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Like the most awful of childhood memories, I’ve attempted to suppress my recollections and thoughts of this year’s ACM Awards into the deepest and darkest recesses of my psyche, but like a bad acid reflux condition, the bile keeps rising. Yesterday Fox News contacted me for some quotes on a story entitled: Some country music fans say Ashton Kutcher not offensive, popular country music is. After the ACM’s, both Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore took to Twitter to call out Ashton Kutcher for “making fun of country music” after he showed up dressed more country than anyone else on the night, and then sang a portion of a George Strait song out-of-tune.
Miranda Lambert, who received her “Female Artist of the Year” award from Ashton as presenter, tweeted, “Was Ashton Kutcher making fun of country or is it just me? Watching it back now and I’m kinda wondering?” and the very vertically-addled Justin Moore said, “Seen Ashton kutcher at the acms tonight. What a douche! I don’t care for people making a mockery of the way country artists’ dress.” Ashton responded to Miranda, ““I Am One Of The biggest country Music fans you’ve ever met,” he tweeted at Lambert. “Wasn’t making fun at all.”
As one who admittedly over-reacts to any affront on country music, I found Ashton Kutcher’s appearance innocuous at the worst on Sunday night. I can think of a dozen more offensive elements on the ACMs than Ashton, an actor on a sitcom, coming out and attempting to be entertaining in a funny manner because that is what all of us expect from him. He’s one of the leads on a show notorious for his penis jokes and banal humor.
I found the appearance by KISS in their full spandex and cod piece regalia significantly more offensive and out-of-place, and Carrie Underwood’s opening strip-tease number way more out of line with country’s character. So were appearances by Marc Anthony, Bono, and Lionel Ritchie. Couldn’t the ACMs given that face time to some country legends that deserve it more in that platform, or some up-and-coming country artists that could have benefited from that exposure? Sure, Ashton had no business being on the ACMs either, but he has a show on CBS who broadcast the ACM’s, and this is why he was there, and therein lies the problem with today’s Network TV environment.
Cross marketing is crippling live events on television–this idea that these big events draw enough traffic that you can justify ostensibly embedded commercials into their content with no recourse. Nothing is a bigger ass whip than watching a sports show when some leggy peroxide blonde hops into the broadcasting booth and is attempting to explain the plot of her new TV crime drama romantic comedy show set in a distopian world while the sports commentators attempt to interject info about what’s happening on the field.
The reason KISS was at the awards is because they’re attempting to resurrect their careers with Motley Crue on a new upcoming dual tour. Apparently CBS and washed up hair bands have carte blanch control over the content of a country awards show.
People who actually care about the roots and purity of country music keep waiting for that one Armageddon moment where country music will so cross over the line that the “pop sensibilities” and the “fake Outlaw” motif will all come crumbling down and they will be forced to return to the roots of the genre. With the continued backlash from the ACMs stretching well into this week, we very well may point back to Sunday night as Waterloo in the future. But I’m not holding my breathe, and even if it was the “big moment” and the reset button was pushed, be sure country music will figure out how to screw it up again even when there has been a resurgence back to the roots. It is a cyclical nature, and one can only pray to the ghost of Johnny Cash that the cycle is back on the upswing.
But truly, the 2012 ACM awards offered very few redeeming values, maybe Brad Paisley’s performances, maybe a few other things. But Carrie Underwood’s performance was the worst. Two years in a row now (last year it was a duet with Steven Tyler), Carrie Underwood has played the ACM’s puppet to open the show with the most pop, and most sensational display possible to attempt to draw in non-country genre viewers for the duration of the night.
In the 5 years of Saving Country Music, I have never had the need to call out Carrie Underwood, even last year I gave her a pass because in general, despite her American Idol past and how pop she may or may not be, she’s been a genuine, honest performer. But her persona is of the girl next door, the simple country girl, and when she gets up there in lingerie, flanked by the silhouettes of naked female bodies humping the air, it just looks out of place, for Carrie and country. Hey, I love the curvatures of the female body just as much as anybody, but you don’t want to see that from sweet Carrie.
Carrie defenders (and they are many and fervent) love to point out that she’s more “country” than Taylor Swift. That may be true, but at least Taylor Swift respects herself, and is true to herself, but then again, the 2012 ACMs were a low moment for Taylor too, who I’ve come around on recently. She seemed plastic, too rehearsed and conscious of the cameras on her, and Taylor didn’t even perform. Her reaction to Blake Shelton’s joke about her dating Tim Tebow caused its own drama, and possibly my biggest take from the whole night was how Taylor had slightly tarnished her image.
Taylor Swift’s name has also been brought up in defense of Lionel Ritchie whose performance on the ACMs lasted 4X longer than the tribute to the recently-passed Earl Scruggs, because as they say Taylor Swift is not country. Well of course Taylor is not country either, and at this point saying so is just being a master of the obvious. But she is real, though that didn’t really show through at the ACMs. The issue with Lionel is the absolute drubbing the American consumer is taking from the advertising of his Tuskegee album. Lionel has a whole autonomous ACM Special coming up on April 13th, and his “country” duets” album came in at the top of the charts this week, and sold more copies than any other Lionel album since 1985. And what exactly is country about Lionel?
In the end I feel embarrassed to even be talking about all this TMZ bullshit. The water cooler talk should be about the amazing performances and the inspiring moments about an event like The ACMs. Remember how we felt after Jennifer Hudson’s performance of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in tribute to Whitney Houston on the Grammys? There is better performances and more inspiration on a episode of American Idol these days than there was on the 2012 ACM’s, and it was because country is embarrassed about being country and attempts to make up for that by being sensational instead of being explanatory in what country is, and exemplary in the way it is presented and in its performances. Instead we have award winners calling out presenters, and fans of pop performers and fake Outlaws duking it out for who is the worst. Dammit I want to to be honored to be a country music fan, not embarrassed.
Whether we like it or not, the ACM’s represent us as country fans. That is why we can’t just sit back and let them monopolize the dialogue, we must hold their feet to the fire, and broadcast our dissent, and let the rest of the world know that this is not us, this is not country music. Country music belongs to the people, and the people of country must rise up and take their genre back before it becomes a laughing stock, and not worth fighting for.
Don’t give up on country music! It may be dark times, and the light of country music may be scattered and dim, but as long as that light lives in the heart of its true fans and musicians, it will never die, and the hope remains that someday that light will be unified in to a new Golden era for country music.