Taylor Swift didn’t perform on Sunday night’s American Music Awards, which aired live on ABC from Los Angeles, but she probably wouldn’t have had time, since she spent the whole night going up to the podium and accepting awards. The singer brought home four trophies at the ceremony, including the prestigious Artist of the Year award, for a record third time. All in all, she’s now won 14 American Music Awards.
Accepting the Artist of the Year trophy, Taylor said, speaking directly to her fans, “This validates that we are heartbroken the same way, and we fall in love the same way, and we are happy the same way. The fact that you would listen to my music means we’re on the same page. I’m 23, and I have no idea what’s gonna happen to me in my life, but I figure, if you decided on something as wonderful as this, then we’re pretty much in it together, aren’t we?”
The night’s other big winner was Justin Timberlake, who took home three trophies: Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album. JT also took the stage to perform his song “Drink You Away;” it was his first performance ever as a solo artist on the American Music Awards. He spent most of his acceptance speeches praising the other nominees and the night’s other winners, but said he was shocked that he’d won in the Soul/R&B Album category, especially since presenter Sarah Silverman poked fun at him for not being black. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been racially profiled by a white woman!” he joked.
A more hard-hitting comment about race relations came from rapper Macklemore, whose birth name is Ben Haggerty. Macklemore, along with his partner Ryan Lewis, won awards for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist Speaking via satellite from Miami, Florida, where they performed “Can’t Hold Us,” Haggerty said, “Due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight…I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids each year that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it.”
He added, “This is really happening. These are our friends, our neighbors, our peers and our fans, and it’s time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it.” It was a rare serious moment in what was a fun-filled night of music.
Katy Perry opened the show with an elaborate, Japanese-inspired treatment of her hit “Unconditionally.” She was dressed like a geisha, and surrounded by dancers and acrobats with fans and parasols, with a pagoda as a backdrop. Japanese lanterns appeared to fill the stage, while enormous video screens showed Japanese scenes and paper cherry blossoms rained down on the audience. At the end, she vanished in a puff of steam.
One Direction took home two awards — their first AMAs — including Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo or Group, while Imagine Dragons also picked up their first AMA, for Favorite Alternative Rock Artist. Both acts also performed; One Direction sang “Story of My Life” on a stage lit with bare bulbs, while Imagine Dragons did an exciting medley of “Demons” and “Radioactive” that featured smoke, lots of lights, and tons of drumming. It was the most “rock” moment in a show that was mostly pop and country.
Speaking of country, Florida Georgia Line‘s single “Cruise” was named Single of the Year; they also performed the song with rapper Nelly, and then segued into a version of Nelly’s hit “Ride wit Me,” with seemingly everyone in the audience singing along to the chorus, “Hey! It must be the money!” And country superstar Luke Bryan performed his hit “That’s My Kind of Night” before walking away with the award for Favorite Country Male for the second year in a row.
Ariana Grande was named Best New Artist, and the young singer/actress was flustered during her acceptance speech, calling the teleprompter message telling her that she only had 10 seconds to wrap it up “intimidating.” She also performed on the show, delivering a rendition of her 50s-inspired song “Tattooed Heart” while wearing a long, tight sequined gown, which later gave her a problem when she tried to walk up the stairs to receive her award.
Rihanna was introduced as the first-ever AMA Icon winner by, of all people, Bill Maher. Looking glamorous and gorgeous in a plunging long black sleeveless gown, with her hair wrapped in bobby pins, she sang her hit “Diamonds,” and then accepted her trophy from none other than her mother, Monica Fenty. “I’m so proud of you tonight,” she told her daughter. “The journey, and your career, has not been an easy one, but tonight I applaud you and admire you for being so strong and so positive and so humble and so focused. It’s amazing how you always manage to take the good from your experiences.”
“My fans, I love you so much, you keep me driven, and you keep this thing special,” Rihanna said in her acceptance speech. “I can’t believe that at 25 years old, I’m holding an Icon Award; that is weird to even say that out loud.”
But what about Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, the two performers who everyone expected to be shocking and surprising? Well, Gaga’s was slightly scandalous, while Miley’s was just plain weird.
Gaga performed her hit “Do What U Want” as a duet with R. Kelly and started off playing a receptionist to Kelly’s president of the U.S. When he sang that she should bring him his lunch, she asked him what he wanted; he answered, “I want that Italian….” in reference to Gaga herself. As the song continued, the two played out a Scandal-worthy routine where the two had a steamy affair in the Oval Office. Then, he demanded “Who put these pictures on Instagram?” Next, he denied knowing her to the press. The number ended with Gaga alone and shunned, while video screens showed tabloid headlines like “Lady Gaga Is Over” and “Lady Gaga Is Fat.”
As for Miley, who turned 21 on Saturday, she closed the show by performing “Wrecking Ball” wearing a high-cut, two-piece outfit patterned with kittens. As she sang, she stood in front of an enormous video screen which featured a photo of an enormous kitten, 10 times bigger than Miley, seemingly floating in space and lip-syncing along with the song. At the end, when Miley appeared to get emotional, the kitten began “crying” animated tears. When the song finished, the kitten winked and stuck its tongue out in imitation of Miley’s trademark facial expression. Perhaps Miley came up with the concept while enjoying some of what she was smoking onstage at the MTV EMAs earlier this month?
Some of the other performances included:
–The show’s host Pitbull teaming with Ke$ha for their country-flavored hit “Timber,” complete with line dancing and booty shaking.
–Jennifer Lopez doing an elaborate song and dance routine in tribute to late Latin music legend Celia Cruz.
–Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World teaming for “Say Something”
–Rapper Kendrick Lamar performing “Poetic Justice.”
–TLC performing “Waterfalls” with Lil’ Mama filling in for the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
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