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How country music went crazy: A comprehensive timeline of the genre's identity crisis

Are you aware that Nashville is currently embroiled in an outright civil war?

The country music genre has gone through quite a transformation in the past couple years, adopting the electric guitar sounds of nearly-defunct rock radio, the rap-infused cadences and AutoTune normally reserved for hip hop, and, most controversially, the pop elements left behind as that genre gravitated toward electronic dance music. And attitudes have become ever more contentious between traditional and modern-country fans in 2013. Lately, the frustrations have reached a boiling point.

The straw that broke the camel’s back arrived two weeks ago, when Zac Brown called Luke Bryan’s No. 1 single “That’s My Kind of Night” the “worst song I’ve ever heard.” That remark caused Jason Aldean to hop on Instagram and tell Brown, “trust me when I tell u that nobody gives a shit what u think.” The country community quickly took sides in the debate, and the resulting feud has catapulted country music’s identity crisis straight into the spotlight.

These days, pop-country is more popular than ever — but also more despised than ever. Stars like Brown, Alan Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, and Gary Allan have begun publicly expressing unhappiness with their format, which this year has become an increasingly homogenous platform for men (a few weeks ago, Carrie Underwood was the only solo female in the Top 20) singing about trucks and beers and girls and then more trucks.

Tensions have been brewing all year long (and really, much longer than that) — and there’s been no shortage of public feuding among the genre’s A-list. As country fights to figure out what it should look and sound like, its biggest stars are airing some very honest (and sometimes harsh) opinions. Here’s a timeline of country’s wild, crazy, and sometimes mud-slinging year:

January 23: Blake Shelton calls classic country fans “old farts” and “jackasses”
While speaking in a GAC special, The Voice coach angered thousands of elderly country fans when he remarked, “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.” The comment caused a controversy that endured for weeks and helped spark this year’s debate about traditional-country vs. pop-country.
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CMA nominations 2013: The snubs and surprises

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Now that the 47th Annual CMA award nominations have been announced, here are a few thoughts on who made the cut, who was sorely left out — and the things that just don’t make much sense:

SURPRISE! Kacey Musgraves The Nashville newcomer scored six nominations (five for her own music, one for co-writing Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart”), which tied pack-leader Taylor Swift. Musgraves may not have the sales power of Swift, but she clearly has the industry support. Not many Best New Artist nominees also find themselves competing for awards like Best Female Artist or Album of the Year, a category that her disc Same Trailer Different Park absolutely deserves to win.

SNUB: Carrie Underwood An acclaimed album, four number one singles, and a 110-date arena tour (not to mention her new Sunday Night Football duties) were not enough to finally earn the perennial CMA Awards host her first Entertainer of the Year nomination. Annoyingly, this snub has been going on for a while. Methinks there must be record label politics holding her back. How else do you explain Jason Aldean, whose recent singles have floundered, sneaking into the category ahead of her? READ FULL STORY

CMA nominations 2013: Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton lead the way

In case you were wondering: It’s Taylor Swift’s world, and we’re all just marking time until she writes a song about each one of us, then collects an award for every one.

Swift is up for both Entertainer of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year in the 2013 Country Music Association Awards, whose nominations were announced this morning by Sheryl Crow and Florida Georgia Line.

The CMAs—not to be confused with the ACMs or the CMT Awards—are the biggest deal in country music, and will be hosted once again by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, live on ABC on November 6.

Swift has won Entertainer of the Year, the awards’ highest honor, twice before. She’s the only woman nominee in this year’s field in that category, which is rounded out by Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, George Strait, and Luke Bryan. Shelton, Aldean, and Bryan will also be competing for Male Vocalist of the Year in a list that also includes Keith Urban and Eric Church. Swift will go up against Underwood, Kacey Musgraves, Kelly Clarkson, and Miranda Lambert in the Female Vocalist of the Year category.

Swift has a total of five nominations this year (including her participation in Tim McGraw’s “Highway Don’t Care”); Florida George Line check in with four, while Kacey Musgraves is up for a total of five (her four as a performer plus an extra one for her songwriting credit on Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” up for Song of the Year). Blake Shelton is up for a total of five prizes as well.

Check out the nominees in all 12 categories below.  READ FULL STORY

Miley Cyrus and the rise of #YOLO pop

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One week ago, Miley Cyrus left the nation reeling after her performance of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” at the Video Music Awards. Parents watched in horror as the girl they remembered as Hannah Montana twerked in a teddy-bear leotard, gyrated on Robin Thicke‘s crotch in nothing more than a creamsicle bikini, and rubbed her nether-regions with a phallic foam finger. The whole display was provocative, pointless, and, for most viewers, shocking.

But in all actuality, Cyrus’ deliberately vexing presentation wasn’t shocking at all. “We Can’t Stop” is a natural extension of the “Can’t Be Tamed” philosophy that Cyrus has been peddling since 2010. And by the same token, the song — in its irreverent disregard of all people in the name of a good time — is the crystallization of pop music’s ideals over the past year. In the wake of fun.‘s “We Are Young,” pop has quickly become a medium that worships its own youth unabashedly. Granted, pop music has always heralded youth (tellingly, Justin Timberlake, 32, was given a legacy prize at this year’s VMAs) — but it’s never been so self-aware about it.

