If there was ever an indication of how mainstream country music’s appeal is changing, Justin Timberlake’s presence at the CMA’s sealed the deal. The fact the event was overshadowed by the celebrity news channels talking about Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani hiring a private jet to bring them to the big event in Nashville – together – is perhaps a better indication. But that’s just the outward facing view.

The real scandal comes with the night’s winners. Any betting person would have put their money on Sam Hunt winning the New Artist of the Year Award. He wrote No. 1 songs for Kenny Chesney (“Come Over”) and Billy Currington (“We Are Tonight”) – not to mention his own two chart toppers – and has been credited with bringing a younger, hip-hop friendly audience to country music. Trust me, every year-end wrap up will mention Hunt as one of the year’s biggest success stories.

So what does it mean that, despite the odds, well-respected singer/songwriter Chris Stapleton won? Not only did the soulful, traditional leaning singer win for New Artist of the Year, he also won for Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year. Dayum. Does it mean an end to Bro Country? Has the pendulum swung back to a more traditional sound? Country music lovers can only dream.

Another triple winner was Little Big Town who, after a controversial year where their “Girl Crush” single was yanked off a number of conservative country radio stations (what were they thinking?), got redemption in nods for Single of the Year, Song of the Year, and Vocal Group of the Year awards.

The night started with Eric Church dueting with Hank Jr.; later Church namechecked Jeff Tweedy in a new song, “Mr. Misunderstood.” A wacky all-star cast skit based around Star Wars provided some of the evening’s funniest (albeit somewhat head-scratching) moments. Not sure how you could have blanked on the fact that Carrie Underwood is now, technically, Carrie Fisher, but it was the one thing the little bit made clear. And let’s not forget Justin Timberlake’s soul-dripping performance when he joined Chris Stapleton on the CMA winner’s “Tennessee Whiskey”, which absolutely brought the house down. (JT played guitar!) The night culminated with the coveted Entertainer of the Year nom, and Luke Bryan walked away with the award.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADuUQT_fPCw

Below are all the night’s big winners.

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Little Big Town: “Girl Crush”

SONG OF THE YEAR
Little Big Town: “Girl Crush”

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR
Maddie & Tae: “Girl in a Country Song”

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Chris Stapleton

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Chris Stapleton: Traveller

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Luke Bryan

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Miranda Lambert

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Chris Stapleton

VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR
Florida Georgia Line

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Little Big Town

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2sW92Hjrm8