The 43rd annual American Music Awards featured Justin Bieber splashing around, the Weeknd burning up and Ariana Grande's grandma stealing the show. Here's 20 moments that made the evening, from Nick Jonas throwing a solo coming-out party to Miss Piggy throwing a teapot.
Nick Jonas treated his AMA slot like an audition, an opportunity to convince the world that he's ready for even bigger stardom. Unassumingly hunky in his layered dress hoodie, the singer zipped through his three solo hits, using each to spotlight a facet of his talent as a performer. Jonas began with an intense, clench-jawed solo piano rendition of "Chains." He capped a full band version of "Levels" with an impressive, semi-pro drum solo. And though the gospel choir who filled in behind him during "Jealous" was a bit of an awards-show cliché, it helped him accentuate the richness of the song's melody. In a night of too many production numbers that were more elaborate than inspired and performers coasting on celebrity allure, Jonas displayed a winning grit and hunger.
Was it a fire hazard? Absolutely. Was it a grand production? Not really. But the Weeknd's flames-and-falsetto burner was one of the most thrilling performances of the night. The Weeknd has had an incredible run in 2015, and he capped it off with a note-perfect performance of his chart-topping horror-pop smash "The Hills" in front of what looked like a flaming paperclip, hitting every high note.
Jared Leto brought gravitas to his speech honoring the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris, hoping for a world without violence: "The entire world matters, and peace is possible." It was a strong, touching way to introduce Céline Dion, whose performance of Édith Piaf's beautifully sad "Hymne à l'amour" was both mournful and uplifting.
The AMAs were dress-down day for the Biebs, who hit the red carpet in the same ensemble of ripped jeans, ball cap and baggy white hoodie that he wore onstage. Performed with just an acoustic guitarist, "What Do You Mean?" was simple and moving. Justin was then joined by a dance crew for an impressively choreographed "Where Are Ü Now." As for the grand finale, "Sorry": Well, the artificial storm falling from the sky like a deluge of Bieb-tears was a little distracting, too often obscuring the dancers who were re-creating one of the hottest routines of the year — but impressive regardless. But if Bieber used his tear-streaked VMA performance to remind us that the sometimes bratty superstar was also a human being with real feelings, he used his AMA performance to prove that the sometimes bratty human being is a superstar who's here to stay.
The typically lively pop-punk newbies sounded and looked a little limp as they attempted to blast through their fun, energetic single "Hey Everybody!" The band was one of but three rock bands to represent at the AMAs and were sorely underwhelming as both Coldplay and Walk the Moon delivered wild, colorful and eccentric live takes on their own singles. They're only on album Number Two: What happened to their youthful energy?
Why did so many of tonight's presenters look like they'd rather be literally anywhere else on earth than the AMAs stage? Wiz Khalifa's half-assed introduction for 5 Seconds of Summer made us worry about his emotional well-being. Nicki Minaj deserved so much better than the lethally drab copy the show's writers gave her to introduce the nominees for Favorite Pop/Rock Duo or Group: "A supergroup that's been together for over a decade … a hot young band that's been turning out Number Ones since 2011 … and a group that just had their first big hit this year. … Check out this category," she said in a checked-out monotone as her eyes screamed, "Get me out of here, now." "Music has such an amazing effect on our emotions," Tyrese offered later in a subdued tone of infinite sadness. Then there was 5th Wave star Nick Robinson, whose "What a great show" was one of the least convincing statements ever made at an awards ceremony.
This could be the last time we ever see One Direction perform together, and what an exit it was. The quartet — who seem to have replaced Zayn Malik with Harry Styles' floral bolo tie — were big winners throughout the night and capped off their many reasons for celebration with the Styles-penned "Style" response track "Perfect." The bad boy anthem is already a Top 10 boy-band smash but 1D reminded the AMA audience what sets them apart: their uncompromising desire and their ability to be engaging without performance gimmicks.
