CMT Awards 2021 top moments: Taylor Swift wins remotely, H.E.R. slays with Chris Stapleton

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Carrie Underwood: Queen of the CMT Music Awards? 

Sounds about right. 

For the ninth time in her career and the eighth since 2010, Underwood scored the top prize — Video of the Year — at the annual CMT Music Awards. Winning for “Hallelujah,” her John Legend collaboration, she accepted the trophy Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, where the show returned a year after COVID-19 derailed “normal” award ceremonies. 

In her acceptance speech, Underwood praised the voters — country music fans. 

“Fans, thank you so much, fans,” Underwood said in accepting the fan-voted award. “You’re the reason that we are all here, doing what we do, doing what we love. Making music videos.” 

What else went down during the show? Read along for top moments, from all-star collaborations to an unsung country legend getting her due and trips to the Bonnaroo farm. 

More: Here’s why Lindsay Ell showed up to the CMT Music Awards in a big silver cast

CMT Awards 2021 winners list: Carrie Underwood, Gabby Barrett and more take home trophies

Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini and Gabby Barrett 

Underwood wasn’t the only one who had reason to smile at Bridgestone Arena. Co-host Kane Brown left downtown Nashville as the year’s winningest CMT Music Awards artists. 

Brown won Male Video of the Year for his single “Worship You” and Collaborative Video of the Year for Chris Young duet “Famous Friends.” 

“This is the most nervous I’ve been all night,” Brown said as he picked up his prize for Male Video of the Year.

The 27-year-old centered his speech on family – not only his wife, Katelyn Jae, and their daughter, Kingsley Rose, but also “my family that works for me, everybody in country music, and all the fans.”

First-time co-host Kelsea Ballerini also became a first-time CMT winner. Her collaboration with pop star Halsey on last year’s show – “The Other Girl” – was named CMT Performance of the Year.

“After this performance last year, there was a lot of chatter (about) categorically what genre that song did or didn’t fit into,” Ballerini said from the stage. “And the fact that you voted this as the winning performance tells me that you know where my roots are, and that you know who I am. It also tells me that you hear music as music. … You love when people push boundaries and explore their artistry. And as I make a new record, that means the absolute world to me.”

Country newcomer and “American Idol” alumna Gabby Barrett was also part of a wave of first-time winners, earning Female Video of the Year for “The Good Ones.”

Linda Martell gets her due 

Trailblazing 80-year-old Linda Martell — who in 1969 was the first solo Black woman to sing at the Grand Ole Opry — earned long overdue recognition when CMT awarded her the annual Equal Play Award. 

In 1970, Martell released her debut album, “Color Me Country,” including lead single “Color Him Father” — which peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the highest-charting placement by a Black woman in chart history.

But her time in the spotlight was short-lived. Martell retired from the country music business by the mid-1970s. 

Although under-recognized, Martell hasn’t been forgotten. Country music’s new wave of Black artists — including Mickey Guyton and Brown — have sung her praises, and Rissi Palmer named her Apple Music Country show “Color Me Country” in her honor. 

More: Linda Martell, trailblazing country singer, will receive special honor at CMT Music Awards

The show honored Martell with a video montage featuring Palmer, Underwood, Rhiannon Giddens, Darius Rucker and inaugural Equal Play recipient Jennifer Nettles; Guyton presented the award to Martell, who accepted it earlier this week from South Carolina. 

“Hearing Linda sing makes it very clear that she had all the talent to be a huge star, but her career was cut short for just one reason: the color of her skin,” Guyton said, adding: “Equal play is crucial so the next generation of women, like Linda, can flourish in this industry.” 

Guyton continued, “I would not be standing here today without you, and none of us would be here without. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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H.E.R. slays with Chris Stapleton 

Collaborations took center stage as country music crossed into rock, pop and soul during Wednesday night’s show. 

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R. enlisted Chris Stapleton for a standout take on the former’s song “Hold On” that saw the artists swapping guitar licks and sharing lines in the soaring chorus. 

Earlier in the show, Ballerini and Paul Klein of alt-rock outfit LANY shared a television debut of duet  “I Quit Drinking.” Guyton joined newcomer Breland for a take on his single “Cross Country” before welcoming empress of soul Gladys Knight to sing “Friendship Train,” a show highlight. 

And, of course, country artists collided on stage. Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall took viewers campside for a shot of “Tequila Does”; the broadcast traveled to Harlinsdale Park in Franklin for “Getting Over Him” with Lauren Alaina and Jon Pardi; and Young joined Brown to close the show with “Famous Friends.” 

Down on The Farm 

Like last year, the CMT Music Awards took viewers on a musical trip through Middle Tennessee — including a handful of performances from the Great Stage Park, AKA the Bonnaroo Farm, in Manchester. 

Drone footage showed off the expansive farm as Chris Stapleton performed a roaring rendition of 2020 track “Arkansas.” The show returned to Manchester for a Brothers Osborne and Dierks Bentley collaboration of the latter’s laid back jam “Lighten Up” (complete with a stage full of ‘Roo memorabilia) before taking a final trip to Coffee County for a collaboration with Underwood and Christian outfit NEEDTOBREATHE. 

Around Nashville, the show took viewers atop 5th + Broadway for performances from Luke Combs and Luke Bryan, respectively, as well as Midtown rooftop bar White Limozeen for a memorable “Lady Like”/”Like That” medley from Ingrid Andress and pop artist JP Saxe. 

Taylor Swift’s off-camera win 

Quiz time, Swifties: When did Taylor Swift last win a CMT Music Award? 

Answer: In 2011, she won Video of the Year for her “Speak Now”-era single “Mine” (who else remembers Swift singing in a forest of memories during the video? Throwback!).  

I LOVE YOU MOM https://t.co/hmLe8ZRTjm

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 10, 2021

Swift returned to the winner’s column — albeit virtually — Wednesday night, earning the “Best Family Feature” award for her endearing home footage video “The Best Day (Taylor’s Version).” Fans voted for the category via social media, and CMT announced a winner Wednesday online prior to the show. 

“I LOVE YOU MOM,” Swift tweeted Wednesday after winning the award. 

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