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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)

Ok, several things. I think Taylor Swift is a wonderful young lady with alot of talent but not enough time has been put in for her to win female artist and certainly not the big award. I have been a fan of Rebas before she was famous. But she didn't need the face lift and low cut tops and black kneehigh boot. Come on Reba you would look so much better if you dressed your age.

Taylor Swift gets an "F" in my book. The girl can't sing. She is out of tune and strained sounding. What in the world. At least Kelly Pickler stays in tune MOST of the time. I say instead of looking at cute little teenagers trying to be stars lets get some people on the stage that CAN SING. If she's a song writer then sell her songs to those who can sing them and leave the singing to those who can like
Carrie Underwood
Faith Hill
Please real country SINGERS...

I can't believe TAYLOR SWIFT for female artist. Ridiculous. And why can't they just give KEITH URBAN what he deserves? Entertainer of the Year!! I His live performances are UNREAL. Taylor is just plan awkward, and really not a very good singer at all. So disappointed :(

Wow. I got a nice nap. certainly nothing to write home about. No wonder Toby Keith doesn't even put his name up for nomination. Just a popularity contest. And this year really exposed it for what it is. Crazy world! I think there's a country song in there somewhere!

Taylor Swift is NOT country. Her songs are "folk" music... ala Jewel. But nowhere even remotely close to being country.
Taylor Swift continues to put a stain on on the CMA awards.

Cma sucks country aint country anymore george you are still the king and god bless george jones country music went to hell in a hand bag

Thank God someone else doesnt think Taylor Swift is all that. She may be cute and she may write some ok songs about life but give me a break.....She cannot sing live...in other words there is no "do overs" to cover her mistakes (which happen quite often) and the awkward attempts at her being "sexy" and the constant hair flipping is wayyyy too stupid looking. She can only wish she was half as good as Carrie, Reba or Martina and even Miranda. Wake up country fans, dont allow the teeny boppers to take over and ruin country music!

You have got to be kidding???? Gill and Daughtry they were totally awesome.

Wow! I think the studio does wonders for some of these performers.

Super disappointed in the CMA Awards. I am a square dance caller and every accomplished square dance caller has more talent than Taylor Swift. Not only must a caller have a pleasant stage presence but he/she must be able to sing and make up the song as he goes along, rhyming off the cuff and making sure he stays 2 beats ahead of the dancers. He must also make sure you don't have two right or left handed movements in a row. All in all every square dance caller in the country (about 5,000) are far more talented than Taylor Swift. This is an outrage!!! Chuck Veldhuizen, Sioux City, Iowa.

taylow swift is possibly the worst entertainer of the year ever! she is good but not a better entertainer than kenny or george! Come on really! wow what a riged event! maybe jason aldean and toby keith should have been nominated

Ummmm..... I thought this was the CMA? Ya know.... Country Music Awards! Where was the country? Taylor Swift? Are you kidding me? Female Vocalist of the Year? Reba should have won that one!

Such a disappointment this year CMA... such a disappointment! Oh, BTW, tell Carrie Underwood to STOP impersonating Brittany Spears... OK? She was just "trashy" tonight in that Daisy Duke get-up she had on. Hopefully the CMA will get someone else to co-star with Brad next year. Carrie (I mean the Brittany wannabe) doesn't get my vote!

Man... tonight was just a total downer for TRUE Country music fans. Y'all need to do A LOT better job!!!

The show was pretty good but I have 1 BIG gripe! TOO MUCH TAYLOR SWIFT!!!!!!!

When is Miranda Lambert gonna get some recognition , way overdo.
I thsink Miranda Lambert is the BEST new ((last couple years) female COUNTRY artist around . Taylor is talented,but I still hear POP before country.I think Zac Brown needs some recognition too. Hootie aint country.

Well, I feel like I just watched the "Taylor Swift show"! Somebody up there really likes that girl! Where the heck is she going to put all those awards? For some people-it's just their year!God bless her. Now can we get on with the show and listen to some real country singers?

I LOVE KEITH URBAN. You are MY entertainer of the year!!!!! and Vocalist!!! I wish Kanye West never drew that much attention to Taylor. Well sure she has won awards anyway, but I never would have dreamed she would win female vocalist, or the big one. OMG!!! Just so out of control!!!