What was Ariana Grande going for with that 1940s-baby-doll-style intro to "Focus"? Her dance moves were stiff, she looked uncomfortable the whole time and her backup dancer couldn't even bite her glove off correctly.
As far as child stars go, former Disney sensation and ex-X Factor judge Demi Lovato has been through the ringer — but her fierce performance at this year's AMAs proves she's still in it to win it. This year saw the release of her brazen fifth album, Confident, which also serves as her own Declaration of Independence. Lovato showed moxie while performing the title track last night, channeling the sass of Chicago's Velma Kelly while holding the gothic, carnivalesque vibes of Marilyn Manson's "mOBSCENE" and the shadow-building light wall of Nine Inch Nails' recent tour. Just when we hoped she'd make it weirder, she simply tossed her finger wave curls aside and belted a monster ad-lib, fit for a classic pop diva.
OK, we need to officially put a moratorium on performances that look like Marilyn Monroe's Gentleman Prefer Blondes. It was brilliant when Madonna did it in 1985, charmingly meta when Taylor Swift recalled it for her 2014 VMA performance, and while it's still not as hackneyed as, say, Star Wars references, we should at least find something else for a pop star to do than descend stairs and be carted around by suitors. Also, those suiters shouldn't mix suspenders, Hammer pants, bad voguing and one tiny top-bun.
Pop star, actress and booty queen Jennifer Lopez turned heads at last year's American Music Awards, after teaming up with hip-hop pariah Iggy Azalea in a fiery performance of their 2014 single "Booty (Remix)." Last year's show not only affirmed J. Lo's cultural relevance, but earned her a gig as Mistress of Ceremonies for this year's festivities. Emerging from a pack of dancers in fur hoods and ambiguous tribal-print body stockings, Lopez opened her 2015 pop medley with a throwback: a slower, sultrier rendition of her 1999 hit, "Waiting for Tonight." In lieu of ramping it up to Waiting for Tonight: The Musical, she stopped and said, "[Tonight] is not about me … It's about the music." Still, there was her residency in Vegas to plug, and of course, a childhood in the Bronx to recall warmly to viewers. "I hope a little girl in the Bronx is watching this," said Lopez. Even her ex-boyfriend Puff Daddy couldn't help but show a smirk and a wistful glint in his eye as he sang her praises, shortly before introducing Collaboration of the Year.
Walk the Moon sure did look like amateur idiots onstage, leaping around in their "New Wave band" Halloween costumes as though they need to convince us they belonged on TV. Leave it Chris Martin to show the newbs how a professional goofball does it. The Coldplay frontman hopped and crouched and spun his way through "Adventure of a Lifetime" with the kind of conviction only a deluded superstar can muster, in front of a ludicrous pop-psychedelic lightshow — nevermind Imagine Dragons, kids, here's the Soup Dragons! And that was all before the dancers in ape suits showed up for a routine so mock-Kubrickian you half-expected Martin to throw his mic into the air and have it turn into a spaceship. HAL 9000 singing "Daisy" would have been more entertaining.
It was an indication of how instantly iconic Adele's month-old "Hello" video has become that the second Miss Piggy's faced filled a sepia-toned screen during an AMAs commercial break, you knew exactly what you were watching: a spot-on Muppets send-up of 2015's quintessential tearjerker. All the elements were there: the fuzzy coat, the gale-force wind — resulting in a mouthful of dead leaves for the vocalist — and, yes, Kermit as the male lead walking through the rain in slo-mo and getting beaned with a thrown teapot (but that's none of our business). In classic Muppets style, the bit was witty, artful and concise — everything the broadcast itself wasn't. And it made a strong case for Adele owning 2015 despite not even being at the broadcast.
