Why Kane Brown Won Video of the Year at the 2023 CMT Music Awards
The music video for "Thank God" (featuring wife Katelyn Brown) won the award, but the degree to which voters (fans) evaluated each of the three eligible videos as a work of artistic and technical excellence is debatable. It's not a leap to say voters for all three finalists (Carrie Underwood, "Hate My Heart" and Hardy / Lainey Wilson "Wait in the Truck" were the other two) were voting for artist over art. The strange truth about the CMT Music Awards is that the videos are really just proxies for the artists involved.
Honestly, that's probably true for every country awards show, which is why no one ever remembers who won a week later.
Because the wins do matter, here's what you need to know about Sunday Night's (April 2) CMTs:
- Jelly Roll won the night with three awards and one very memorable acceptance speech.
- Lainey Wilson picked up two, including Female Video of the Year.
- Zac Brown Band were the most surprising winners, taking the Group/Duo Video of the Year trophy.
The CMT Music Awards are curious because they behave like awards shows that celebrate audio (the CMA Awards, ACMs etc ...) and ignore the visual. There's no best actor or best director award. Instead, artists are grouped into categories that feel even more forced than their counterparts. Celebrating the visual has the potential to bring true A-list talent to the format. Imagine if Matthew McConaughey was there to accept an award (and walk the red carpet and do all the things) instead of just being piped in for a random 10-second soundbite.
This isn't to say the CMTs haven't differentiated themselves. In fact, this show (now two years old on CBS) is the most unique of the country awards shows because it dares to be diverse. CMT has become the format leader in celebrating BIPOC and LGBTQ artists, as they were for women in country music after Tomatogate. On Sunday, just five of the 16 main stage performances were solo white men, and one of those was Jelly Roll, who represents a different kind of minority.
At the end, a Black man won the night's most prestigious award. This has never happened at the CMTs (Underwood won the last four Video of the Year awards) and it rarely happens in country music. Go back to Charley Pride winning CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1971 for the most recent occurrence.
That is not why Brown won, however. In the week leading up to the CMTs, he texted his fans on five occasions, including three in the final 30 hours. Each time, he asked for votes and reminded people which hashtags to use and to vote multiple times.
On Twitter, he sent four tweets in the final 24 hours, then retweeted multiple accounts asking for votes. Compare that to one tweet each for Underwood and Wilson, and Hardy who led with apathy:
Brown wanted it more and deserved it more, if not for this specific video, than for the entirety of his career. He's a true superstar in country music, capable of selling out basketball arenas. He's a reliable hitmaker (four straight Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 songs among nine total) and a rare talent who can bring new fans to the genre without alienating those who've been here for decades.
Somehow, Brown has never won a CMA Award and has just one ACM, for Video of the Year. He's been perennially snubbed without a controversy to explain it. The 28-year-old continues to be more than generous with media availability. He's pushed the genre forward sonically, but remained rooted in tradition.
Pardon the hyperbole, but for Brown to get this far without any major trophy on his mantel is criminal. No, Video of the Year at the CMTs is not Male Vocalist or Entertainer of the Year at the CMA and ACMs, but it's a steppingstone to get there. Kane Brown wanted and deserved this award more than any of the other finalists to ensure he's not country music's Dan Marino — a great talent without a "championship" to show for it.