In a normal year, the CMT Music Awards typically kick off the annual celebration known as CMA Fest. But in 2021, as the world emerges from the pandemic, they simply offered a taste of normalcy as the show reunited socially-distanced fans and artists inside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
Hosted by Kelsea Ballerini and Kane Brown, Lady A kicked off the fan-voted celebration with their summer empowerment anthem, “Like a Lady,” backed by an all-female band that included Carly Pearce and Lindsay Ell.
The empowerment continued, as the 2021 CMT Music Awards made its mark as, perhaps, the most inclusive evening in the history of country music. Mickey Guyton honored pioneering Black female vocalist Linda Martell with CMT’s Equal Play Award before going on to duet with BRELAND on “Cross Country.” The legendary Gladys Knight invited them on board the “Friendship Train,” in a highlight that was rivaled only by H.E.R., who teamed with Chris Stapleton for “Hold On.” Earlier, Blanco Brown debuted “Nobody’s More Country.”
The cross-genre collaborations that are a hallmark of the CMT Awards were out in full force: Kelsea and Paul Kelin of LANY debuted “I Quit Drinking,” while Ingrid Andress subbed for Maren Morris on “Like That” with JP Saxe. Carrie Underwood joined NEEDTOBREATHE for “I Wanna Remember.”
Ultimately, Carrie extended her streak as the winningest artist in CMT Awards history, taking home the night’s biggest honor for Video of the Year for “Hallelujah,” her cross-country collab with John Legend. Kelsea and Dylan Scott both nabbed their very first CMT honors.
Kelsea’s co-host, Kane Brown, closed the show with his hit duet with Chris Young, “Famous Friends,” the tune that also brought them Collaborative Video of the Year honors.
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