But after Brian Kelley and Tyler
Hubbard tore the house down with a hyped-up version of their summer anthem “Cruise” to close the show, it was clear that their
days of sneaking in the service door are over.
The pair opened with a flash of fireworks, playing the head-bopping
song with foot-stomping glee as graffiti artists tagged up a wall near the stage with the song’s title in bright red and orange
letters. If there was any doubt before that “Cruise” is the song of the summer, it was dispelled by the multiple shots
of everyone from video of year winner Carrie Underwood to random audience members
yelling along to every single word.
Rapper Nelly joined them to serve
up his verse from the hit remix of the song, sporting an army green tank top with “Cruise” written across the front. He waxed
poetic about country girls with their legs kicked up on the dashboard as the stage filled with break dancers executing acrobatic
moves. The trio hugged it out just before the credits rolled, capping a night of equally thrilling performances from the likes
of Underwood, co-host Jason
Aldean with Lenny Kravitz, Taylor
Antebellum with Darius Rucker, Hunter
Hayes, Luke Bryan,
Lambert and others.
It was a fittingly big finish for what turned out to be a huge night for the duo. Earlier,
they took home buckles for breakthrough video of the year and duo video of the year for their back roads ramble clip for “Cruise,” which features bikini models piling into pickups, games
of strip poker and a patriotic picnic exploding into a riot of flying fistfuls of colorful dust.