The duo's performance of killer Artpop collabo "Do What U Want" on SNL last week was lackluster and messy, and even R. Kelly knew it ("No offense to Saturday Night Live but that was a dress rehearsal for AMAs," he told Rolling Stone on the red carpet). But the pair brought a hilariously over-the-top bit set in the oval office to the AMAs that smacked of Kelly's beloved hip-hopera "Trapped in the Closet." Kelly was smooth, Gaga was on point, and though the performance strayed a bit from its original concept toward the end (Gaga plastered the set with self-deprecating headlines), it was one of the night's strongest performances.
It's been a long road for Pitbull from a guest spot on Lil Jon's 2002 album Kings of Crunk to host of the American Music Awards, and the Cuban-American rapper made the most of his moment in the spotlight. He paid homage to his Miami roots in his opening monologue (giving a special shout-out to Uncle Luke) and helped the AMAs bring a long-awaited focus to Latin music, elegantly explaining the significance of Celia Cruz before J.Lo's monster tribute.
TLC were riding high on the buzz of their VH1 biopic Crazy Sexy Cool, but last night they sacrificed the goodwill they'd accrued with a disappointing performace of smash "Waterfalls" with Lil Mama (who portrayed Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes in the film) filling in alongside Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas. The choreography was sloppy, the vibe just wasn't right and the computer-generated "waterfalls" splashing raindrops all over the stage proved an unnecessary distraction.
Rock bands never get a lot of time to shine at awards shows dominated by pop music these days, so Imagine Dragons knew they had to create a memorable moment at the AMAs — and they did. The Las Vegas crew started their performance with "Demons" before slipping into their megahit "Radioactive," which was punctuated by an all-out drum frenzy. Almost every member of the band dropped everything, grabbed a mallet, and started pounding away at a visually appealing array of massive drums set up around the stage. The result was a little tribal and a lot impressive.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis weren't able to attend the AMAs in person (they're currently on tour), but the duo put a lot of thought into their acceptace speech for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album, giving the night its sole moment of political import. Quoting Martin Luther King, Macklemore said, "Due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight accepting this award, I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it." He added, "This is really happening. . . it's time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it."
The 2013 AMAs turned out to be a poor showcase for the women who usually own the night: pop divas. Katy Perry's opening performance of "Unconditionally" leaned heavily on Asian tropes and never turned the corner into originality. Christina Aguilera's piano ballad "Say Something" (with Great Big World) was solid but failed to make a splash. And Ke$ha was thoroughly upstaged by her duet partner Pitbull (and a crew of dancers wearing dubious outfits) on their country-dance collaboration "Timber."
After Bill Mahr and Jay Z gave brief speeches praising Rihanna — the recipient of the AMAs' first-ever Icon Award — the singer's mother, Monica Braithwaite, came out to deliver a personal speech to her superstar daughter. "Rihanna, I’m so proud of you tonight," she said. "I know the journey and your career has not always been an easy one, but tonight I applaud and admire you for being so strong and so positive and so humble and so focused. And I mean, it’s amazing how you always manage to take good from all your experiences. I’m so pleased to be a part of this historic moment and I just want to say I’m proud to present to you the first ever AMA Icon Award." When Justin Timberlake later took the stage to accept his Favorite Soul/R&B Artist trophy, he affectionally noted, "Can we talk about how cute Rihanna's mom is?"
Taylor Swift was the night's big winner purely by the numbers (she picked up four awards, more than any other artist), but her final acceptance speech — for Artist of the Year — struck the perfect earnest tone. "My lucky number is 13, and so far you guys have made 2013 the most magical year of my life so far," she said. "I cannot thank you enough. This validates that if you voted for this that we are heartbroken the same way and we fall in love the same way. . . I'm 23 and I have no idea what's going to happen with my life!"
Awards show performances haven't gone so well for Jennifer Lopez over the past few years — in fact, the last two times she took the stage at the AMAs, things have gone horribly wrong. But last night J.Lo redeemed herself and then some, turning out a spectacular tribute to Celia Cruz that showcased her stronger-than-expected singing and extra-sharp dancing. The choreography was hot and her heart was in the right place: J.Lo redeemed!
Miley Cyrus is well aware she is quickly becoming a walking meme, so to close out the AMAs, she performed "Wrecking Ball" in front of a singing, weeping kitten. The Cats of the Internet won again — but do they ever lose?