I'm going to be honest with you, readers. I don't know if I've ever been so unmotivated to write a blog in my illustrious career. I'd hire a ghostwriter, but it's too late for that now.
Why am I so uninspired? Because this year's American Music Awards ceremony was for the most part...well, uninspiring. There were no what I like to call "watercooler moments"--no big upsets, no YouTubably crazy speeches, no Russell Brand-style controversies, and hardly even any truly jaw-dropping performances (though there were indeed some good ones, and I will get to those). There was nothing that really got my fingers a-typing.
What's my word count again?
The biggest "surprise" of the night wasn't the Britney Spears appearance that was rumored on the interweb, but an unbilled cameo by her ex, Justin Timberlake. But why did he do no more than present an award? When he made a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend, he slipped on a uni-sleeved unitard, camped it up alongside Beyonce, and stole the show. Well, a leotarded Beyonce was performing "Single Ladies" on the AMAs tonight--would it have killed JT to revisit his SNL routine? And even if Justin left the leotard at home, Rihanna performed tonight too, singing "Rehab," the song she just recorded as a duet with Justin. He'd been on the stage maybe six minutes before Rihanna showed up--so why couldn't he join her? Gawd knows the woman always needs all the assistance she can get in the singing department.
Sigh. Anyway, before I start hating on Rihanna too much, let me get to the fierce female performances I did dig tonight. Yes, it was all about the ladies this evening, and thankfully, many of them sang quite well. Beyonce's aforementioned "Single Ladies"--with or without Justin--was a highlight, although the woman needs to come up with another dance routine for the song at this point. The "Single Ladies" dance is kind of beginning to get as played-out as the "Macarena" by now. If the "Single Ladies" song actually inspires any coldfooted bachelors to pop the question, I pretty much expect grandmas to be doing the "Single Ladies" dance at those wedding by next June. And who wants to see that?
Going back to the beginning of the broadcast, and things I want to see...onetime Britney rival Christina Aguilera's seven-songs-in-seven-minutes medley was a solid way to open the show. She looked pretty amazing in her Madonna-circa-"Open Your Heart" onesie and thigh-high Pretty Woman boots--didn't this skinny little thing have a baby, like, a month ago?--and yep, the girl can sing. True, her verging-on-shrieking oversinging got a tad annoying by minute number four, but in this Auto-Tunes era it was still heartening to watch a performance by a genuine talent who didn't have to resort to lipsynching. (Pussycat Dolls, I'm looking at you...)
Another fantastic female who really belted it out was Pink. Her performance was set up rather anti-climactically by fabled burnout Scott Weiland, whose stilted Teleprompter struggle and braindead monotone delivery sort of undermined what was supposed to be his enthusiastic introduction of "one of the great artists of our time." (Ironically, the title of the Pink song he introduced was "Sober.") But Pink rocked it, looking all classy and screen-siren-ish a la Madonna in the "Express Yourself" video (all pop roads lead back to Madonna, you see). Personally, I would have preferred her riding onto the stage naked on a lawnmower for "So What"--but that would have probably blown Weiland's one remaining good brain cell.
While I found the ballads by Leona Lewis and her logical predecessor, Mariah Carey, a little snoozy--how many more times must I watch them put on pageant gowns and sing all nicey-nice and Stepford-Wifey?--I was surprisingly impressed by country tween queen Taylor Swift. I've never considered her a singer of diva caliber--and I still don't; she just doesn't have the octave-hopping voice for that--but on tonight's AMAs she sang her breakup song "White Horse" with a conviction and passion and edge that I've never witnessed from her before. Could that be because her famously warring ex-boyfriend Joe Jonas was in the audience tonight? Possibly and probably. I bet he was really squirming in his Nokia Theater seat for those four minutes. So why didn't the cameras cut to Joe in audience just once? Why did the camera crew cut to the JoBros only when host Jimmy Kimmel was making fun of them?
(On a side note, speaking of squirminess: Taylor was introduced by David Cook, and he was sporting two very disturbingly supergroomed eyebrows. I don't think I'd seen such overzealously plucked brows on a male reality-television star since Joey Lawrence was still on Dancing With The Stars. Put down the tweezers, David! Or just use them on your soulpatch instead.)
Other women did their thing tonight: Natasha Bedingfield, Sarah McLachlan with duet partner Pink, and Alicia Keys with Queen Latifah and opera soprano Kathleen Battle. The latter performance was an all-over-the-place trainwreck, and Natasha's hair was distracting (note to her stylist: choppy bobs look good on Rihanna and Posh Spice; on Natasha, not so much). But it was neat to see such a wide range of female talent, especially in an era when it seems that female pop stars are more valued for their body parts than for their four-part harmonies. (Pussycat Dolls, I'm looking at you...)
But the coolest female performance was by one of the coolest females ever, period: Annie Lennox.
