If you wanted to feel old–and you’re, say, 20 or 21–tuning in to the American Music Awards was the way to do it. “I don’t know how this is possible, because I’ve been singing Eminem since I was 3,” said Justin Bieber, picking up a trophy in a category that had pitted him against the aging (?) rapper. Ultimately the 16-year-old moptop was named Artist of the Year in the fan-voted awards, leaving him with fewer achievements to look forward to when he finally advances into late adolescence. Bieber was the king of the AMAs, and he also picked up a few of our awards, which are based on the telecast itself:
No contest here: Justin Biebersweetly hugged nearly everyone standing between him and the podium (wisely passing over Russell Brand, though) when he was announced as Artist of the Year. The public displays of affection didn’t end there, as Bieber invited Usher–“not only my mentor but my best friend and my big brother”–to join him onstage. You can try to hate Bieber, but youknow, after a moment like that, that you’re really secretly dying to play laser tag with him.
SELF-PLUGGER OF THE YEAR
Shameless you are, Will.I.Am. “New record, The Beginning, out Nov. 30!” announced the Black Eyed Peas’ mastermind, accepting the award for pop/rock group. Could he milk that release date any more? Yes, he can! “Nov. 30th!The Beginning! Welcome to the future!” he shouted at the end of the Peas’ performance a short time later. Too bad the BEPs didn’t have any more on-camera moments on the telecast, or viewers could have gotten a pretty good drinking game going.
KANYE WEST AWARDUS INTERRUPTUS AWARD
At least Nicki Minaj stole Rihanna’s thunder before Rihanna was actually onstage, unlike Kanye’s famous mid-speech interruption of Taylor Swift. But this was just as classless a moment. “And the award goes to…” said Trey Songz. “Pink Friday is in stores tomorrow!” chimed in Minaj. “Give it up for Pink Friday, you guys!” “So I’ll continue,” said Songz, clearly taken aback by his co-presenter’s brazenness. (Wouldn’t you love to see Minaj and Will.I.Am go out on a dinner date, pathologically reminding each other when their next singles drop?)
When Taylor Swift‘s airborne piano finally got down to earth during “Back to December,” she stood up from it and segued right from the apology song she wrote for ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner into “Apologize,” the One Republic/Timbaland hit. “Then he said, it’s too late to apologize,” she sang angrily, taking on the other point of view. Swift’s performance of the same song on the CMA Awards a week and a half prior was a little more special, just because she sang it with just her piano and a string section. But this followup performance achieved its own liftoff when Swift surprised us with the mash-up.
Everyone else’s. And at times it seemed like nearly every performance on the show fell ridiculously into the three-songs-in-three-minutes format. Apparently, the AMA producers had an edict: We’ll let you perform a verse and chorus of the new single you’re desperate to promote, if you also throw in abridged versions of one or two readily (over)familiar hits. So Bon Jovi‘s “What Do You Got” led into “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life,” whileTrain‘s “Marry Me” was a teaser for “Hey Soul Sister,” and so on. When it’s one band doing it at the Super Bowl at half-time, we understand. When it’s the majority of acts on a three-hour show playing a minute or less of multiple songs, it’s ADHD personified.
The boys’ choir that opened Katy Perry‘s performance of “Firework” was a novel touch. Fortunately, the lads got escorted offstage before Perry’s demure red gown was ripped off to reveal a more typically form-fitting bodysyuit underneath, lest there be any more Sesame Street-style controversies about whether Katy and kids mix. The competition for this one was Justin Bieber hada full gospel choir join him midway through “Pray.” Because what African-American choir member isn’t waiting for the day when they can break out the robes for the Bieb?
BEST HOLIDAY CELEBRANTS
“Don’t you wish we could all have green hair and make it look good like Nicki (Minaj)?” asked Rihanna. Minaj’s two-tone hair looked like a vanilla cone freshly dipped in lime, while Rihanna looked like she was rocking an old Whitney Houston wig that’d been run through a vat of Red Dye #2. Between the two of them: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
OTHER GREAT MOMENTS IN HAIR
Train’s Pat Monahan gets the Bedhead of the Year award…Jenny McCarthyappropriated Pink‘s modified mullet…Christina Aguileraappropriated Taylor Swift’s curls…Taylor Swift appropriated Donatella Versace’s straightness…Justin Bieber, as always, was channeling Ellen…AndJohnny Weir? There are no words.
