hollywood look, that seemed to continue to be the case, but the two played well together. Lyrics were changed and Kid Rock played to the crowd, tossing out a reference to John Rich in the second verse as Kid Rock's savior from jail. B-

Taylor Swift, "Fifteen." Swift is more in her element here, performing amid a circle of her fans. Without the crazy, over-the-top choreography, she sounds significantly better on this performance as well -- or at least charmingly out of tune. But she's the vulnerable teenager, and one of the crowd. She's performed this song at award shows of yore, including with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards, but she isn't sold as something she’s not on her second go-round. A

Jason Aldean, "Big Green Tractor." Billed by Underwood as the "most romantic song" ever written about a tractor ride, we're unsure if that's a compliment or much of a teaser. But Pop & Hiss will disagree with Underwood here, and sub the word "only" for "most." C-

Martina McBride, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," with George Strait. A classically cool performance, with a soft-rock harmonica that hits just right. McBride brings up Barbara Mandrell -- who was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and made the song famous -- on stage after giving her a fitting tribute. A-

Reba McEntire, "Consider Me Gone." Rocking knee-high boots and a sparkly tank top, McEntire gives the CMAs another solid, stately performance. All told, this is a pretty low-key night and McEntire brings a wise, no-nonsense performance. "If you think you can do better than this, then I guess we’re done," she tosses off, seemingly without effort, and few do it better. A-

Billy Currington, "People Are Crazy." A song about wild and crazy times about talking to a stranger in a bar, ultimately leading to Currington ending up with an inheritance he doesn’t deserve. It’s a short story with a clever twist, and it only works the first time you hear it. C-

Dave Matthews and Kenny Chesney, "I'm Alive." One of the most star-packed crossover performances, the "I'm Alive" duet packs about as much energy as a hammock hanging in a basement.  And it's about as much fun. D

--Todd Martens

[UPDATED NOV. 12 11:36 A.M.] Live blogging is a risky endeavor, and a couple readers were kind enough to point out in the comment section below that I wrote in the wrong Brooks & Dunn title last night. The band did not perform "Boot Scootin’ Boogie’." The correct song was, of course, "Honky Tonk Stomp," the band's new single that actually does feature Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. The post has been updated to reflect the correct title, and the positive grade for the song remains unchanged.

Photos Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Credits: Reuters

Comments () | Archives (126)

It's true that Taylor Swift doesn't perform well on these shows,
but it seems like no one sounds good. I hope they get it together
the rest of the show. George Strait wasn't on it with that song and
Carrie Underwood looked amazing. Not a stripper, but a confident
and talented woman.

About the sound problems. This has happened every year with the cma's. The sound always sounds off when watching it on television.
Sugarland did great, I think Jennifer Nettles is one female vocalist who could whoop Carrie Underwood's butt when it came to holding out a good note for a long time.
Taylor Swift's second performance was right on, I love her slower songs.

jeez... watch the performances and be your own critic b/c to me these scores are a little harsh. I feel the CMA's are the most talented award show; where we can actually watch artists WITH talent!

Todd, I would be interested to see what your opinion is of the MTV Awards!?! Especially when you're referring to "Underwood's high heels and revealing outfit, as well as her backup singers in cocktail waitress attire, struck a more risque vibe. She could have been [insert pop star here] at your standard MTV award show..." You thought THAT was revealing!!!!! Have you WATCHED the MTV awards?!?! I believe Miss Underwood was wearing tights to cover her legs...

It's now a very fine line between Country and Pop/Rock. Is it only an occasional twang in the voice with more grounded lyrics? Well, it beats the hell outta R&B! Todd, you're a bit rough on Zac Brown.

kenny Chesney has a song about riding on a tractor "she thinks my tractors sexy" so Jason Aldean, "Big Green Tractor." is not the "only" sext tractor son

terrrrrrribleee you suuuuck

What hapened to true country. I finally felt it when Reba,George and Martina came out.

I cannot believe Taylor Swift won best female vocalist - she is an entertainer, no doubt - but she can't sing - vocalist she is NOT.

how is Taylor Swift country? I just don't get it.

