Pink and dancer Colt Prattes at the AMAs (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)If there were an audience award for the American Music Awards telecast itself, it would surely go to Pink, whose performance of "Tly" proved she doesn't have to put on an acrobatic harness to harness our appreciation.
As for the production number that left millions of viewers most dumbfounded? That'd have to be Christina Aguilera's medley of material from her just-released Lotus album, which had a lot more bulging going on than blossoming.
Pink wasn't the show's only real-time winner. Justin Bieber surprised viewers with an acoustic tune that found him briefly singing live—no, that isn't a misprint—and simpressively. The evening's camp climax, meanwhile, had viral sensation Psy joined on stage by his now-obvious spiritual forebear, MC Hammer.
When Pink first appeared, your natural instinct was to look for the flying wires. Soaring over the audience has been very, very good to her buzz, and she was doing live flying routines for the cameras as recently as at the iHeartRadio Music Festival a couple of months ago. But it quickly became apparent that she'd be foregoing that admittedly stirring schtick to pull off something even more inspiring: an earthbound pas de deux. If you've seen her "Try" music video, this might have seemed slightly old hat—but honestly, how many people watch music videos anymore to have realized this was a recreation? And even if you did, the fact that she was able to pull off such a complicated and physically demanding ballet so flawlessly, while apparently singing live, was stunner enough. Kudos to Pink as well for probably being the one to suggest to the show's directors that they shoot her performance without edits.
We'd say we were moved by the emotion of the dance, as many tweeters did, if we weren't too busy being worshipful of her physical acumen to feel her pain. We can always feel it on the replay, right?
Christina Aguilera and starstruck friend (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)But some performances only need to be watched once, and it's hard to imagine too many viewers going back to the medium-level train wreck that was Christina Aguilera's. Clearly, the Voice judge had message-mongering in mind, but if you're going to preach tolerance, it's a good idea to be tolerable, and this production number seemed unconsciously designed to off-put at every level.
Her Lotus medley, though not terrible musically, provided the very definition of visual clutter, with dancers wearing bags over their heads bearing epithets like "weird," "fake," "queen," and "loser" before they stripped down to their skivvies. Aguilera was not overdressed for the occasion herself, either, of course. Her figure will continue to be the subject of rude chatter, as it has been after some other recent performances, and it hurts to have to go there. But one twitterer probably spoke for much of the audience in saying, "If you don't want people talking about your size, don't take your clothes off." The question remains: With her costumes and styling, is she in denial, or proudly and very consciously flaunting what she knows she's got? Either way, surely the "Beautiful" self-affirmation will hold up for her... no matter what we say.
Justin goes acoustic (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)Justin Bieber's multiple appearances were the most anticipated of the night, at least among TMZ readers. Would he allude to his breakup/reunion/breakup with Selena Gomez, which apparently came to yet another head two nights earlier in Hollywood? Maybe that's what his acoustic rendition of "As Long as You Love Me" was all about; "I know we've got issues" certainly has to resonate 48 hours after you've had paparazzi taking photos of you being refused entry to your girlfriend's front gate. But whether the timing was coincidental or purposeful, the Biebs got to sit on a stool, croon his ever-loving or newly bitter heart out, and show that he can kick it old-school/non-Memorex style.
But Bieber's reign as an "authentic" artist was short lived, as he left the stool and acoustic guitarist to go into a full-scale production number. Which, lip-synced or no, he proceeded to dance the crap out of, demonstrating that he'd been doing a lot more hoofing than heart-rending in the preceding days.
Justin and mom Pattie Malette (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)One thing he clearly never rehearses—like, ever—is his acceptance speeches. And there will continue to be plenty of them, as long as the AMAs are fan-voted; his win at the end of the night for Artist of the Year was touted as his seventh overall. He is as terrible at public speaking as Christina is at dressing herself, and his initial shout-out early in the proceedings to the "haters" seemed not just churlish but inarticulately churlish, which is never a great combination. But when he had the presence of mind to pull his foxy-lady mom up onto the stage while accepting his third trophy of the night, the touching moment showed that Bieber knows the true value of collaboration, even when it comes to how to handle a by-now-predictable acceptance speech.
