With its freewheeling, Golden Globes-like vibe, CMT’s Artists of the Year special is establishing itself as the most entertaining of country music’s myriad self-congratulatory shows, rivaling even the network’s flagship CMT Music Awards. Last night’s seventh annual event – taped to air tonight – singled out Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Chris Stapleton, along with special awards for Shania Twain and Kelsea Ballerini, and succeeded in delivering something as rare as hen’s teeth in image-conscious Nashville: unguarded spontaneity.
Twain, the recipient of the Artist of a Lifetime award, deserves the bulk of that credit. The crossover superstar accepted her trophy with unabashed exuberance.
“I don’t want to get off the stage right now because I’m loving this moment,” she said. “I love music, and I hope that it carries on for many more years in my life.”
That seems likely, considering the Canadian singer confirmed a new album is on the way on the red carpet.
“I have new music coming out really soon, and I’m very excited about it. There will be a new musical chapter,” Twain tells Rolling Stone Country, eager to continue a career highlighted by five Grammy wins, more than 20 million sales of a single album (1995’s The Woman in Me) and sold-out tours – including last year’s possibly misnamed “farewell” tour.
“I’m a songwriter, a performer, an entertainer, a singer, and I guess collectively a huge pile of hard work has gone into it all over so many years,” she says, reflecting on her Artist of a Lifetime honor. “I started professionally 44 years ago. Almost my entire life has been as a professional artist in one capacity or the other. I feel like I’ve lived three lifetimes.”
Underwood presented the trophy to Twain, with Ballerini, R&B singer Jill Scott and Meghan Trainor saluting the singer with a medley of her hits, including her signature “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” (watch a clip below). But the appreciation for Twain extended far off the stage, with artists as disparate as Scott and Florida Georgia Line reflecting on her influence.
“She pushed the boundaries, created her own lane and opened up a lot of doors for up-and-comers and different artists. She’s definitely inspired us,” says FGL’s Tyler Hubbard.
“It’s been cool to watch her go through her phases of her career, and her artistry,” adds Brian Kelley. “That’s real life, and that’s country music.”
Scott says Twain turned country music on its head with her rock-based production and unapologetically sexy image. “I love the sound of an acoustic guitar, the sound of a rock guitar. She mixed it all together, standing there foxy as hell,” says Scott, “and telling country stories in this powerful form.”
“I think more than anything she was so fearlessly herself and did it through fashion, through her heart and through her music,” says Ballerini. “Every girl wants to be Shania Twain.”
CMT’s Artists of the Year also features performances by Underwood, Bryan with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, and Stapleton, who delivered a stunning solo take on his song “Whiskey and You.”
CMT Artists of the Year airs Thursday night, October 20th, at 9:00 p.m./ET.