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Rihanna to TLC: Ranking the American Music Awards Performances

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5. Justin Timberlake, "Drink You Away"
The opening acoustic guitar strums of  Timberlake's bluesy, country-rock jam "Drink You Away" were played by none other than J.T. himself. The song evokes a Black Crowes ditty, but in Timberlake's hands it's a big genre-bending, feel-good sing-along that really actually does feels good.

4. Lady Gaga and R. Kelly, "Do What U Want"
After acting like a secretary fielding questions about whether her performance would be American-themed or not, Lady Gaga found herself on the line with "President Kelly." After almost asking for an "Italian Hero Sandwich of Love," R. Kelly summoned Gaga to his oval closet for a JFK-Marilyn Monroe routine that found Gaga dancing on his desk and being flung around by would-be Secret Servicemen. 

3. Imagine Dragons, "Demons" and "Radioactive"
As Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds mentioned in his acceptance speech for Favorite Artist, Alternative Rock, his band has only been together for five years. But it's with performances like tonight's one-two punch (or is that one-two drum hit?) of "Demons" and "Radioactive," they're proving just why they're worthy of music awards. The highlight, of course, was watching each band member pound away at his own percussion instrument, two of which looked like the size of a townhouse.

2. Jennifer Lopez, Celia Cruz Tribute
When Lopez appeared to sing her tribute to the salsa queen Celia Cruz, who died a decade ago, she wore a black sequined cape-like dress and danced to her backing band's Cuban rhythms. Then out came the dancers, who leaped over one another and twirled each other in the air. Four of those dancers crowded her at the end of her first number and when they moved, she was wearing a rainbow salsa dress, and then for the third song, she quick-changed again into a cocktail dress. Couture aside, Lopez channeled the excitement of Cruz and danced like an acrobat.

1. Rihanna "Diamonds"
Just before the Barbados-born pop singer accepted the AMAs' first-ever Icon Award, she gave a performance that showed she could live up to the honor. She hovered just in front of her gold-mesh microphone and sang to the audience, "We're like diamonds in the sky," and when it was over, she let go of the song's seriousness and smiled. The audience gave her a standing ovation, which wasn't surprising considering she was, in fact, the night's icon.

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
 
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