Will Smith, Garth Brooks Score Big at Predictable AMAs

Americans love their pop and R&B Big Willie Style, their country Garth-gantuan and their schmaltz sung by French-Canadian Celine Dion. Aerosmith rocks the hardest and 'N Sync are the brightest new hope on the pop horizon. And for those occasions when Americans want to dance on the edge of the brave new world of "alternative" music, they do it to Pearl Jam. All this we know because the American Music Awards tell us so.

Held last night (Jan. 11) in Los Angeles and broadcast on ABC, the 26th Annual American Music Awards celebrated the platinum achievements and mass popularity of the most successful artists of the year. According to the AMA site on www.abc.com, the list of nominees is compiled "from data supplied by the music industry trade publication Radio & Records and the SoundScan, Inc., management information system."

So when the National Family Opinion, Inc., firm conducts its poll of 20,000 Americans, the lucky voters get to pick their favorite pop/rock album of the year from a list comprised of Will Smith's Big Willie Style, Dion's Let's Talk About Love and Shania Twain's Come on Over. In other words, it's all about sales receipts and simple democracy, with no half-hearted pretensions of hipness or pseudo-critical judgement like, say, the Grammys.

Smith took the honors for pop/rock album, as well as for Favorite Soul/R&B Album and Favorite Soul/R&B Artist. Brooks tailed him with two awards (Favorite Male Country Artist and Favorite Country Album, for Sevens). Tied with Brooks was Dion, who snagged Favorite Female Pop/Rock Artist and Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist (genres, schmoneras). Dion was on hand to help accept the award for Favorite Soundtrack, which went to Titanic.

Eric Clapton won for Favorite Male Pop/Rock Artist, Janet Jackson for Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist, Aerosmith for Favorite Pop/Rock Band/Group/Duo and Pearl Jam for Favorite Alternative Artist (beating out fellow mavericks Third Eye Blind and Green Day). Master P, snubbed by the Grammy nominating committee, took the honors for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist. Lauryn Hill, on the other hand, who leads this year's Grammy nominations with ten nods, received only one AMA, for Favorite New Soul/R&B Artist. Piano man Billy Joel was the 1999 Merit Award winner.

Other winners were 'N Sync for Favorite New Pop/Rock Artist, K-Ci & Jo Jo for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group, Twain for Favorite Female Country Artist, Dixie Chicks for Favorite New Country Artist, Alabama for Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group and Enrique Iglesias for Favorite Latin Music Artist.

If the pool of winners was a bit predictable, the show's organizers did take a credible stab at an interesting talent lineup. The rule of thumb seemed to be, why have one superstar act performing on stage when you can have two or more at the same time? Thus, Wyclef Jean and Babyface accompanied Whitney Houston, K-Ci & Jo Jo sang next to Next, Brooks made room for Trisha Yearwood, and Master P had half his No Limit crew to back him up.

But the performance of the evening, the hype of the early music year, was the reunited Blondie performing not just with Coolio, but with various Wu Tang and Mobb Deep members (U-God, Inspektah Deck, Havoc and Prodigy). Unfortunately, the Blondie performance was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen; the title track from the their forthcoming No Exit consisted of a lengthy, fierce exchange of rhymes from the guests bookended by "Rapture"-style intro and exit raps by Debbie Harry (sporting a gouged-eye makeup job that would give Marilyn Manson shivers). Back in the day, the slogan was "Blondie is a group." At the AMAs, however, they were merely a backing band -- Harry included.