Justin Bieber won three times last night at the 40th American Music Awards, including Artist of the Year, and warmed up along the way from a peevish start to sounding genuinely moved by the end of the show.
“I’m just so blown away right now. I want to thank you for just always believing in me,” he said, turning to his mother when he took the stage for the last time. “I want to thank just everyone. This is amazing . . . As long as you guys keep believing in me, I will never – ” Bieber trailed off, overcome for a moment, then resumed: “I will always make you proud.”
Bieber also won Favorite Pop/Rock Album for Believe, beating out Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj and One Direction; and Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, besting mentor Usher, Flo Rida and Pitbull. The Canadian teen phenom sounded defiant after his first win. “This is for all the haters that thought that I was here for maybe one or two years,” said Bieber, who was wearing red sequined slippers not unlike Dorothy’s from The Wizard of Oz. “I feel like I’m going to be here for a very long time.”
Sure enough, he wasn’t offstage for long before returning to perform a stripped-down version of “As Long As You Love Me” seated on a stool and accompanied by a guitarist who strummed along beside him. Then he got up and kicked into a full-on production of “Beauty and a Beat” that featured a guest spot from Nicki Minaj.
Minaj got plenty of her own screen time: she won Favorite Hip-Hop Artist and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album for Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, and she performed “Freedom” on a snowy set with frosted white trees. “I’ve gotta thank everybody that had anything to do with my career ever,” she said after winning Favorite Hip-Hop Artist, singling out the devoted fans she calls “Barbz.”
In addition to commemorating 40 years of the AMAs, last night’s show included a tribute to founder Dick Clark, who died April 18th. In honor of Clark’s contributions to music and pop culture, Stevie Wonder performed a medley of “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” “My Cherie Amour” and “Sir Duke,” and recalled meeting Clark in Philadelphia when the singer was just 13. “I remember his friendship, his kindness, and I remember his love for music and love for people,” Wonder said.
Wonder’s was just one performance on a show that was full of them, interspersed among the awards – although the showstopper had nothing to do with the trophies. K-pop star Psy closed the AMAs with his global smash “Gangnam Style,” which came with an added twist: halfway through, MC Hammer showed up, resulting in a “Gangnam Style” mashup with Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
Usher opened the telecast with a medley that included “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” amid a small army of backup dancers and a barrage of flickering lights. (He also won Favorite Soul/R&B Male Performer.) Later, Carly Rae Jepsen began her performance with new single “This Kiss,” but there was no way she was getting out of there without also singing “Call Me Maybe,” which she did with great enthusiasm. Jepsen also won the Old Navy New Artist of the Year award. “To the fans, I am floored! Thank you,” Jepsen said.
After Taylor Swift bested Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood to win Favorite Country Female Artist, she performed her song “I Knew You Were Trouble,” vamping through costume changes on a set with a grand staircase and a bunch of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Kelly Clarkson breezed through a medley of her biggest hits, including “Miss Independent,” “Since U Been Gone” and “Stronger,” while Pink re-created the turbulent sensuality of the video for her song “Try.” When it was her turn, Christina Aguilera let her voice loose on “Army of Me,” which flowed into “Let There Be Love.” She was back a few minutes later to join Pitbull onstage after the Miami rapper performed a medley of his songs.
Ke$ha sang her new single, “Die Young,” flanked by male dancers whose faces were painted to resemble Day of the Dead zombies. No Doubt blew through their latest single “Looking Hot,” complete with jets of pyro to emphasize the hot part.
Linkin Park won their fifth award for Favorite Alternative Rock Music Artist, squeaking past the Black Keys and Gotye. The band later thundered through the song “Burn It Down.”
After a series of low-key, almost disinterested acceptance speeches, Luke Bryan actually seemed excited when he won Favorite Male Country Performer, beating Jason Aldean and Eric Church. “I want to thank my wife for letting me be a big kid out on the road every week, playing shows,” he said.
David Guetta was the first-ever winner award for Favorite Electronic Dance Music Artist, topping Skrillex and Calvin Harris. Winning the award is a sign of how big EDM has become in the United States, Guetta said by video link from a tour stop in Brazil.