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HomeEntertainment2024 ACM Awards Review: Cute Show, Mostly Predictable

2024 ACM Awards Review: Cute Show, Mostly Predictable

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Going into the 2024 ACM Awards, you didn’t have to be clairvoyant to nail some key predictions. Host Reba McEntire was sure to be both corny and unflappable, Lainey Wilson was a lock to win Entertainer of the Year, and country interloper Post Malone, scruffy and face-tattooed, was going to charm the pants off everyone.

That all of that happened isn’t a bad thing. In fact, there was something especially comforting about the predictability of this year’s ACMs, held for a second year in a row at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas. But even the most satisfying meal could use a bit of unexpected heat, and two moments in particular helped spice up the night.

The first was a simple award presentation made memorable by the natural chemistry and easygoing banter of Ashley McBryde and Schitt’s Creek fave Noah Reid. Presenting the award for Single of the Year, the Grammy winner and current Outer Range star reimagined each of the nominated songs as a musical parody, with McBryde strumming a ukulele. For instance, the lyrics to “Fast Car” were changed to spoof Nashville star bars, while “Next Thing You Know” side-eyed all the nominees for being dudes.

But it was their topical update of Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” to reference his arrest for throwing a chair off a Nashville bar’s roof that brought the most “oohs” — without letting Wallen off the hook. “Last night after some alcohol/a chair right over there really started to piss me off,” Reid sang. “They told me that I threw it at somebody I never met/Then my publicist keeps telling me this ain’t over yet.”  The skit — written by McBryde — was agile and sharp and left us wishing she had her own full performance slot this year.

The other and more high-profile moment was the stunning cameo by pop star Dua Lipa, who took to the stage under cover of darkness to duet with Chris Stapleton on his single “Think I’m in Love With You.” It’s nearly impossible to keep a secret in the age of social-media blabbermouths, but somehow the ACMs had Lipa’s appearance buttoned up until the very minute she appeared in front of the mic. Even McEntire’s introduction failed to mention Lipa — thanks to the host’s microphone cutting out before she could speak her name. That the performance was so damn good only made the subterfuge all the more worth it.

But citing these two high points doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the awards show, which streamed live on Prime Video and is now available on demand, fell flat. It was all perfectly fine, with performances, speeches, and skits that toggled between cute and feel-good.

Wilson, country music’s anointed new superstar, was chosen to open the night (she’ll also open her own bar in Nashville this summer) and delivered with a cover of Little Texas’s 1993 radio hit “God Blessed Texas” and her new song “Hang Tight Honey.” Like she did at last year’s ACMs prior to playing “Grease,” Wilson let her hair down and lost her signature cowboy hat in between the performances, this time deliberately placing it on the head of her mom — her date for the evening — as she marched from a satellite stage to the main stage. “Hang Tight Honey” was the right song for the moment: It’s an undeniable banger powered by Wilson’s monster pipes and some euphoric background vocals.

The feel-good vibes continued with McEntire’s opening remarks, a monologue that in lesser hands could have played like one long groan. But McEntire is the consummate pro, and whether she was selling jokes about her pet donkeys that went viral on TikTok (“They turned into total asses,” she quipped) or riffing on her age — a spry 69 — she stuck every landing. McEntire even worked in a Beyoncé reference while noting the genre’s need to be more inclusive. “From Mother Maybelle to Cowboy Carter, country music is so big in 2024 that there’s room for everybody,” she said. “We are keeping the circle unbroken, but growing it even bigger and better.” The ACMs are wise to have already locked in McEntire to return for next year’s milestone 60th show.

Randy Travis, who suffered a stroke in 2013 that robbed country music of one of its signature voices, has been in the news for releasing a comeback song that uses AI technology. ACM producers tapped him to present the first award of the evening, which left some wondering how that’d be possible, since Travis has aphasia, but Nineties country singer Clay Walker appeared by his side to handle the presentation. It was another feel-good moment, a bit of “country is family” messaging that helped remind viewers of Travis’s enduring appeal and his own history with the ACMs, who named him Top Male Vocalist in 1986 and 1987.

Randy Travis and Clay Walker at the 2024 ACM Awards. Photo: Rich Polk for Penske Media

While Stapleton won the most awards of the night with four, including two as artist and producer of Album of the Year for Higher, it was Wilson who triumphed in the top category of Entertainer of the Year. The win marked Wilson’s first ACM for EOTY and underscored her already big night with wins for Female Vocalist and Music Event of the Year, for her feature on Jelly Roll’s “Save Me.” During their acceptance speech for the latter, Jelly Roll called back to last year’s ACMs when he and Wilson debuted the song onstage. “This song is a triple platinum record. I wrote it with a high school friend; we never thought we’d be songwriters. I never thought I’d be standing here,” he hollered in a patented awards show spiel that is, by now, familiar and expected.

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And then there was Post Malone, the rapping, rocking everyman who has replaced Kid Rock as America’s favorite ruffian. The Texas native has charisma to burn and his appearance on the ACMs added an extra edge to the show. Dressed in a Dallas Cowboys jersey and strumming an acoustic guitar adorned with a silhouette of Michael Myers’ horror mask, Posty proved his country bona fides with a twangy weeper of a ballad titled “Never Love You Again” before launching into his soon-to-be-chart-topper “I Had Some Help.” Like Wilson’s “Hang Tight Honey,” it’s irresistible and wins point for its brevity, in-and-out in three minutes.

Chris Stapleton and Dua Lipa after the 2024 ACM Awards in Frisco, Texas. Photo: John Shearer/GettyImages

The ACM Awards should be commended for that too. While awards shows often wear out their welcome by the end of the second hour, the ACMs were already in the home stretch: McEntire was closing the show with her new single “I Can’t,” Wilson was basking in the glow of her crowning victory, and Dua Lipa — whom Stapleton called the “queen of feel-good music” — was somewhere radiating optimism. Later, she’d recreate Stapleton’s “clean up” photo from last year’s show. Sometimes there’s nothing more reassuring than business as usual.

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