2019 CMA Awards: 5 Things You Didn't See on TV - Rolling Stone
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2019 CMA Awards: 5 Things You Didn’t See on TV

From Jennifer Nettles’ crystal-clear fashion statement to selfies with Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X

A selfie with Lil Nas X was in high demand during the 2019 CMA Awards.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutte

There was no shortage of big moments and surprise twists during Wednesday night’s CMA Awards broadcast, but what you saw on TV doesn’t tell the whole story of the night. There was enough going on before the show and during commercial breaks to warrant at least an additional hour of airtime. Here are five things we saw inside the Bridgestone Arena that the cameras didn’t.

Lil Nas X is in high demand.
Lil Nas X may have been denied any significant screen time on the CMA Awards broadcast, but he attracted a lot of attention from his fellow artists in the arena. As the stars were taking their seats, Kacey Musgraves hit up Lil Nas X for a quick photo. Keith Urban, who performed with the rapper at last summer’s CMA Fest, also dropped by to chat, and even co-host Dolly Parton posed for a picture with him backstage. When he and his “Old Town Road” collaborator Billy Ray Cyrus took the stage during the pre-telecast portion to accept the Musical Event of the Year trophy, Cyrus thanked Hannah Montana and the Disney Channel for Lil Nas X even knowing who he was — Cyrus had his first round of country hits about seven years before Lil Nas X was born in 1999.

Jennifer Nettles lets her wardrobe do the f*@#!N talking.
The Sugarland singer didn’t mince words when it came to addressing the lack of women on country radio: she wrote them out on her red carpet outfit created by Christian Siriano and New York street artist Alice Mizarchi. The words “Equal Play” were inscribed on the back of Nettles’ sleek, white pantsuit, and a white train opened up to reveal the words “PLAY OUR F*@#!N RECORDS, PLEASE & THANK YOU!” Nettles followed up the look with an Instagram post explaining that women had just 16% of the Top 500 country songs at radio and on playlists from 2014 to 2018. “We want our songs to be played and our stories to be heard,” she wrote.

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When I found out that the CMA’s were celebrating women artists this year, I saw a wonderful opportunity to invite and inspire conversation about country music’s need to play more women artists on radio and playlistings. (Some of you big country fans may have heard of this problem over the past few years. 16% of the top 500 songs over the last 4 years (2014-2018) were women. 16% of the top 500!!!!! 16%!!!!) This is unacceptable.) What better and more womanly way to invite such conversation than with fashion that sends a message?! I knew I had to collaborate with artists who were strong supporters of equality across all platforms. @csiriano is an advocate and activist for equality across all lines and his work is always inclusive. He is an absolute ally. @am_nyc is an amazing NY Artist whose work celebrates women and who knows first hand the challenges of equality within the art space. The piece that they created for me is a beautiful celebration of women in country music as well as a call to action within the industry at large. I am honored to get to be here at the @cma celebrating other women in country music. We need the celebration and support of women to move into country radio and country play listing. We want our songs to be played and our stories to be heard.The more our songs are played, the more women get to hear their own stories, challenges and triumphs reflected. GlamFam: H&M @ashleydonovan Styling @hayley_atkin_ Jewels @davidyurman Special thanks @lauracitron for guiding my train

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Jenee Fleenor breaks up the boys club.
Fiddle player Jenee Fleenor made CMA Awards history before the show even began. During the pre-telecast ceremony, the audience already inside Bridgestone Arena erupted as hosts Michael Ray and Carly Pearce called Fleenor up to accept the Musician of the Year trophy. She’s the first woman to ever be nominated for that award, much less win it. A change in CMA voting rules limited which members could vote in the Musician category to those people who are involved in the creative process of making music. That decision took name recognition out of the equation, and paved the way for Fleenor to be honored for her work on the road with Blake Shelton and in the studio with Jon Pardi, whom she thanked for turning up the fiddle on his albums.

Brandi Carlile leads the artist fan section.
What’s most fun about actually being in a seat at the CMA Awards is getting to see how the country stars themselves behave when they’re watching the show. Though she was about five rows back, Brandi Carlile led the artist fan section throughout the night. She waved her hands in the air during Miranda Lambert’s “It All Comes Out in the Wash” and was the first up out of her seat when Reba McEntire kicked off “Fancy.” Of course, Carlile was also jumping up and down when her Highwomen bandmate, Maren Morris, won Album of the Year for Girl. But Carlile wasn’t the only artist kicking up their heels in the audience. Tanya Tucker clogged down the aisle during a commercial break as a classic clip of Roy Clark playing a fiddle tune blared over the P.A., and Carrie Underwood was spotted dancing along to Lambert’s performance in between her emcee duties.

President Trump marks the date.
The official CMA Awards program book includes a letter from the President every year no matter who is in office. But that didn’t make it any less jarring to flip through and see Donald J. Trump with a big smile on his face in a photo next to the show’s date of November 13th — the same day that public testimony in his impeachment hearings opened in the House of Representatives. The letter also included one noticeable gaffe about a downtown Nashville landmark: the Tweeter-in-Chief referred to the Lower Broadway entertainment district as “Broadway Street.”

 

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