The stars shined for country's biggest night at Thursday's Country Music Association Awards in Nashville. But, for a genre with a history of rich sound, fiddles and patriotic lyrics, this year's awards celebrated more crossover country music with nominees that heavily dabble in different musical genres.
The popular country melodies that hit the airwaves don't sound like the unique tones of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson. Instead, you hear crossover country-pop from Taylor Swift or the indie beats of The Civil Wars.
This year's hosts also reflect the crossover. Brad Paisley, a three-time Male Vocal Performer of the Year and the 2010 CMA Entertainer of the Year, made his country debut during the height of Tim McGraw and Toby Keith. He began, like most country singers in Nashville, but gave a spin on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind." His co-host Carrie Underwood didn't take the typical rout through country music's capital. While she's settled into country music, Underwood gained her popularity through American Idol, which showed her musical versatility.
That's not to say that country music has entirely lost its exquisite sound; you can still hear itin the Zac Brown Band or Big and Rich. But would you call Swift or Kelly Clarkson country? Maybe not 15 years ago when the sounds of Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood and Brooks & Dunn gave voices to the genre.
Obviously, Swift's "We are Never Getting Back Together" sounds nothing like Shania Twain's "(If You're Not in It for Love) I'm Outta Here." However, put a couple of melodies behind Swift and her voice sounds like the good ole days of "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Tim McGraw." It's no surprise that she received another CMA Entertainer of the Year nomination. Maybe the gesture's not for her new album Red, but for still being this generation's frontrunner of country-pop fusion.
That might also be true for 2012 CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, who last month received criticism that his song "Over" sounded more pop than country. The only country star serving as a judge on NBC's The Voice, Shelton tends to pick contestants well-versed in rock music to join his team. Despite an openness to all types of music, he insisted that he didn't plan on being the next crossover artist.
But the pure sounds of country music isn't the only thing that's changing. Look at the lyrics of some of the songs that received Music Video of the Year. Keith's "Red Solo Cup" is a college kid's anthem, and dirty minds might read Little Big Country's use of the word 'motorboating' in "Pontoon" the wrong way.
While country music embraces other genres, it manages to simultaneously stay grounded in its roots. For all y'all that are new to country music, I recommend listening to the songs of this year's winners. Hunter Hayes looks like a baby Jesse McCartney, but brings a youthful sound to class country. Eric Church gives off a folk vibe in "Springsteen," and the voices of lovebirds Shelton and Miranda Lambert together will make you feel like country really hasn't changed ... entirely.