In a moving performance Sunday night packed with symbolism, country music star Kelsea Ballerini sang her hit track “If You Go Down, I’m Goin’ Down Too” at the CMT Music Awards with a quartet of drag queens marching by her side.
RuPauls’ Drag Race alumni Manila Luzon, Jan Sport, Kennedy Davenport, and Olivia Lux joined Ballerini on stage for the candy-colored, 60s-themed performance on CBS. RuPauls’ Drag Race airs on sister network MTV.
Ballerini, strumming a pink guitar, shouted at the top, “You feelin’ good, y’all?!” and launched into the upbeat single about best friends she wrote for her latest album. The singer/songwriter told Billboard the lyric was inspired by the movie Thelma and Louise.
“‘Cause dirt on you is dirt on me,” Ballerini sang, “And we both know our hands ain’t clean. If it all blows up and we end up on the news, if you go down, I’m goin’ down too.”
The music video was released Friday. Ballerini, 29, co-hosted the show with fellow country singer Kane Brown.
The four drag-famous queens hung out behind Ballerini for the first half of the song, gossiping, primping, and strutting. Part two saw Ballerini leading the group down a shiny black runway, marching in time and embracing as rainbow-colored confetti exploded from canons around the stage.
It was hard to miss the point.
As one viewer commented on Instagram: “This is an INSANE display of allyship on such a large scale.”
The awards show also featured a performance from out singer Lily Rose, out red carpet host Cody Alan, and a plea for inclusivity from country music royalty Shania Twain.
“Ibelieve in an all-inclusive country music,” Twain said, accepting CMT’s Equal Play Award.
Last night’s broadcast from Austin, Texas was the first time in the show’s long history it didn’t originate from Nashville, known as the country music capital of the world. It’s also Ballerini’s home state.
In a timely coincidence, CBS moved the awards show date last fall from June to April, and couldn’t find an available venue in Music City for the April timeslot.
In March, Tennessee passed legislation banning public drag performances and classified male and female impersonation as a “sexual” performance akin to stripping.
On Saturday, a U.S. District Court judge in the state temporarily blocked the law just hours before it was due to take effect.
Ballerini’s number could potentially have been shut down and the performers arrested had the show taken place in Nashville and if the law was in effect.
Judge Thomas Parker cited constitutional protections of freedom of speech in issuing his temporary restraining order.
After the show, drag queen Manila Luzon told ET: “Just like all these amazing country music artists, we drag queens are also artists. And we deserve a space to be ourselves, express ourselves, and create something wonderful for everyone to enjoy.”
In Texas, Republican state Rep. Nate Schatzline recently introduced a copycat bill in the state reclassifying drag as “sexually oriented business.”