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American Music Awards 2017: 10 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments

Diana Ross’ family affair, Pink and Kelly Clarkson’s gravity-defying voices, BTS’ American television debut and more big moments from the 2017 AMAs.

Pop whisperer Dick Clark founded the American Music Awards in 1973 as a people’s-choice alternative to what he perceived as other award shows’ stuffiness; the focus rests squarely on the stars, who win awards voted on by fans and labeled “favorite” instead of the secretive ballots and snooty connotations of being named the “best.” Sunday night’s edition (the 45th), held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and featuring performances by Motown legend Diana Ross, inaugural American Idol Kelly Clarkson, high-flying pop star Pink and smooth-voiced upstart Khalid, among others, was a celebration of big hits and big voices – and, oh yes, there were a few awards given out, too.    

Michael Tran/Getty

WORST: Portugal. The Man’s defection from Computerworld

The awkwardly
punctuated quintet Portugal. The Man are responsible for this year’s left-field
rock crossover hit: the simmering “Feel It Still,” which resembles a
cross between Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself,” a Black Keys b-side,
and a moody turn-of-the-decade car commercial. While alt-rock acts are supposed to chafe against being ushered into the pop world, the opening disclaimer
to their performance – a backdrop that read, in huge letters, “NO COMPUTERS
UP HERE, JUST LIVE INSTRUMENTS” – came off as mean-spirited and, well, kind
of silly, given that their stage setup was laden with synthesizers and pedals
that are powered by… oh, why spoil it. 

Jeff Kravitz/AMA2017/Getty

BEST: Khalid and Imagine Dragons mash it up

The AMAs’ nominee
slates are pretty bloodlessly crafted; true to its “give the people what
they want” origins, the show uses sales
figures and other “key fan interactions”
to determine who might
receive a trophy. But even keeping that in mind, it felt like Khalid,
the 19-year-old singer-songwriter whose woozy “Young, Dumb and Broke”
is one of pop radio’s bright spots, had been snubbed from the New Artist of the
Year roster – his frank lyrics, keen pop instincts and young-Bill-Withers voice
give him a generation- and genre-spanning appeal. Grafting “Broke”
onto Imagine Dragons’ stomping “Thunder” wasn’t the ideal setting,
but it did at least allow the increasingly overwrought Favorite Pop/Rock Duo or
Group winners to lighten up a bit. 

Michael Tran/Getty

BEST: BTS bring choreography back to the boy-band world

Korean boy band BTS‘ American television debut was definitely the night’s most hyped moment – the producers shrewdly placed them right near the end of the show, and imported a phalanx of young women to freak out over the septet’s performance of the hyperactive, shape-shifting “DNA.” In the years since One Direction (who were represented by affable New Artist of the Year winner Niall Horan) split up, the boy band void has been palpably felt; BTS’ synchronized moves and the lovelorn lyrics of “DNA” make them feel like a bit of a throwback to the TRL era, but their forward-thinking music, which borrows from Kpop’s meticulously detailed sonics and hip-hop’s spaced-out beats, places them ahead of the late-2010s’ pop pack.  

Kevin Winter/Getty

WORST: Artist of the Year dudes blow off the night

Tracee Ellis Ross’ opening
monologue shouted out the “brave women” in music who reflected culture’s
movement toward ladies being able to own their experiences and bodies in public,
and the girl-powered lineup bore out that claim. But the real story of the
year was told by the nomination slate for Artist of the Year, which was made up
of four solo artists and one duo – and no women, unless the parade of sullen
singers assisting The Chainsmokers’ downer dance hits count. (They don’t.) Four
of those five nominees blew off the ceremony entirely because of other
commitments; winner Bruno Mars accepted his (deserved!) trophy while tooling around
an undisclosed location in the back of a minivan. Pop’s recent dominance by men
did, finally, break at the end of the summer, when the dual successes of Taylor
Swift’s self-referential “Look What You Made Me Do” and Cardi B’s
“Bodak Yellow” opened the gates for female artists like Demi Lovato
and Pink to claim a signifcant presence in the upper echelons of the charts; here’s hoping next year’s nominations will result in a
slate more reflective of the mood Ross outlined in her rousing speech.  

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