This year's Country Music Association Awards didn't shy away from the tragedies and lives lost that have marked 2017. In a moving tribute to the Las Vegas shooting victims, Carrie Underwood performed a rendition of the hymn "Softly and Tenderly" during the in-memoriam portion of the awards show. Underwood also paid tribute to the family members of the country music scene who died in 2017. Upon the closing of her performance, black and white photos of the 58 victims in the Las Vegas mass shooting were displayed behind her.
The singer, along with CMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley, also honored the victims in the show's opening monologue. The tragedy was heartbreaking for country music community — the mass shooting on Oct. 1 took place at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a country music event, when Nashville singer Jason Aldean was performing. Underwood said at the beginning of the CMA Awards:
This has been a year marked by tragedy, impacting countless lives, including so many in our country music family. So tonight, we’re going to do what families do: come together, pray together, cry together, and sing together, too.
Paisley also chimed in, saying, "The way we see it, the best way to honor our fans is to play our music — loud and proud. Our music lifts people up and that’s what we’re here to do tonight. So this year’s show is dedicated to all of those we’ve lost and to all of those who are still healing. We love you and we will never forget you."
The hosts recognized the lives lost and affected by other violent events in the year, too, like the recent Sutherland Springs church shooting, the New York truck attack, and the Charlottesville white supremacy rally. Underwood and Paisley also addressed the hurricanes that ripped through Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida. The monologue came after Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, alongside an all-star ensemble, performed a rendition of the band's hit "Hold My Hand." Country superstars including Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Tim MicGraw, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and more joined him on stage.
Underwood and Paisley joked that the CMA Awards would be a "politics-free zone." The hosts were referencing the CMA's attempt to restrict the media, barring journalists from asking artists about the Las Vegas mass shooting or political affiliations. The association caved in and lifted the ban after Paisley and other artists criticized its attempt to silence the media.
Immediately after poking fun at the media restriction, the duo sang "Before He Tweets," a parody set to Underwood's hit song "Before He Cheats." The new song skewered President Trump and his trigger-happy tweeting ways. "In the middle of the night from the privacy of a gold-plated White House toilet seat he writes NFL and covfefe,” they sang. “Til little rocket man starts a nuclear war, maybe next time he’ll think before he tweets."
Artists at the CMA Awards were definitely not ignoring current events. Acknowledging the outpour of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood and beyond following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Keith Urban performed "Female," his new song about sexual harassment. Urban's wife, Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman, has spoken out against abuse and misuse of power in the workplace.
But as Steve Johnson opined in the Chicago Tribune, all the acknowledgements might have been impressive for the country music community, but those on stage still kept their mouths shut on gun control and the National Rifle Association. Thoughts and prayers in song form, while moving, are also meant to offend the fewest fans and fewest possible potential record buyers.
This past weekend, a gunman opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio, and killed 26 people. The gunman passed all his background checks, despite a history of domestic violence. After the CMA's attempt, and subsequent backtracking, to ban gun-related questions from the press, it will be interesting to see if and how the country music scene will address gun culture.