Life has become a series of meaningless tasks we perform between new Star Wars commercials, and you know the AMAs weren't about to miss out on the biggest synergy opportunity of the year. So we were teased about an exclusive "scene" from The Force Awakens which turned out to be a scant few seconds long. Harrison Ford himself showed to up laud composer John Williams. And as for the musical tribute? A capella charmers Pentatonix were game and their Lucas-inspired outfits were nerdily cute, but they were swallowed up by utterly ridiculous concept of singing orchestral movie themes. And when an orchestra joined them, you could be forgiven for wanting to run far, far away from the whole mess.
Meghan Trainor failed to liven up "Like I'm Gonna Lose You," a second-hand Sixties-ish pop-soul number, with a routine of third-hand girl-group arm gestures. She then joined Charlie Puth for his horrifying duet "Marvin Gaye," which euphemises the soul great's name. ("And Marvin's family isn't suing over this?" Robin Thicke mutters in front of his TV at home.) And mercy, mercy me — the choreography! The dancers grinding on each other looked like middle-school students allowed to stage a production of Grease without adult supervision. For a finale, Charlie and Meghan made out showily on stage, a forced "moment" that might have been cute if the stars were more likable or sexy or if the two had any spark between them. This was just Monday's shareable GIF in the making.
The AMAs was a family affair for Ariana Grande, whose plus-one was none other than her grandma, or as the Italians say, her nonna. The cameras revealed Nonna Grande smiling big and dancing blithely along to Walk the Moon, hands clasped with the young Miss Grande and big brother Frankie. When called to the stage to collect her title as Favorite Female Artist, Ariana Grande could hardly contain her excitement as she accepted the award from her long-time hero, Paula Abdul. Still, she composed herself enough to give her best, raspy Nonna Grande impression, to whom she dedicated her award: "Ariana, I went on the computer. I voted, so I think you'll win." Rock the vote, Nonna!
Can you even call that a Clueless reunion? As if! Two decades after the iconic film's release, watching Alicia Silverstone and Jeremy Sisto colorlessly introduce Gwen Stefani was almost as uncomfortable as watching Elton Tiscia get handsy with Cher Horowitz and callously ditch her at a gas station. Without the presence of grown-ass pretty boy Paul Rudd, G.O.P. cheerleader Stacey Dash and the very-much-missed Brittany Murphy, consider this "reunion" nothing more than a shallow ploy by the AMAs to entice the Real Nineties Kids away from their Mighty Mighty Bosstones records.
Gwen Stefani was introduced by the cast of Clueless, a 20-year-old movie, like she was a legend. But she spent her stage time completely swagger-jacking the newest sounds and looks with abandon. "Used to Love You" is so derivative, you'd half-expect Nate Ruess to emerge from the sidelines to sing the second verse; and her look was somewhere in between Iggy Azalea-as-goth and FKA Twigs-as-pop-star. The lights and fog made her look like a hologram and the screens blasted images from the music video — close-ups of crying Gwen, stressed out Gwen, serious Gwen — as if to acknowledge that the break-up ballad couldn't do the heavy lifting on its own.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the album that launched a thousand feminist manifestos: Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. The Canadian singer-songwriter revived her 1995 fight song "You Oughta Know" for the stage, strutting opposite a passionate, vinyl-clad Demi Lovato. It looks perfect on paper, but what should have started with a bang, started with a lag. Lovato conceded much of the vocal space to Morissette, saving her electrifying harmonies for the latter third of the song. Morissette, who has probably performed this song a bazillion times, strided indifferently across the stage, taking the bite out of what should have been a formidable collaboration.
Last night's presenters seemed overloaded with the simple task of reading a few words off a Teleprompter. So it was refreshing to see one of them using their approximately four seconds of screen time to get a little freaky and flamboyant. Sporting an off-center mohawk that looked like 1/4 of Christopher "Kid" Reid's signature high-top fade, Cole Whittle — bassist of Joe Jonas' new outfit, DNCE — didn't utter a word into the mic, but at least conveyed actual personality when he mugged for the camera while raising one tweed-shorts-clad leg. It wasn't exactly a middle finger, but Whittle's split second of irreverence still stood way out in a largely by-the-book night.