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The CMA Awards played it safe at precisely the wrong moment

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Donald Trump is "a fascist."

"Nobody needs a machine gun."

"Gay people should have a right to be happy ... without fear of getting drug down the road behind a pickup truck."

Even viewers hoping for talk of politics at Wednesday night's 51st Country Music Assn. Awards couldn't have expected to hear comments like these.

And indeed they probably didn't hear them -- unless they were also keeping an eye on Facebook Live, where singer Sturgill Simpson streamed video of himself busking outside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena while country music's most prestigious awards show went on inside.

A winner this year of the Grammy Award for best country album, Simpson is hardly a nobody in Nashville; his views are shared by many in the country establishment the CMA represents.

But perhaps more than in any other genre, country artists have public and private stances on hot-button issues, and at a moment of unending controversy -- over gun rights, President Trump, you name it -- those with starring roles on Wednesday's production, broadcast live on ABC, reliably played to the music's conservative base.

"Tonight we're gonna do what families do," Carrie Underwood said in her opening monologue. "Come together, pray together, cry together and sing together too."

Underwood, who hosted with Brad Paisley, was making clear that the CMA Awards weren't going to ignore current events, as the trade group had advised journalists covering the show to do in a widely criticized (and quickly rescinded) set of media guidelines regarding last month's mass shooting at a country festival in Las Vegas.

Yet she was also assuring viewers that the CMAs would emphasize healing over outrage.

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