As a newlywed, Miranda Lambert might seem disloyal for being happy that any nominee in the CMA Awards' Entertainer of the Year category won besides her husband. But that wasn't the case, Lambert said backstage.
"When Taylor won entertainer, I secretly sang, 'Who runs the world? Girls!'" Lambert said, singing a snippet of the familiar Beyonce gal-power anthem.
Indeed, it was a more female-driven night than the CMAs have ever had before, with women or bands fronted by women locking down almost every category that didn't have "male" in its name. Lambert repeated as best female vocalist, of course, but The Single Ladies — i.e., Swift and Kimberly Perry -- ruled in some of the most contested and unpredictable categories.
Taylor Swift at the CMAsSwift won the top Entertainer trophy for the second time in three years… and if she looked particularly surprised, it may have been because she wasn't even nominated last year, after winning it on her first try in 2009. Swift would have had good reason if the voters had gone fickle on her or decided she was too pop for their tastes, but in the end they rightly recognized her as being country's biggest and best ambassador to the world right now.
And the Band Perry's "If I Die Young," the ballad that deservedly will not die, won both Song of the Year and Single of the Year. It wasn't till later in the evening that the sibling trio picked up a Best New Artist award — possibly the first time that particular honor has ever seemed slightly anticlimactic for the winner.
On top of all that, Grace Potter was a co-winner with Kenny Chesney for favorite video; Kelly Clarkson shared the honor with Jason Aldean for vocal event; and, in the most predictable wins, the Jennifer Nettles-led Sugarland won best vocal duo and Hillary Scott-fronted Lady Antebellum got best vocal group. Jason Aldean's win for top album represented the only significant award that could have gone to a gal and didn't.
Our Country was backstage to get the scoopage from the winners — as well as upcoming hopefuls like, you know, Lionel Richie -- on the stories behind their wins and their upcoming plans. Come on back to the bowels of the Bridgestone Arena with us, won't you?
"To win it twice is like the coolest thing that's ever happened to me happening twice," Swift said backstage. "I'm freaking out right now." She said that she and her family and team were "celebrating like we just won a Super Bowl"… echoing something Kimberly Perry had said earlier about how "the CMAs have always kind of been the Super Bowl in the Band Perry household.
In less than two weeks, Swift has a live CD/DVD coming out, just in time for Black Friday shopping. But between arena tour dates that are still ongoing, she's already been hard at work on the studio effort that's expected to be out in a year's time, if she keeps to her bi-annual release schedule.
"I absolutely am so proud of the Speak Now tour. The reason why it's so much fun is because I obsess over how to treat each song" and make them all theatrical in their own way, she said. "And the reason I obsess over that so much is because I obsess over writing the songs so much… With this next album, I'm so excited because I've been writing so much. We're still in the first year of making it, so I'm kind of seeing ideas (for a future tour). As I finish songs and as we demo them up in my producer's basement, I can kind of picture them being played on a stage. It's such a daydreamy job to have! It's really a blast to get to call that a career."
Some industry observers thought Shelton had a shot at Entertainer of the Year, for all the good will he's brought to country lately via The Voice. In the end, that was the longest of shots, since no one ever gets the top trophy without having had a major headlining tour, something that won't happen for Shelton till 2012.
He was happy to accept accolades as Best Male Vocalist, though — even if he hadn't yet heard from any of his Voice cohorts. "They haven't said crap to me yet," he admitted, with mock bitterness. "Is this thing an hour later out there in California? That's why. I'm sure that's why Christina hasn't congratulated me. Otherwise she'd be blowing my phone up."
Shelton couldn't have been more sincere about his gratitude about being the favorite male for a second year.
"Last year when it happened, in the back of my mind, I kind of had the idea that maybe I'll win this because I've been doing this for so long and the industry probably feels a little sorry for me," he said. "But his year I didn't feel I could get away with that. It means a lot to me because for the first time I feel secure in the country industry, because it's such a fickle industry. And to win this thing two years in a row, I don't feel like last year was just a fluke or an underdog vote."
He wasn't done — much to the chagrin of his publicist.
"I'm excited," he continued. "I know right now I seem probably a little low-key, just because I'm numb right now. I can tell y'all that when I wake up in the morning, it's gonna look like this trophy is under my sheets, and it's not going to be. That's how happy I am about winning this thing. This feeling is not going away for a long time, okay?... Sorry, Tree," he added, looking over to his offstage publicist, Tree Paine. "She's like, oh, son of a b---!"
There was some speculation over just how Shelton and his bride would celebrate. Upon getting her trophy, Lambert told the television audience, "Congrats to my hubby, too. It's gonna be a good night tonight, baby!" — with cameras cutting to a shot of Shelton rubbing his hands together, eagerly and maybe a little salaciously.