I don't think it should be even called "country" any more. If Taylor Swift can sing, then anybody that can't even carry a tune should win best female vocalist. It was a horrible show and I know now why I have not listened to "county" music lately, cuz it ain't country no more! Where was Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, and the rest of the country singers. And when will the men on country music quit wearing earrings? Real men don't wear earrings!
All in all, the only good parts in the 3 hours was Sugarland, Jamey Johnson,
and although I love George Strait, his song was a bad choice for such a star.
Maybe the real country stars should start their own awards, cause every body wanting to cut a record has "gone country" like Alan Jackson said. So, so sad.

For now on, I will DVR CMA's, can't believe I just sat up and watched Kieth loose to the Swift. Yuck!!!! My tummy hurts.

I'd have to disagree with some of those dissenters on this page and say you were pretty much spot-on with your ratings. Although many of the performers certainly have talent, and their studio recordings may be excellent, several performances were lackluster or below par.

Who needs talent these days? Taylor Swift's voice verses Carrie Underwood's? Oh please! Entertainer of the year, Taylor Swift verses Keith Urban? RIGHT! Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban have more talent in their little finger than Taylor Swift will ever know in a lifetime. Has anyone heard Keith Urban play a guitar or been to one of his concerts? Hello! Lets not look at the looks here! Let us look at talent. Keith Urban plays the hell out of a guitar, is a hell of a singer, and don't forget he's a hell of a songwriter too. Carrie Underwood has the vocal cords of a perfectionist. How can you compare Taylor Swift to natural (born with it, feel it in their soul) talent like Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, and professionals such as Sugarland? I guess all you need to know these days is how to hold your nose and sing through it. Lets face it, Taylor Swift can't sing. Next year I will change the channel when the CMA awards are televised. Maybe I'll find something better to do. I'll turn on Keith Urban in concert or Carrie Underwood, or Sugarland. Next, I'll have a glass of red wine kick back and appreciate great talent. Shame on CMA for not giving credit where credit was due!

Seriously Southern Lady? Nothing wrong with Carrie's performance. You're WAY over exaggerating. There was no strip tease. So she had on short shorts. Now the world is going to hell. Seriously. Go watch I Love Lucy then.

What are you talking about, this isn't the Disney Channel, there were Great Country Artist's there. And she has a great voice but I think there were better suited, and deserving Artist's to receive an award, other than her. Luv her music but (3 AWARDS) Gimme a break...

My favorite performances were Daughtry with Vince Gill (I agree not quite enough Vince on there, but still a great song from Daughtry's CURRENT album "Leave this town" & wonderful live performance), and Kenny with Dave Matthews--love those guys & that is one of my favorite songs from "Lucky Old Son".

I agree Taylor is certainly NO "Vocalist of the Year" in any category. She is a very talented songwriter who writes catchy, radio-friendly pop tunes, and I think she'll do even better as an actress with her good looks, long legs, and flair for the dramatic. Can you imagine how far Taylor would ever have gotten on American Idol?? I sincerely doubt she'd make ANY of the first cuts with those live vocals. On looks & charisma/charm yes, but not on her vocal ability. Perhaps the voters decided to reward her a bit too fervantly after the Kanye debacle??

Wow.. Some pretty funny comments about Taylor Swift.. I agree that she doesnt have much talent and she most definitely did not deserve any of the awards that she received. But I have to disagree with all the negative comments towards Carrie Underwood. I dont think her outfit was inappropriate. It was a fiesty outfit for a fiesty song. And she is not 15 years old. Her target audience is not only teenagers. Shes a grown woman and if young girls want to idolize her, their parents need to make them realize that Carrie is a lot older than they are. Just because she dresses a certain way, doesnt mean they can or should..

I am very mad and completely DISGUSTED that Taylor Swift won Female Vocalist and EOTY! What is the world coming to? Are people losing their ability to hear? Are we somehow getting brainwashed? (I'm not serious on that last one)
The industry is burning to the ground in my opinion. Country music in particular. It's all bullsh*t now. Looks, money, promotion, just like pop. It's depressing - the girl cannot even carry a tune and she gets Female Vocalist?? HOW?! And don't even get me started on her win of EOTY... It's got to be rigged. Her daddy just handed out the checks again. It's sickening. I am a person who loves all kinds of music and used to be a fan of taylor's. I thought most of the other performers did a wonderful job tonight. But TS is a disgrace.

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