Taylor Swift got to sing two songs on the American Music Awards. Unfortunately for her fans, both performances came via 30-second commercials for the new Band Hero videogame. On the occasion of what may have been the crowning moment of her year, the multi-platinum country-pop starlet was otherwise indisposed in London, and had to accept her five trophies via satellite. Maybe she'd made other plans for the night to avoid complete overexposure right after her twin triumphs on the CMA Awards and SNL. Or maybe she's just saving herself for the Grammys?
Whoever won the award for favorite artist at the end of this fan-voted kudocast, it was a given that he or she would win it in absentia, since Swift's main competition for that top prize was Michael Jackson. Jacko devotees didn't have too much else to be disappointed about, since the late King of Pop did get four awards, posthumously bringing his AMAs total to a record-breaking 23.
A few memorable moments from the 18 performances and far fewer actual award presentations:
MOST CURIOUSLY DRESSED
Whitney Houston's all-white outfit seemed to be a tribute to marshmallows. Rihanna's striped garb paid homage to either zebras or jailbirds, topped by studded shoulder pads. Lady Gaga's stretched the idea of underwear-as-outerwear to the extreme—not just because she and her dancers were wearing tight, flesh-colored outfits, but because she appeared to be wearing her rib cage on the outside. (Exoskeltons: they're the new black!) We're still not sure what to make of Adam Lambert in not one but two spiffy suit-'n'-tie ensembles. His were almost the least glam-rock-looking outfits of the night... compared to, say, Alicia Keys' second dress, which was a sort of sci-fi/fringe combo. Colbie Caillat appeared to have as her top a giant-sized version of the black bow tie that Jay-Z had sported a little bit earlier. Meanwhile, if anyone can explain what gear J.Lo was wearing to her mock-boxing match, we're all ears.
BEST "TRANSFORMERS" HOMAGE
The Black Eyed Peas brought out dancing subwoofers during "Boom Boom Pow." Optimus Prime must've really cleaned up at that last Circuit City close-out sale.
MOST PROFOUND MOMENTS OF SILENCE
If you were wondering what Eminem's new song sounds like, the AMAs didn't provide much of an answer. Thanks to a presumably profanity-filled guest rap by 50 Cent, this number had more redacted moments than a vintage CIA document. In introducing Slim Shady and 50, Seth Green had promised that "the whole place may get destroyed tonight," but the fairly rote and largely bleeped performance that followed didn't exactly turn out to be 2012.
LEAST INTIMATE CAMERAWORK
During Janet Jackson's opening medley, it was tough for viewers to get an idea of what she even looks like nowadays, since the camera crew and editors had apparently been instructed not to go in for anything resembling a close-up. Was the reliance on long shots meant to avoid giving anyone too much ammunition about lip-synching? Maybe, but it would be nice to have gotten some evidence that Janet, and not a double, was really in the house, instead of a mezzanine's-eye-view of her performance.
MOST INTIMATE CAMERAWORK
Keith Urban's "Kiss a Girl" was shot in one continuous take, with a crane swooping back and forth in front of the star, and occasionally circling around behind the drummer, before it finally panned back out over the audience. Was Marty Scorsese brought in to guest-direct this one number?
BEST COMEBACK FROM AN EMBARRASSING PERFORMANCE ON ANOTHER ABC SHOW
Whitney Houston had to prove that her bad-buzzworthy appearance from Central Park on Good Morning America a few months ago was an anomaly, not the best she can offer. And though her rendition of "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" at the AMAs wasn't completely flawless, it was impressive enough for a lot of us to say: We didn't know her strength, either.
MOST SURPRISING CANDIDATE TO PLAY CARRIE UNDERWOOD IN A FUTURE BIOPIC
Carrie Underwood's look appeared to have been appropriated by... Shakira, of all people. Do a search on some of the photos or videos of Underwood performing at the 2008 Grammy Awards, and tell us if she and Shakira weren't separated at birth—or at least separated at the hair-extensions shop.
RERUN OF THE YEAR
Jay-Z's and Alicia Keys' collaboration on "Empire State of Mind" was a thrilling surprise... when they did it at the MTV Video Awards almost three months ago. What was once an event now seems like flogging. With so many artists trotting out so much old material, Timbaland's and Nelly Furtado's "Morning After Dark" at least had the novelty of freshness to recommend it.
REACTEES OF THE YEAR
The crowd was apparently a little celebrity-light, judging from the producers' decision to constantly cut to reaction shots of the same two people: Reba McEntire and Perez Hilton. In case you were wondering, Reba really approved of Janet's opening medley... and of the Black Eyed Peas getting the evening's first award... and of Whitney's big moment... and of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys...
"THIS SHOW HAD WRITERS?" AWARD
Presenters Snoop Dogg and Joe Perry traded "high as you can get" repartee—maybe not in the best taste, given Aerosmith's past problems with drug use and recovery. Another "huh?" writing moment came when Kris Allen asked Demi Lovato, seemingly without irony, to "give me a tip on this live TV thing." Last time we checked, American Idol was a live show and Sonny With a Chance was pre-recorded.
KISS-UPS OF THE YEAR
"You guys have been amazing employers this year!" Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox told viewers, surely pleased to be getting a trophy for favorite country group after losing the same award to Lady Antebellum at the CMA Awards a week and a half ago. But remember, Gary: Easy come, easy furloughed.
MOST COUNTERINTUITIVE COMMAND
"L.A., make some noise!" Jay-Z ordered... by way, of course, of introducing "Empire State of Mind."
MOST PLAINTIVE PLEA
In accepting the alt-rock award, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong said, "As far as alternative music goes, it's been a big part of my life, especially punk-rock music... It needs support." Maybe a telethon is in order? The Black Eyed Peas already made a contribution, throwing in a few bars of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at the end of their performance, apropos of nothing.
Country group Gloriana beat Lady Gaga for the breakthrough award, which viewers had the chance to vote for right up until the last minute. It was the Taylor Swift coattail effect in action, since the band opened her tour, and also country fans coming together en masse to support a genre as much as a group. Naturally, Gloriana gave thanks to "country radio"—even though the format hasn't much gotten behind the act and they haven't yet had a top 10 country single.
GRACIOUSNESS OF THE NIGHT
Props to Taylor Swift for acknowledging the Jackson family in her final acceptance speech, and saying that "to even be mentioned in a category with Michael Jackson, who we'll miss and love forever, is an unimaginable honor." Kudos also to Jermaine—and Jermajesty?—for not bum-rushing her satellite transmission.
MOST POLARIZING MELISMA
Adam Lambert's closing performance of "For Your Entertainment" was either a highlight or low point for many viewers. Critics seem to agree that the single isn't one of the better numbers off his about-to-be-released album, but it did afford the Idol runner-up the chance to pull off a very high-pitched run of melismatic notes at the end. Whether he should just because he could is another matter.
Ernst & Young... as always!