How is Taylor Swift country? I just don't get it.

Zac Brown Band had, hands down, the best performance of the night. They were totally robbed on at least two of the awards!......HOW does Taylor Swift continue to win these awards???? She has one of the worst voices I've ever heard in country music. She's definitely got some major connections somewhere.

Brad Paisley, Male vocalist of the year do to the popularity for another corny song "Welcome to the future" oh and the blah "Then". Both are not far throws from "Ticks" "Alcohol" and "Online". Keith Urban once again overlooked as a true multi-talented artist that puts his heart and talent into every song as well as the most entertaining concerts. Keith, cool calm and collective will just go back and put his talent on five knockout hits next year only probably to take backseat to a few safe hits of Brad Paisley. What's next Brad "Purebred Horses to Hybrid Cars" and "Now"?

Come on CMA...Taylor Swift is a talented songwriter but she is NO vocalist!! I'm sorry Miranda, Carrie, Reba and Martina she should not be in the same category let alone be the winner!!!!

The best female vocalist is most definitely Jennifer Nettles!!!!! Come on CMA!! How could a panel of 6,000 people get is so wrong??? Give me a break!

One more thing, ZBB was made, or should I say, respectfully requested by the CMA to sing that song. A lot of people don't know that most of the new comers don't even get a choice in what they perform.

Martina & George were indeed awesome in their tribute. The harmonica in the background was amazing. I thought Reba was fantastic as well.

Can't quite put my finger on this Dave Mathews thing...a cross between Bob Dylan & Simon & Garfunkle. What's the point of these mixed musicians? Ok, but not great. I didn't hate anything. But with few exceptions, I think we hovered around the B to C grades, depending on the artists.

Hoping that Faith & Tim shut it down with something good.

What is ever going on with Faith Hill's hair? I guess that "just got out of bed" look is the style now?

Zac Brown Band a D+?!? What a Joke!! That was the best performance by far. They were the only performers except for Brooks and Dunn to get a standing O and Brooks and Dunn got one because they are separating not because of the performance. That fiddle player is awesome and Zac's pickin' at the end was unbelievable!

What a disappointing night!!!! I have to believe that Taylor Swift knows someone in the business to get where she is because she certainly cannot sing. Whoever made the decisions for tonight's show might want to check into hearing aids!

Hey i cant believe that she won twice that was stupid she didnt deserve it both times. Dont like Taylor Swift all her songs are about her stupid life and she needs to go somewhere else.

What happened to Country Music? Those days are gone. Ms. Swift is far from being Country. I got into Country Music back when the performers were Country. Vince, Reba, Dolly, Garth, George S., George J., Willie, Johnny Cash, Tanya, need I go on. I wanted to get away from where the "other" music was heading. So I turned to Country. The CMA's have taken Country out of country. They don't care what the fans think. Fans DID NOT vote Ms. Swift as Female Entertainer of the Year nor as Entertainer of the Year. Please explain to me where you think Ms. Swift is better? There is no place for the older generation to turn to. Country music has turned their backs on us. I lost all respect for the CMA's. I challenge someone from the CMA's to please give me their explanation as why they feel Ms. Swift has "country" talent. To be honest, I can't even listen to her, when I hear her on the radio I'll change to another Country station to listen to REAL country.

you do not know anything abot the last performance. it was good

I dnt care what people think of me about hating Taylor Swift but i love country singing and she isnt good at it either I live for country music . Like i said she needs to go else where and sing cause she isnt good at country singing.

It was all RIGGED!!! From the get go I knew they were making Taylor more than she deserved. She is just an OPENER riding off REAL country stars. I was a fan of Taylor but not for some set up bullshit like this.

Taylor Swift entertainer of the year?!!!! Come on. And the song Fifteen that she sang-AWFUL-it hurt my ears to listen to it.

Country is being corrupted like pop and everything else. For huge wake up to the music industry, check out theindustryexposed.(com)

Watching those videos will explain the trashy Carrie Underwood performance with the secret symbolism in the background.

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