A few other highlights and lowlights:
Psy and MC Hammer (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)* The show had touted an international star joining Psy for the climactic "Gangnam Style." And when Psy came out wearing MC Hammer-style parachute pants, we appreciated the homage, but still had no clue the star would be Hammer himself till the great man appeared. To his credit, Hammer didn't turn in a lazy appearance but looked like he'd worked hard to master those moves. Indeed, we were almost worried he would hurt us. It's an open question how many people were still tuned in at 10:55 ET, though, given that this is not a show where anyone really cares about who the final winner will be. When producers did cutaways during the Psy/Hammer climax, just about the only celebrity they could find still in the audience was Jenny McCarthy.
Kelly Clarkson (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)* Speaking of McCarthy, what was it with blonde female mullets? Not only did McCarthy have one, but so did Kelly Clarkson, who was on to push her new greatest hits album. With Clarkson, you know you're going to at least get a live vocal performance. But she wasn't well-served by the medley format, which never let her build up a head of steam on any one hit. We get it, Kelly—you have a best-of coming out this week—but next time, give us one knockout number for four minutes instead of skipping through the hits like Diana Ross doing a Supremes medley.
Carrie Underwood (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)* Carrie Underwood sang her new single "Two Black Cadillacs," and was only slightly overshadowed by the reappearance of Carrie's Leg, since she is continuing with Angelina Jolie-style single-thigh fashion choices. She sounded good, as always, but the most notable thing about the night may have been her win for best country album. It's funny that the c0-host of the CMA Awards has to come over to the all-genre American Music Awards to win anything anymore.
Taylor Swift (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)* Taylor Swift's performance of "I Knew You Were Trouble" was in no danger of being mistaken for her reading of "Begin Again" on the CMA Awards two weeks ago. The Max Martin/Shellback production is the most fun and least country-friendly tune on her excellent Red, and she left behind the calm Parisian set she used on the CMAs for a fancy-dress ball that had her taunting a masked bad boy. The cloaked faces of the dancers seemed appropriate, given the guessing games that go on about who Swift's songs are really about. If the dancing had been a little clumsier, you could almost have fun fantasizing it was Harry Styles behind the mask.
* Ke$ha performed "Die Young" with somersaulting Mayan zombies. When your telecast is competing with Walking Dead, you do what you have to do.
* Nicki Minaj, who was responsible for last year's biggest train wreck, left that to Christina this year and was not involving any exorcisms. Now, that's something to give thanks for, this Thanksgiving. For playing it cool, we can even forgive her for coming out dressed as a marshmallow.
* There was nothing to hate, particularly, about the early performances by best new artist winner Carly Rae Jepsen and the Wanted. But standing ovations for these acts' modest performances? Really? Did movie-gimmick entrepreneur William Castle come back from the grave and install electric buzzers in everyone's seats?
* Good to see No Doubt on stage again—and to see Gwen Stefani rocking a different look, with a long jacket and her hair down—but with her stage prowling and the band's exuberance, they almost seemed to be trying too hard for a song as modest as "Looking Hot." This is not their comeback hit, and underneath the bluster, you couldn't help but feel they know it.
* Linkin Park... alternative to what, again? But then, you have to love the AMAs' way with labeling... and explanation of labels. Said Elisha Cuthbert, explaining the show's brand new category, "EDM--it's the hottest new thing in music." She then proceeded to explain what this hot new thing was to the viewing audience, which led to several trillion jaded comments on Twitter, though a few sensible commentators chimed in that most ABC viewers realistically probably don't know what it's an acronym for. (Answer, by the way: edible digital masters.) The category's winner, David Guetta, refrained from similarly poking fun at the explanation, probably because his acceptance speech was pre-recorded. Then there was presenter Stacy Kiebler, who was forced to say on-air that "when the AMAs first started in 1974, hip-hop was something the Easter bunny did." Her co-presented, Ne-Yo, refrained from punching her, and it would be nice to imagine he saved it for the show's writers.
Aguilera and Pitbull (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)* Pitbull said "let's take it back to the '80s" and seemed to be referring to his song's New Romantics sampling, not the glowsticks that had been entrusted to the audience. Thankfully, he did not announce an era he was harking back to immediately prior to Aguilera coming out and joining him for literally about 20 seconds. Maybe her appearance with Pitbull was always intended to be that quick... or maybe the producers were worried that the guy with the star on his Speedo would come back, too.