Backstage, though, Lambert made it sound like there wouldn't be any second honeymoon that night. "I have no idea what I said" up there, she noted. "Apparently Blake's getting lucky?" Probably not. "My family always comes in town … We're gonna celebrate with our friends and my family, and it's my birthday in an hour, so there's a lot to celebrate!"
Beyond that, her idea of getting "lucky" may be getting to relax over the holidays, after having had a tour, a wedding, and two albums (one by her, one by Pistol Annies) right on top of one another.
"Releasing an album right on the heels of a huge tour is exhausting," Lambert said, referring to the just-out Four the Record. "A great way to end all that (will be) is to sit around at Christmas and Google myself. Because I have no idea what I've been doing."
This family act might have been even more excited about their performance — of their current single, "All Your Life" —than they were about their three awards… if only because of the (relatively) epic screen time it was afforded.
"It was our first time to actually sing a full length song at the CMAs," said Reid Perry. "Last year, we had the honor of presenting the radio awards"—note how he was careful to say "honor" about the duty that had them reading a list of call letters over the bed of their ballad about mortality— "and they gave us 90 seconds to perform 'If I Die Young'."
No one will be giving the Band Perry one of those truncated token newcomer slots again, after they won two trophies that were open to veterans in addition to their freshman honor—though "they're all major categories to us," Kimberly Perry said. "We're feeling like we have Super Bowl rings tonight," she added.
"If I Die Young" is notable for having been written by Kimberly alone, in contrast to the vast majority of songs penned in Nashville, which typically involve three or more writers brainstorming by appointment. It was a near-miss, in that regard, saved by a mother's intervention.
"The song only took one day to finish," she said. "I got it halfway finished, played it for my mother, and swore I was gonna bring it to town to co-write. She said, 'You know what? You really need to finish this one yourself.' So I went upstairs and knocked out the back half myself. It really was a special day."
KENNY CHESNEY AND GRACE POTTER
There was a lot of sentiment for either "If I Die Young" or "You and Tequila" to win best song, with both tunes being showcases for emotional craftsmanship. In the end, the Chesney/Potter collaboration had to settle for a video award, which brought the unlikely pair backstage to talk about putting together the visuals for the track.
Asked about a most memorable moment on the video shoot, Potter said, "There's a moment where I'm laughing because he said something really funny, and my mouth is open really wide, and of course they use that!"
What kind of funny are we talking about here? "Look," said Chesney, "Grace Potter has been on the road a lot of years with her band, and they're still on one bus, so they live a lot of life out there, and it's impossible to make her blush…"
"He made me blush," Potter confirmed.
"But," Chesney added, "we caught that moment in the video when I was talking about a certain someone in a certain situation…"
"And a certain thing she liked to do," Potter noted.
"So if you guys look at that video and see her laughing really hard, know that that's real. It's our own little sick mind… It made for a good shot, anyway!"
Now that we've fogged up the windows, what about the actual recording of the track?
"Grace and I had never met before we went into the studio to record this song," Chesney said. "The song that Matraca Berg and Deana Carter wrote was such a tortured soul song. It was obviously about being addicted to tequila but (also) being addicted to that person who you know is not very good for you, but you keep going back for some reason. And so when I recorded the song, I felt like I needed the other side; I felt like I needed the female perspective also. I'd heard Grace sing this song 'Apologies' that she wrote when she was 17… That song killed me. I said, 'That's the voice I want.' Like I said, we never met before we went in the studio, but the chemistry was evident from the moment we stepped in."
Potter is a big fan of Chesney's live shows. "You can wring his T-shirt out after the first song at his concert… it's that energizing. And of course that's what me and my band do as well. But to see it in that capacity, I realized rock & roll and country music are really not that different."
Meanwhile, another would-be crossover artist, Richie, was making the case that pop-R&B and country are really not that different. "I found out that there's really no difference between 'Take This Job and Shove It' and 'Oh Baby Don't Leave Me.' R&B and country are real."
He explained the concept for his Nashville duets album, due out in March. "I wanted to do a country album, and then I did my research, if you will, and found out that every country act down here knows the lyrics better than I do. So I decided, let's change this thing around a little bit: Let's do a duets album, and give everyone a chance to give their interpretation of what the songs are all about. So instead of getting everyone to sing the track that I created, I wanted Rascal Flatts to come in and create a Rascal Flatts track and make 'Dancing on the Ceiling' sound just like them. Shania Twain came in with 'Endless Love,' and Jennifer Nettles with 'Hello.' And Willie Nelson—I just can't wait for you to hear 'Easy Like Sunday Morning.'"
As for his impression of the awards telecast, as a return guest after a long absence?
"It's Cirque du Soleil!" Richie exclaimed, no doubt impressed by the aerialists who accompanied Sara Evans' number… or maybe the contortionists who gyrated their way through Luke Bryan's "Country Girl Shake It for Me."