• The Medley
Also known as the free advertisement! Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie Part 2" transitioned into "What's My Name" into "Only Girl (In the World)." Enrique Iglesias debuted "Tonight" before bringing out Pitbull for his summer banger "I Like It." Bon Jovi made us listen to a few bars of "What Do You Got" before delivering the goods: "You Give Love a Bad Name" (non-ramen version) and "It's My Life." Ne-Yo attempted to explain the convoluted logic behind his concept album "Libra Scale" by performing way too many of its songs. Taylor Swift sang her own "Back to December" mashed up with OneRepublic's "Apologize." Train did a few strange bars of "Marry Me" before the unavoidable "Hey Soul Sister." Ke$ha blended "Take It Off" with "We R Who We R." And New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys didn't just do a monster medley of their biggest hits -- they combined their bands' names into NKOTBSB. Now that's commitment.
• Shameless Self Promotion
Perhaps because she didn't get a chance to perform her own medley, Nicki Minaj seized an inappropriate moment to remind America that she, too, has an album coming out. As Taio Cruz intoned, "And the American Music Award goes to ..." Minaj grabbed the mic and announced, " 'Pink Friday' is in stores tomorrow -- give it up for 'Pink Friday,' you guys!" to a mixture of laughs and horrified gasps.
• Singing Off-Key
Rihanna opened the show with a few clunkers and her pal Katy Perry raised her about 5,000 wrong notes during "Firework." The usually dead-on Bieber overshot a bunch of pitches, and the usually slightly-off Swift landed about 85 percent of her notes. Even Usher seemed lost on "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love." But then something truly terrible happened: Gavin Rossdale dismembered the T. Rex's classic "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" in an act of pitch-mutilation akin to a musical war crime.
• Entering the Stage Via an Aerial Stunt
Rihanna started her performance perched in a tree, the Black Eyed Peas kicked off "The Time (Dirty Bit)" in glass cubes hoisted above the stage, and Perry floated down in some sort of sun contraption. Pink, the queen of last year's aerial feats, sadly had to stay grounded this year because she's pregnant.
• Justin Bieber
He performed! He was voted Breakthrough Artist! He shouted out Michael Jackson! And he won the biggest AMA of them all, Artist of the Year!
• Marching Bands, Kids' Choirs, Gospel Choirs
The hat trick of cheesy awards' show moments: Iglesias filled the aisles with a drum line, Perry invited adorable children to harmonize, and Bieber busted out "Pray" with a swaying troupe outfitted in black robes. Note to future AMAs performers: Please don't do any of these things again.
• The Maiming, Killing, and Burying of Rock & Roll
Kid Rock sang. And Train. Then Rossdale butchered "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" while Santana tried to distract us with slick guitar licks and a very aggressive cowbell player. For perhaps the first time ever, more cowbell didn't help. Were rock bands (other than Muse, who thanked "Charles Darwin" while picking up their trophy) not invited to this event?
Rihanna, Fergie, Katy Perry, Pink, and Christina Aguilera seemed to be engaged in another, secret competition last night: Who could squeeze themselves into the most uncomfortable looking tight top? Winner: Fergie.
• The Serious Piano Moment
Bieber and Swift both tipped us off to the fact that they're maturing by starting off their performances at the baby grand. Next year Willow Smith is totally going to pull this move.
• Empowerment Jams
Perry's "Firework," Pink's "Raise Your Glass," and Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" all delivered up-with-freaks, down-with-conformity messages. Ke$ha made her point the most obviously by playing a guitar with the word "hate" crossed out on the back, then smashing it to bits. So she hates people who hate hate? Perhaps this act of rock & roll defiance needed a copy editor.
[Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images]
- Justin Bieber
- Taylor Swift