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2018 CMT Music Awards: 10 Best, Worst and WTF Moments

From the royal silliness of the pre-taped opening to Kelsea Ballerini’s marvelous back-to-basics performance

carrie underwood

Carrie Underwood's performance of "Cry Pretty" was one of the high points of the 2018 CMT Music Awards.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The 2018 CMT Music Awards were a head-spinning two-plus hours of colorful performances, dad jokes and wild juxtapositions. 

It was a show where Kelsea Ballerini’s simplified and stunning rendition of “I Hate Love Songs” shared screen time with the smoke and mirrors of the Backstreet Boys. Where well-choreographed productions were offset by Carly Pearce’s spontaneous emotion. And where Carrie Underwood channeled Axl Rose in her strongest rendition yet of the power ballad “Cry Pretty.” Here’s the 10 best, worst and most WTF moments of the annual salute to country music videos.

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Best: Carrie Underwood Puts the Power in Power Ballad

Carrie Underwood revamped the stage setting from her previous TV performances of “Cry Pretty” for this appearance, but who could pay attention to the lighting or those thousands of crystals hanging from the ceiling when Underwood is delivering this vocal performance? The song is a narrative breakthrough for the entertainer since she is singing about her own struggles in the first person, and it’s fascinating to watch her gain more power both as a performer and vocalist with every new performance of “Cry Pretty.” By the end of the song, Carrie was in full-on Axl Rose mode, letting her huge voice soar and weaving side-to-side. This is what it looks like when a superstar continues to evolve as an artist. H.K.

Lindsay Ell

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Worst: Blink and You Missed the Side Stage Artists

Can we just do away with shoehorning in these abridged, 45-second-then-cut-to-commercial performances by up-and-comers? Even future main-stage stars like Lanco, Devin Dawson and Carly Pearce – who had to the unenviable take of trying to make an impact after Kelly Clarkson sang a rock-radio staple with a gospel choir ­­– can’t help but look anything but small and not really part of the actual show on a sponsor-branded stage in a corner of the arena. With only, at best, half a verse and a chorus to work with, artists have to try painfully hard to look like they’re in the middle of an impassioned performance. Just ask Lindsay Ell, whose lack of a longer slot for her fiery “Criminal” was exactly that. A.G.

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Best: Carly Pearce’s Real Deal Speech

Some of the best awards show moments are those when artists display genuine emotion – which can be in short supply at such a well-polished production as the CMT Awards. But Carly Pearce couldn’t help but be her spontaneous self when she won Breakthrough Video of the Year for “Every Little Thing,” crying as she walked from her seat to the stage. In a trembling acceptance speech, Pearce told the crowd, “I sat up in the stands with my mom so many years wondering if I would ever get here. Fans, you have absolutely changed everything for me, so thank you for voting for me.” Her mic-drop moment was yet to come though: “I just have to say one more thing,” she concluded, “to the guy that broke my heart, thank you!” B.M.

sam hunt

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Best: Sam Hunt Takes a Honky-Tonk Tour

Country fans have been waiting for Sam Hunt’s follow-up to “Body Like a Back Road” for over a year now, so it’s fitting he took his performance of new track “Downtown’s Dead” straight to them. Hunt kicked off the performance surrounded by fans while sitting at the bar in Legend’s Corner on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. He then walked out and stuck his head in the door of a few other honky-tonks, including Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, before finishing the performance on a massive stage in the middle of the street. It was just the kind of out-of-the-box concept we’ve come to expect from Hunt, and it stuck close to the song’s storyline of a guy feeling alone in the crowd when he’s out on the town without his old love. Now, let’s hope he’s putting some of that creativity into making a full-length album. Because it’s been nearly four years since his last, and so far only, collection of songs, Montevallo. H.K.

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