The American Music Awards are usually a jumbled collection of different genre artists trying to outdo each other with crazy performances. But it actually got pretty topical on Sunday night.
Host Pitbull got things started early with a shout-out to President Barack Obama’s immigration plan. “We’ve got everybody here tonight,” Pitbull said, gesturing to the crowd. “Black, white, pink, purple, orange, Asian, Latinos. And guess what? President Obama says we can all stay. God bless America!”
Later, rapper T.I. lectured the audience about the fact that hey, women can rap, too. Annoyed that his label artist/protégé Iggy Azalea is the target of so much criticism, he introduced her performance of “Fancy”/”Beg For It” by defending her. “Like it or not, women can rap,” he said. “And like it or not, regardless of size, colour or nationality, women can run hip hop.” (Remember that controversial Forbes story about Azalea with the headline “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman”?) Joke’s on her haters, because Azalea walked away with two awards in the rap/hip hop category: favourite artist and favourite album.
And finally, Taylor Swift was not nominated for any awards, so the AMAs quickly invented one: the Dick Clark Award for Excellence, as the late star’s production company produces the show. After an intro by Diana Ross, Swift happily accepted the trophy and shot a passive-aggressive dig at Spotify. This month, she pulled her music off the popular streaming site, saying she didn’t want to lend her life’s work to a company that doesn’t fairly compensate music creators. The company tried to publicly shame her for the decision and claimed they do pay artists a fair rate.
Swift thanked her fans for giving her the bestselling album debut week since 2002 and, true to form, she didn’t call out an ex by name: “To the fans who went out and bought over a million copies of my last three albums,” she said. “What you did by going out and investing in music and albums is you’re saying that you believe in the same thing that I believe in: that music is valuable and that music should be consumed in albums. And albums should be appreciated as art.”
Burn! Come on, Spotify. Don’t you know Taylor Swift always gets the last word?
Katy Perry (who didn’t even show up) and One Direction tied with three awards each, though One Direction got the biggest prize of the night for Artist of the Year. Iggy Azalea and Beyoncé (another no-show) both won two trophies.
Anyway, here are some of the other highlights:
Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”
Swift ratcheted up the crazy eyes as she let loose with the TV debut of her latest single, “Blank Space,” which is already at No. 1 on the Billboard 100. The performance was pretty close to her music video, a parody of what the media says about her: that she’s an insanely needy, boy-crazy, psycho ex-girlfriend. It involved lots of fire and men in picture frames and some really scary facial expressions. Expect the gifs to blow up the Internet.
So Swift’s live vocals and the sound quality of the overall performance weren’t great. By contrast, Charli XCX (who performed her songs “Boom Clap” and “Break the Rules” right after Swift) sounded top-notch, and complemented her performance with some sweet red sunglasses and prom dresses.
Wyclef Jean introduced as a “genuine reggae legend”
That raised some eyebrows as the singer appeared with Magic! to perform their hit “Rude.”
The genuinely awesome “Bang Bang” performance by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj
If we never hear the overplayed “Bang Bang” again it will be too soon, but there’s no denying the three singers had the most entertaining set of the night. They wandered into the crowd, particularly Jessie J, who didn’t miss a beat as she danced with Khloe Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith and Lorde.
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s “Booty”
This highly hyped performance had ABC censors nervous, but it was exactly what you would expect from the title of the song.
The awkwardness of Taylor Schilling and Uzo Aduba presenting the Favourite Male Artist — Pop/Rock award
The Orange Is the New Black co-stars were forced to stand there and read some stilted onstage banter off a piece of paper. Guess the Teleprompter was broken?
The hilarity of fake paparazzi during Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” transforming into backup dancers midsong
Just for the mental image picturing actual paparazzi giving up snapping photos and starting to dance in the streets.
5 Seconds of Summer being adorable as they won for Favourite New Artist
Despite the fact that the Australian boy band insisted on covering “What I Like About You” instead of going with an original song, the guys seemed genuinely grateful that they won for Best New Artist. Finally, they get to shake off the indignity of what happened at the Billboard Music Awards.
Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat”
The New Zealand pop star thrashed around in a yellow-lit box for the first part of the song off The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack, then whipped her hair back and forth for the remainder of the time. She wrapped it up by smearing lipstick all over her face. It was riveting.
Ariana Grande’s piano version of “Problem” and “Break Free”
Grande, looking very un-Grande-like in a traditional evening gown, sounded great as she sang totally stripped-down versions of her pop hits. Unfortunately, she still has a bit of an enunciation problem.
Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg
The newlyweds commanded a presenter spot because Jenny McCarthy is co-hosting the network’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. They took the opportunity to kiss onstage. Come on, guys.
Selena Gomez singing her emotional new song, “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” about Justin Bieber.
Not only is this haunting song an insight into one of the most twisted celebrity relationships of our time, we were mesmerized by the background graphics: threatening storm clouds, exploding roses, a mysterious ghost. Then she suddenly became an angel as wings appeared behind her. And of course, an obligatory shot of her BFF Taylor Swift crying in the audience.
Kate Beckinsale forced to say this while introducing One Direction’s performance of “Night Changes”:
“So this may be the American Music Awards, but it’s just healthy and sensible to carve out a few moments a day to get really overexcited about British boys.”
Josh Duhamel introducing his wife, Fergie, performing her new single, “L.A. Love (La La)”
It was sweet except he ended it like this: “She makes really cute babies, by the way.”
by Emily Yahr