LEAST HUMBLED LYRIC
“Oh my God, we’re back again!” -sung at the NKOTB/Backstreet Boys summit meeting.
LEAST HUMBLED ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
“God, I love winning things!” -adult contemporary king Michael Buble.
LEAST GODLY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Usher got things off to a predictable start by thanking “my heavenly father for my gifts.” ButMuse were having none of that, thanking not only “Edward Cullen” (the band had a song on aTwilight soundtrack), but “Charles Darwin.” Apparently they really believe their alt-rock award represents the triumph of the fittest?
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN IMAGE MAKEOVER OF AN IMAGE MAKEOVER
Miley Cyrus, whose recent videos and awards show performances have all been designed to reinvent her as a fully sexualized, grown-up hottie, may have felt the backlash. For the candlelit ballad “Forgiveness and Love,” she was overdressed in a long black gown, like Stevie Nicks gone goth-and unlike Katy Perry, she didn’t rip hers off to reveal a unitard underneath.
ACHIEVEMENT IN INSTRUMENTAL MIMING
If Ke$ha‘s electric guitar was plugged in, no one could hear it…so there was no great mourning for the instrument lost when she smashed the prop at the end of her medley. But that wasn’t nearly as jaw-dropping an achievement in hand-synching as when Justin Bieber was seen apparently playing a very complicated keyboard part before standing up midway through his song. He spent the first half of “Pray” playing the piano with his hands, and the second half playing it with his mind.
ACHIEVEMENT IN VOCAL MIMING
Some performers made more of an attempt to pretend they were singing than others.Rihanna: not so much. Pink was clearly singing live on at least some of her verses, but didn’t bother putting the mic anywhere near her mouth on the first part of the choruses.Christina Aguilera also appeared to be a mixture of live and Memorex. All of these performers can bring it live… but not when they’re executing literally breath-taking dance routines.
SORRIEST LIVE SINGERS
A lot of the performers who did sing live probably regretted it…or will, if they watch their performances in the morning. Even fairly reliable vocalists seemed to be winging it without apparent earbuds or monitors. When Justin Bieber sang “I pray for all the souls that need a break,” he could have been offering a prayer for every unfortunate soul who’d chosen to keep it real on the telecast, himself included. (For a moment, it seemed as if we might see history in the making, with his voice changing mid-performance, but no such luck.) Poor Katy Perry sounded more like a dud than a “Firework.” And the less said about Gavin Rossdale, the better.
BEST COMMERCIAL FOR A NO-LONGER-RUNNING BROADWAY SHOW
Pity the poor Broadway ticket brokers who have to tell scores of eager callers after Christina Aguilera‘s performance of “Burlesque” that they’re sorry, butChicago closed a while ago.
ROCK IS DEAD AWARD
Except there’s more to say. The show reached a low point whenGavin Rossdale sang T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” with Santana, a booking that must have been made before Santana’s recent album of classic-rock covers bombed. The only gong that needed to be banged was Chuck Barris’ old one.
ROCK IS ALIVE AWARD
Kid Rock‘s debut of a new song was a high point, as musical integrity goes. Doing his best Bob Seger impression, accompanied by only an acoustic guitar player and harmony singer, Rock sang a heartfelt paean to America’s most beleaguered metropolis: “I heard ’em say they’re shutting Detroit down/But I won’t leave ’cause this is my hometown…” It’s hardly one of the most eloquent folk songs ever written, but it was relevant and honest–qualities that left most of the other AMA performances coming up as relative losers.
UTTER VISUAL CHAOS AWARD
Cecil B. DeMille would have been proud of the cast of thousands that appeared on screen. The entire three-hour telecast seemed to be a contest over which superstar could bring the most bodies out on stage. The winner might have been Pink‘s massive entourage; only a review of the tape will tell for sure, with so many other contenders. The show was broadcast from the mid-sized Nokia Theatre in L.A., but with the countless dancers, string players, acrobats, choirs, et al., the AMAs must have been using the adjacent Staples Center arena as a green room. Has anyone ever heard that, when it comes to visual and musical cacophony, sometimes more is less?