No branding opportunity was left unexploited at this year’s CMT Awards, which the country music television network broadcast live Wednesday night from Nashville’s Music City Center.
A tire company had its name on one of the venue’s stages, while a candy company had its name on another. One award, bestowed on Keith Urban for his skillful deployment of social media, was sponsored by a soft drink.
And then there was CMT itself, which used the award for performance of the year to remind viewers of its other shows; the network did the same by having Charles Esten, a fine actor from CMT’s “Nashville,” serve as the evening’s deeply awkward host.
Business as usual in our age of corporate patronage? Sure. But the promo-palooza made Wednesday’s performances feel like mere branding exercises too, as when Miranda Lambert did her song “Pink Sunglasses” and you kept waiting for a Ray-Ban logo to loom into view.
At another point in the show, the Brothers Osborne teamed with Peter Frampton to do their “It Ain’t My Fault,” an unintended parody of musicianly excess in which T.J. Osborne sings, “Blame the whiskey on the beer / Blame the beer on the whiskey.”
Somewhere in St. Louis, an Anheuser-Busch executive was smiling.
Frampton was just one of several carpetbaggers on the CMT Awards, which has long welcomed acts from other realms eager to do a little test-marketing in the country world. The Chainsmokers joined Florida Georgia Line for a run through their soul-deadening “Last Day Alive,” while Jason Derulo and Luke Bryan did a wan medley of the former’s “Want to Want Me” and the latter’s “Strip It Down.”
In each case, an actual exchange of musical ideas seemed less important than making sure everyone could be photographed together for an all-important tweet. (Watch out, Keith Urban: Next year’s #SocialSuperstar presented by Pepsi is up for grabs.)
There were a handful of bright spots in this otherwise depressing production. The show opened with a warm and spirited tribute to the late Gregg Allman, who died last month, by the trio of Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley; the three were joined by Derek Trucks, Allman’s guitarist in recent years, for a classy “Midnight Rider” that wasn’t selling you anything but gratitude.
Urban and Carrie Underwood also fared well in a lovely, stripped-down version of “The Fighter,” their zippy disco-country hit.
Wednesday’s show ended on another high note, which was the night’s only successful cross-genre collaboration: a buoyant “September” by Lady Antebellum and Earth Wind & Fire.
But then you realized the performance was just meant to get you to watch an upcoming episode of CMT’s “Crossroads.”