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Rihanna to TLC: Ranking the American Music Awards Performances

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10. One Direction, "Story of My Life"
The British boy band made themselves at home amid a backdrop of hanging light bulbs and what looked like broken picture frames. It was a smart set for their nostalgia number "Story of My Life," and each of the singers acted out his lines with all the emotion of the first time he was singing it.

9. Luke Bryan, "That's My Kind of Night"
Country singer Luke Bryan put his hands together, and so did the audience as he sang "That's My Kind of Night," a track off his latest LP, Crash My Party. Like a perpetual motion machine, he wiggled his pelvis and bounced up and down, all to the approval of Taylor Swift who spent the song singing along to Bryan's lyrics about catfish dinner like a "winner winner."

8. Kendrick Lamar, "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Poetic Justice"
Although he wasn't the only rapper performing at the AMAs, Lamar was the best among them. Back by a stripped-down band on "Swimming Pools (Drank)," off last year's good kid, m.A.A.d city LP, he rapped so smoothly about swimming in a pool full of liquor that ABC's family friendly censors didn't second guess it. He also jazzed his way into "Poetic Justice," in which he told the audience, "You can get it." And they did.

7. Ariana Grande, "Tattooed Heart"
When Grande came out to sing a few lines of her single "The Way," it seemed like pure Mariah Carey. She was dressed in a long red gown and she gesticulated through each curve of a very Mariah-like melisma. But then the snapping came in and a barbershop quartet added some doo-wop backing vocals for her R&B jam "Tattooed Heart." As she clasped her red-and-black mic, it was clear she'd found her own way with the song and done it well.

6. Florida Georgia Line and Nelly, "Cruise" and "Ride Wit Me"
Country duo Florida Georgia Line's two frontmen sang their single "Cruise" with swagger, pacing the stage as their fans sang along in the audience. It got even better when rapper Nelly came out in a Rolling Stones T-shirt to add a verse, before they completely turned it around with a "Walk This Way"-style fusion of country and rap as the Line backed Nelly on his 2001 single "Ride Wit Me," wresting its legacy back from a certain cereal commercial that seems to be everywhere right now.

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

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