An evening full of socially-distanced charm and stellar performances, the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards was a blast, despite some necessary, if sometimes obvious *ahem* changes this year.

The ACM Awards, which highlights achievements in country music and doles out prizes from one of the genre’s most respected institutions, are always a good ol’ time. It’s a surefire dose of iconic outfits (see Miranda Lambert’s red leather corset from 2015 or Steven Tyler’s…pants), energetic live performances, and sure, some controversy too. It’s where the Chicks, formerly Dixie Chicks, were once booed after disagreeing with George W. Bush and the Iraq War, and where Rascal Flatts was once caught lip-syncing. On Sept. 16, 2020, the star-studded 55th annual awards show was no different. Except, amid this year’s COVID-19 safety guidelines, yes, it was.   

After nearly five decades, the ACM Awards were held virtually and socially-distanced with no audience, but fans were compensated with a ton of performances, including a strong opening medley from entertainer of the year nominee Luke Bryan and co-winner Thomas Rhett, as well as showstopping medley from other co-winner Carrie Underwood. Plus, the return of Taylor Swift!

The academy also honored its humble roots, bouncing between three iconic venues in Nashville, Tenn., as Keith Urban hosted charismatically and empathetically. So all-in-all, all was not so bad. Scroll down for some of our favorite behind-the-scenes action, and find out what you didn’t see on-screen at the 2020 ACMs. 

Keith Urban said hosting the AMCs remotely was 'a challenge'

The 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards may have looked a little different, with many performers seemingly standing alone on stage. That’s because … many were! For the first time, the show was broadcast from three Nashville, Tenn. venues: the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Bluebird Cafe. The show was also postponed from April 5, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite setbacks, the readjusted AMCs worked, though host and previous entertainer of the year Keith Urban admitted that it wasn’t easy to orchestrate

“[I’m excited] that the show’s going on!” Urban told People on Sept. 15, 2020. “It was a challenge to figure out how we were going to do this with no audience and not in Las Vegas and not in April.” Urban noted the Ryman Auditorium for its acoustics, and curiously, for … Coldplay. “It’s an amazing sounding venue,” Urban said. “I saw Coldplay play at the Ryman Auditorium on one of their first tours in the states — it was extraordinary.” He added, “It has always stayed with me.” 

While Coldplay did not perform, huge names such as Carrie Underwood did. Hearing her conclude a jaw-dropping medley to absolute silence was jarring, but it was a treat nonetheless. Also, all the changes meant no excessive PDA from Keith Urban and wife, Nicole Kidman, like last year (maybe not a bad thing). 

Taylor Swift returned to the country stage after a hiatus

Taylor Swift proved you can always come home. The superstar made her grand return to the Academy of Country Music Awards with the live debut of her love song “Betty” from her 2020 album Folklore. According to Entertainment Weekly, she had not performed at the ACMs (or any country awards show) in seven years, since famously going pop on her 2014 album 1989. So this was big. 

“Bout to show up at your party [ACM Awards],” she tweeted on Sept. 13, 2020. Curiously, Swift was a late addition, according to The Boot. Nonetheless, she rocked the Opry with her elegant, acoustic performance and glistening ensemble. 

“While I don’t feel Taylor Swift (or any artist) should have to stick to a specific genre, there’s something very comforting about Taylor returning to the ACMs this year, it’s like she’s coming home,” one fan wrote. 

You may recall that at the 2015 ACMs, while accepting a milestone award, Swift famously discussed what it felt like to take a break from country music (per CMT,): “When I told you that I had made a pop album and that I wanted to go explore other genres, you showed me who you are with the grace you accepted that with. I will never forget it,” she said. Kinda awkward! 

Maren Morris hoped a certain someone was watching from home

Maren Morris, who scored five nominations at the 2020 ACM Awards and won female artist of the year, lit up the stage with her slow rocker “To Hell & Back” from her 2019 album GIRL. And the star was hoping that a certain special someone was watching at home: her newborn son! Yup, ahead of the show, the singer shared that she was hoping her son, Hayes Andrew, whom she welcomed in March 2020 with husband Ryan Hurd, was awake to watch her perform — even if it was past his bedtime. 

“I don’t know what time in the show I am, but he can stay up a little late to watch Mom,” Morris told Taste of Country Nights, (via People) — despite the fact that “I don’t think it’s quite registered [to him] that the people in the TV are real.” Aww!

Morris, who was nominated for album of the year, also recognized her late producer, Busbee, who passed away in September 2019 of brain cancer, according to Taste of Country. “This is, in a lot of ways, the last remaining piece of art that I will make with him,” she said. “…I’ll always treasure those years and albums that I had with Busbee. He was such a champion of my sound forming in that beginning time that we had together.”

Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani couldn't stay off social media

Ahead of the 2020 ACM Awards, some vigorous Instagramming was done by Blake Shelton and partner Gwen Stefani. Shelton — who was nominated for four awards and performed his duet, “Happy Anywhere,” with his pop star sweetie — hyped-up fans with quite the #TBT. According to Good Housekeeping, the star posted a throwback of himself at the 2003 ACMs, rocking a mullet, cowboy hat, and leather jacket ensemble that would stop any Instagram user in their tracks. 

“Y’all think I should bring back this look for the @acmawards? #Throwback,” Shelton captioned the post. Responses ranged from “I love you but no” to “NOOOOO!!! For the love of God.. NO!!” Essentially, the “nos” had it. 

Meanwhile, wife Gwen Stefani got the internet talking when she previewed her more modern 2020 ACMs outfit — gold boots, fishnet stockings, and cutoff shorts. She also added a #TBT of her own. Not every follower was cheering on the No Doubt star’s new look or musical direction. “Make the country music stop and please go back to your sound,” one critic wrote. 

Negative feedback aside, all Blake and Gwen’s posting seemed sort of … desperate? Shelton’s ex, Miranda Lambert, has become the most-awarded artist in ACM history, and some surmised that Shelton and Stefani seemed to side-step Lambert by performing their duet far away on their own green screen. Hmm.

Luke Combs, one of the night's biggest stars, just got married

Country superstar Luke Combs, who won male artist of the year, is our nominee for the sweetest husband! Combs performed his single, “Better Together,” at the Bluebird Cafe, and according to People, he dedicated the tune to his wife, Nicole. Actually, make that new wife Nicole! 

Combs married Nicole Hocking on Aug. 1, 2020, in an “intimate ceremony” at their home in southern Florida,” reported People. “Despite the threat of a hurricane, the couple had a lovely intimate ceremony and will be celebrating with friends and family in the new year,” Combs’ rep told the outlet. How Combs popped the question is adorable too. 

On the podcast Couple Things, the couple shared that in November 2018, Combs had new collars made for his cats with their new address (the couple was moving). His plan was to put the ring on one of the cat’s collars, but the cat got sick in transit, so instead, Combs cleaned up the mess and just asked for Nicole’s hand. 

“Yesterday was the best day of my life. I got to marry my best friend. I love you @nicocombs, here’s to forever,” he posted back in August. Aww! 

His performance at the Academy of Country Music Awards was a sweet moment in a night of many special moments. The ACMs set an example for future award shows, and the behind-the-scenes stories were memorable too!

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