The Academy of Country Music Awards had to drastically rearrange its 2020 show due to COVID-19 restrictions. Broadcast from Nashville on Sept. 16, 2020, the ACMs took place all over town and included country music’s biggest names: Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs, Blake Shelton, Trisha Yearwood, and so many more. Keith Urban hosted the show from the famed Grand Ole Opry and helped hand out numerous awards to the wildly talented musicians.
Though the academy made every attempt to keep the award show at its usual caliber, you couldn’t help but notice the vast differences in production and presentation, especially the fact that overall, it was much more low-key than in past years. However, the show still had some very big highlights, including Miranda Lambert adding to her impressive list of awards and the return of Taylor Swift to the ACM stage. Ahead, check out the best highlights from the show and a few clunky spots that we could have easily done without. These are the best and worst moments from the 2020 ACM Awards.
Best: Carrie Underwood's tribute to women in country music
Carrie Underwood impresses pretty much every single time she sets foot on a stage, and the 2020 ACM Awards were no different. The “Before He Cheats” singer and American Idol alum performed a medley of songs by some of country music’s most famous women.
In a performance on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, Underwood celebrated the Opry’s 95th anniversary by honoring fellow female members Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton. Dressed in a beautiful maroon tea-length dress, Underwood pieced together some of the women’s most memorable songs. The medley included Cline’s “Crazy,” Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” Parton’s “Why’d You Come in Here,” McEntire’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and McBride’s “A Broken Wing.”
The ending of “A Broken Wing” would have absolutely brought an audience to its feet … had anyone been in attendance. We’re willing to bet a fair few viewers at home teared up at Underwood’s flawless voice as the final note rang out.
Worst: The lack of audience
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards were shot with no live audience. For an award show that centers on live music, it’s sad and almost eerie to see these artists performing to an empty auditorium. The performances took place in a variety of venues, but the only people in attendance at each spot were the artists and crew members.
Even when presenting awards, presenters came out to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry solo to read off the nominees and eventual winner before taking a large step away from the center of the stage to prepare for the winner’s entrance. There was no handing someone a trophy. No hugs to be had. No cheers from the audience. No whistles in support of the winners or the performances.
The stars still put on a spectacular show, but for the most part, the performances were largely stripped down to match the vibe of the venues. Though it’s always great to see musicians on stage sharing their talents, it’s still sad to not see a crowd right there with them.
The lack of audience also made acceptance speeches a little more awkward. When accepting her award for female artist of the year, Maren Morris even said, “This is weird talking to no one.” She also announced she had to pee, which can definitely go in the highlights category.
Best: Taylor Swift's performance of 'Betty'
Taylor Swift made a triumphant return to the Academy of Country Music Awards after a notable hiatus. Though she’s appeared at the award show in recent years, she hasn’t performed on the ACM stage in seven years. At the 2020 show, she performed “Betty” from her 2020 album, Folklore.
On stage at the Grand Ole Opry, Swift donned a sequin top and casual pants to sing a low-key version of the song with her guitar. On just a stool in the center of the stage, Swift absolutely sang her heart out while staring straight into the camera and connecting with her fans at home. Swift, who started as a country singer before moving into mainstream pop, slid back toward her country roots with Folklore, making her appearance at this year’s ACM Awards all the more perfect. Swift is never more impressive than when she’s just holding a guitar and singing with feeling, and this performance of “Betty” was no exception.
Worst: The disjointed jumps between venues
We get why everything was so spread out at the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards, but it still made for an awkward production. The show kept popping around to all the different venues around Nashville — and in Blake Shelton’s case, to Los Angeles — which just made everything feel disjointed. For the sake of spreading out, the academy kept performances in different buildings so there weren’t too many people in any one place, but it felt like a news broadcast where a field reporter sends it back to the in-studio host to continue the show.
Host Keith Urban would announce something at the Grand Ole Opry, then the broadcast would jump to the Ryman Auditorium for a performance, and then a voiceover would send us to the Bluebird Cafe for yet another performance, and then that person would send everyone back to the Grand Ole Opry for an award.
See? Exhausting. And then there were the green screen performances from Shelton and Gwen Stefani and also by Urban and Pink, which just added to the weirdness of this year’s ACM Awards.
Best: Holding the show in Nashville
Though the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards definitely felt disjointed by being held in so many different locations, it felt right to be in the home of country music. Funny enough, the show has never been held in Nashville before. It took until the 55th annual awards ceremony to bring the show to the city most closely associated with country music — it’s usually held in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. This year, the show was primarily staged at the Grand Ole Opry, the epitome of country music stages. Performances also took place at the iconic Ryman Auditorium and Bluebird Cafe.
The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville was actually the original home of the Grand Ole Opry before the whole production moved to a larger venue. The Ryman hosted the Opry until 1974 and now regularly hosts other concerts. The Bluebird Cafe is an icon in its own right, hosting performances from every famous country artist you can think of, despite being a tiny space. A young Taylor Swift played The Bluebird before she even scored a record deal, and the music venue played a huge role in the TV show Nashville, according to The Washington Post.
So while the show was a bit all over the place, it was at least in the right places for country music.
Best: The tie for entertainer of the year
In a first for the Academy of Country Music Awards, there was a tie for the top award of the night, entertainer of the year. Up for nomination were Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, and Carrie Underwood.
Host Keith Urban couldn’t help but laugh when he opened the envelope and told viewers there was a tie for the award — something he was pretty sure had never happened before (He was right). Ever since the first award for entertainer of the year was handed out in 1971, there has never been a tie (though there have been numerous times when the same artist won multiple years in a row). At the 2020 ACM Awards, Urban announced Rhett as the first winner of entertainer of the year, and after he said his thank-yous, Urban announced Underwood as the second winner.
While it was definitely a highlight of the night to see the only female artist nominated in the category take home a trophy, many viewers were unhappy that she didn’t win it outright and had to share the accomplishment with another artist. However, Underwood graciously accepted the award — which she previously won in 2009 and 2010 — and said she was happy to share it with Rhett. If nothing else, having a tie for the night’s top prize sure did shake things up a little bit.
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