Annie was there to accept her lifetime-achievement Award Of Merit trophy (presented by the aforementioned Justin Timberlake), and to celebrate she treated the audience to a piano performance of one of her biggest solo hits, "Why." What a treat. This was real talent, people--and not in a showoffy, American Idol/Celine Dion/Mariah Carey sort of way. Annie didn't need to turn every syllable into eight syllables and punch herself in the chest like some "Star-Spangled Banner"-ruining blowhard to prove she's got the goods. She sounded pure and amazing, she looked amazing (how can she be 53?!?), and her performance was one of the few genuinely goosebumpy moments of the night. They sure don't make 'em like Annie Lennox anymore.
My last point in the above paragraph was emphasized by the females who didn't quite bring the girl power to the AMAs. (Pussycat Dolls, I'm looking at you...again.) Yes, I found it ironic that the Pussycat Dolls "sang" a song called "I Hate This Part," because you know what part of the AMAs broadcast I hated most? When PCD were onstage! Nicole Scherzinger hit a note in the middle of "When I Grow Up" so wonky, I thought I might suffer a Weiland-style mental meltdown.
Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus--who turned 16 today--celebrated her sweet 16 by embarrassing herself on national TV, delivering a not-so-sweet performance that consisted mostly of her running side to side, jazzercise-style, while performance-artist mummies from either a New Order music video or an albino-Sprockets SNL skit confusingly flitted around her.
Happy birthday, Miley. I guess...
Another disappointing effort was by the always vocally challenged but not normally style-challenged Rihanna, who after tonight needed to go straight to fashion rehab. What was up with that bejeweled eyepatch she wore during her Timberlake-less "Rehab" performance? Only Slick Rick could get away with that--on Rihanna, it was not so slick. And her Tina Turner-at-Thunderdome chainmail dress should have earned her a Glamour magazine "Do's & Don'ts" black bar across both eyes. I usually admire Rihanna's willingness to take fashion risks, but this one just didn't pay off. Even the PVC-clad PCD were probably thinking, "Dang, that outfit is a hot mess."
OK, enough about the laydeez. As far as the male performances went, New Kids On The Block were surprisingly solid. Sure, Joey McIntyre was a bit pitchy in places and Jordan Knight struggled with his falsetto, but they did not embarrass themselves whatsoever. Their comeback has been a much bigger, and more credible, success than I ever would have predicted. Apparently they still have the right stuff!
Ne-Yo was by far the best-dressed man at the AMAs, and his backup dancers, the Sexy Loves--all decked out like En Vogue in the classic "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" video--made him look even better. Plus, "Miss Independent" and "Closer" are two of the best R&B singles of 2008, so this was bound to be a good performance.
Coldplay probably delivered my second-favorite performance of the evening, after Annie's. Compared to most of the AMA acts, they came across as positively out-there avant garde (they were probably the only artist at the ceremony whose album was produced by Brian Eno--I highly doubt Miley's was), delivering a dynamic performance in the center of an autumn-leaves windstorm, dressed in their vaguely fetishy crossing-the-Delaware military uniforms. It seemed like everyone loved this performance. Everyone, of course, except for the poor janitor who had to sweep up all those dried leaves.
The Jonas Brothers were cute and didn't bother me. (Which wasn't the case with the Dream--was I just imagining it, or did I hear the Dream mutter something under his breath about wanting to "choke" the JoBros?) I am outside the JBs' target demo at this point, but I totally get them. I totally understand why 12-year-old girls crush on them. I would too, if I was 12. (I think I'd crush on Joe--he's the dreamiest one, pun intended). Plus, they play their own instruments, their songs are kind of catchy in a Rick-Springfieldian sort of way, and no one tripped onstage tonight (like Joe Jonas did at last year's AMAs), so clearly they're improving. There were worse artists tonight on which to focus my wrath.
Like, say, Kanye West. Now, don't get me wrong--I think Kanye is insanely talented, and I love his music. When he raps. But the guy sings worse than Girl #5 in the Pussycat Dolls--this was readily apparent when he warbled "Heartless" without the assistance of Auto-Tunes. Maybe someone could invent some sort of portable Auto-Tunes hold-to-throat device (something like the battery-operated contraption Vietnam vet on South Park has), which pitch-imperfect "singers" could use onstage to keep them in tune? Because that's the only way Kanye would be able to get away with a song like this outside his million-dollar studio. The guy said in one of his acceptance speeches tonight, "I wanna be Elvis," but you know...Elvis could sing. I'm just sayin'.
On a side note, though, I was digging Kanye's new sunglasses--it sort of looked like he'd strapped an entire '70s Viewmaster toy to his face. It somehow worked, in a way Rihanna's eyepatch did not. 'Ye managed to rock those specs, and they distracted from his utter inability to sing. Those old sunglasses of his were getting really tired, so I support him for changing up his style in this manner. Now I fully expect Viewmaster-shades to replace shuttershades in every sunglasses mall kiosk in time for the holiday shopping season.
OK, I think I've hit my word count now. I guess that wasn't so hard.
To sum up: There were a few decent performances, a couple great ones, a few bad ones, some awards were given out, and the winners (the biggies being Chris Brown, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Alicia Keys) thanked their fans and their managers and God. But I already forget who won specifically--yes, it was that kind of night--and really now, isn't it the performances people always remember, not who won what?
However, you can see all the winners if you click HERE.
Let's hope the Grammys are more exciting than this...