“It’s not just about being like, ‘We don’t care what people say,'” Cyrus said of “We Can’t Stop” during a Billboard cover shoot in June. “It’s about living for right now.” In the same interview Cyrus said the single’s edgy video was meant to resonate with young people: “I know that we all live for those nights right now. We’re all young,” she said. “I want to talk to my fans about that.” That may sound like a shallow conversation, but currently, it’s the chosen topic in much of 2013’s pop music. READ FULL STORY

Taylor Swift sings 'You're So Vain' with Carly Simon -- VIDEO

Taylor Swift and Carly Simon are both blond singer-songwriters, and the comparisons don’t end there. They also get asked a certain question pretty often: Who did you write that song about? In Simon’s case, everyone wants to know the subject of “You’re So Vain,” which has been rumored to be about everyone from Mick Jagger to Warren Beatty. In Swift’s case, every love song is up for speculation.

So it’s only appropriate that Swift brought Simon out onstage Saturday night to sing “Vain” during her Red Tour stop in Foxborough, Mass. Watch the entire performance below:
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John Mayer's new single 'Paper Doll' -- is it about Taylor Swift? You decide!

It’s been a while since we’ve heard John Mayer’s voice, thanks to the barrage of health problems that drove him to announce an “indefinite” break from life performing in March 2012.

But you can’t keep a good guitar O face down! Mayer has since gotten well enough to embark on his first tour in three years — and to record a new single, a mellow, Jack Johnson-y summer jam called “Paper Doll.” (The song’s newly-released lyric video features Joanna Rohrback, a.k.a. the Prancercise Lady, because Mayer must resent how Josh Groban always gets to be the funny one.)

At first listen, the song sounds like it was assembled from fragments of a J. Crew catalog: “Paper doll, come try it on/Step out of that black chiffon [...] Fold a scarf, Moroccan red/Tie your hair behind your head,” Mayer croons.

But pay closer attention to the chorus (“You’re like 22 girls in one/And none of them know what they’re running from”) and a few of its more pointed couplets (“Strap into some heels that hurt/You shoulda kept my undershirt”), and “Paper Doll” turns into a gentle breakup ballad — one that could very well be directed at Mayer ex Taylor Swift, who famously blasted her relationship with Mayer in Speak Now‘s track “Dear John.”

Consider also how Swift’s song includes lyrics about being “the girl in the dress” and Mayer “paint[ing her] a blue sky,” while “Paper Doll” includes a catalog of dresses and this line: “And if those angel wings don’t fly/Someone’s gonna paint you another sky.” (Also, Swift’s last single was called “22”.)

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Tiny versions of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran flirt in their new video for 'Everything Has Changed': Watch it here

It’s the classic love story: Boy meets girl on a school bus, boy loses girl, the ’60s happens, girl has boy’s baby, girl dies of AIDS.

Oh, wait — sorry, that’s Forrest GumpTaylor Swift’s new video for the Ed Sheeran-featuring “Everything Has Changed” video is similar but much more gentle than that, featuring what appears to be child versions of Swift and Sheeran flirting, playing guitar, and getting fake tattoos (Sheeran!) at their quaint little public school in the countryside.

And at the end, viewers finally to get to glimpse the real Swift and Sheeran. See it for yourself below:

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CMT Awards: Best and worst of the broadcast

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The real winners were announced last night at the 2013 CMT Music Awards, a fan-voted program that technically honors country-music videos. Still, here are a few more honors from the unremarkable telecast you should feel free to weigh in on:

Worst hosts: With dead eyes and a stiff posture, Jason Aldean left returnee Kristen Bell to once again try way too hard to elicit laughter from the crowd. Their ongoing gag about which duet to sing together (a thinly veiled attempt to get people to use the #CMTawards hashtag) was downright painful — and frequent teleprompter issues didn’t help. These two were no Brad and Carrie. They were no Blake and Reba, either. Heck, they were no Blake and Luke — and that’s saying something. READ FULL STORY

Billboard Music Awards: The three most memorable performances from last night

Last night’s Billboard Music Awards featured all sorts of great moments — at least, if you’re not Justin Bieber.

And while the Biebs getting booed may have been the highlight for more than a few schadenfreuders, there were plenty of other water-cooler moments, including Miguel’s accidental pro-wrestling body slam on a fan (don’t worry, she’s recovering), Taylor Swift’s insanely coordinated rendition of “22,” and Pitbull and Christina Aguilera going back to the source of the infamous ’80s sample in their “Feel This Moment.” (We’d love to show you an Afro’d Prince doing “Let’s Go Crazy,” but the Purple One does not allow his performance footage to live on the internets.)

And then, of course, there was EW cover boy Bruno Mars, who put on a reliably dazzling show, opening the broadcast with his newest single, “Treasure” and a whole lot of red satin. Click after the jump for clips of the night’s most memorable moments:

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Taylor Swift dominates the Billboard Music Awards: See the complete winners list here

Justin Bieber emerged from a spaceship. The Band Perry banged on big drums. Bruno Mars performed in a Saturday Night Fever suit. Chris Brown fought some ninjas. Our host, Tracy Morgan, challenged Psy to a “Gangnam Style” dance-off. Oh, and some people got some awards. Taylor Swift dominated this year’s Billboard Music Awards, which were broadcast on ABC from the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday night. She claimed eight statues, including Billboard artist of the year and top Billboard 200 album for Red. But she was kind enough to let Justin Bieber, One Direction, Gotye, and Rihanna have a few trophies as well. A full list of winners follows below.

Billboard artist of the year
Taylor Swift

Top female artist
Taylor Swift

Top male artist
Justin Bieber

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