The tone for this year's CMA Awards was set right from the opening drum hit -- the compressed, programmed snare that opens Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night" -- and the Vegas-ready medley that it preceded. Not only did Bryan perform his lightning rod single, but Florida Georgia Line hopped on stage and interrupted with theirs. Nelly, apparently, had prior plans, but Taylor Swift (who, at 23 years old, went on to win the CMA's rarely awarded lifetime achievement award) provided ample accompaniment from her front-row seat.
With few exceptions -- like Kacey Musgraves' simple take on "Follow Your Arrow" and Swift's acoustic re-imagining of "Red" -- the show continued like this until George Strait and Alan Jackson, the usual bearers of tradition, sang "He Stopped Loving Her Today" in honor of George Jones. Where 14 years ago the duo brought news of a murder on music row, this year there was only death of old age. It was something of a surprise, then, when Strait upset Bryan, Swift, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton to win Entertainer of the Year, the biggest award of the night, for his first win in the category since 1990. Behind unanimous applause, the decision felt less like a rebuke to these new stars than an attempt to reframe their accomplishments, an insistence that even in the era of hip-hop beats and hard rock guitars, country music remains a genre concerned with tradition.
While listening to our playlist of winners (who are also listed below), see how our experts fared in their predictions from earlier this week.
Entertainer of the Year: George Strait
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton
Vocal Group of the Year: Little Big Town
Album of the Year: Blake Shelton's Based on a True Story
New Artist of the Year: Kacey Musgraves
Musician of the Year: Mac MacAnally
Vocal Duo of the Year: Florida Georgia Line
Single of the Year: "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line
Song of the Year: "I Drive Your Truck" by Lee Brice (written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary)
Music Video of the Year: "Highway Don't Care" by Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban
Musical Event of the Year: "Highway Don't Care" by Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban