Billboard Music Awards 2014's 15 Best and Worst Moments - Rolling Stone
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Billboard Music Awards 2014’s 15 Best and Worst Moments

From the inane Michael Jackson hologram to Lorde’s goth scorcher

lorde robin thicke billboard awards 2014

Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP; Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last night, we were reminded that Billboard throws an annual award show. Mega-sellers like Katy Perry, Pitbull, Miley Cyrus and an apologetic Robin Thicke were all on hand to celebrate their dominance of sales and statistics. Here are the 15 best and worst moments from this gathering of famous people and one famous hologram.

By Caryn Ganz, Jason Newman, James Montgomery, Nick Murray and Christopher R. Weingarten

michael jackson hologram billboard awards 2014

Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Worst Misuse of a Pop Icon: Putting Michael Jackson’s Name On Whatever That Was

You wouldn't think something could get any more crass and shameless than "Michael Jackson hologram," but the Billboard Awards and the executors of his estate certainly found a way. First off, we’re pretty sure that wasn’t even a hologram of Michael Jackson, but a hologram of a Michael Jackson impersonator — where are you gonna find one of those in Las Vegas? You guys know this is 2014 and we're not watching this on a cathode TV with rabbit ears — i.e., we can see his face. Secondly, Michael Jackson analyzed everything — videos, choreography, etc. — to the last detail and would have never approved some slapped-together mess full of Cirque du Soleil nonsense and no discernable theme. Thirdly, even Michael at 55 years old would have moved around more than that. The most physical musician in pop history was sitting in a chair. Fourthly, in a room full of people who would gladly sing Michael's praises (Kelly Rowland, Pete Wentz, John Legend), why waste his introduction for Ludacris, Brad Paisley and Ke$ha to shill their new ABC show, "Which allows you guys, the fans, to vote for your favorite live performances." Hands down the most appalling, lamest cash-in on MJ's legacy we've seen thus far.

Lorde billboard awards 2014

Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Best Goth Phoenix: Lorde

It's hard to believe Lorde's meteoric rise has taken place over a number of months, rather than years. Last night she demonstrated her newfound comfort on the world's biggest stages, debuting her latest single "Tennis Court" live with the kind of confidence, ease and charm that comes from decades on the road. She punched the air in sharp, bird-like motions then grabbed the mic from its stand and literally seemed to spread her wings, working her away across the stage as her backing band provided a dark, minimal grind. It was a standout performance that proved a new star truly has landed.

miranda lambert carrie underwood billboard awards 2014

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Best Rock Moment: Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert Are Livin’ on the Edge

It's a sad state for rock music when the most headbanging thing at the Billboard Awards is a country singer and an American Idol. Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood premiered their new duet, "Something Bad," a mix of "Toys in the Attic"-era Aerosmith and Use Your Illusion-era Guns N' Roses and, ostensibly, some country beyond Lambert's torn Merle Haggard shirt. Do you need any more proof that country is the new hard rock in 2014? Eric Church better step up his T-shirt game. (Full song here.)

Justin Timberlake billboard awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Best Speech: Justin Timberlake Says the Only Noteworthy Sentence of the Night

In his acceptance speech for his Top Artist award, pop's Mr. Nice Guy Justin Timberlake showed rare bit of snark when he piled on America's favorite punching bag. "You guys enjoy the rest of the show. I wanna thank everybody on Earth… everybody on Earth except, except Donald Sterling." Timberlake, a fractional owner in the Memphis Grizzlies doesn't have to worry about him clapping back.

Kendall Jenner billboard awards 2014

Christopher Polk/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Worst Reader (By Her Own Admission): Kendall Jenner

Perhaps still coming to terms with her split from Harry Styles, the model (and Keeping Up With the Kardashians Rated Rookie) crashed and burned while introducing 5 Seconds of Summer, nearly referring to them as One Direction. The crowd murmured nervously, the teleprompter operator presumably committed suicide and, after several seconds of cringe-inducing dead air, Jenner attempted to recover, joking "Guys, I'm the worst reader!" Hooray for homeschooling!

miley cyrus billboards awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Best Beatles Trip-Out: Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd joined Miley Cyrus onstage from Manchester, England, to perform the Beatles' 1967 classic "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Coyne, wearing a silver confetti jacket and skintight body suit with confetti dangling from his crotch, traded verses with the singer, crashed a nearby cymbal with timpani mallets and dropped to his knees to kiss Cyrus' feet. The pair slowed down the original track, extending and repeating the word "gone" while blasts of confetti festooned the duo. Did it piss off Beatles purists? Probably. But it's also the only time you'll see an indie oddball like Coyne at an award show celebrating the most popular mainstream artists.

5 Seconds of Summer billboard awards 2014

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Best Sum 41: 5 Seconds of Summer

We're going to overlook frontman Luke Hemmings' carefully torn Misfits shirt. And the fact that their hit "She Looks So Perfect" features the line "She looks so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear." Aussie pop-punk boy band 5 Seconds of Summer is a charming blend of all the pre-emo pseudo-punky bands that charmed us in the early 2000s, from Sum 41 to A Simple Plan. And judging by the squealing teens who knew every word, their June LP will last a lot longer than their teen-movie moniker.

Robin Thicke billboard awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Worst Apology: Robin Thicke

Some romantics keep their relationship troubles private. Others blur the line between appropriate and tacky and go on national television to sing a song to their estranged wife. Robin Thicke performed "Get Her Back"  for the first time at the award show, opening the song by saying, "All right, y'all help me get her back." "I gotta get her, go get her, go get her back," he sang in the chorus, adding that he wanted to "treat her right." He ended the song on his knees, pleading, before walking off with a big smile. Look, we want couples to be happy as much as anyone, but the overly personal gesture — alongside Thicke reportedly saving a seat for Patton at the show — appeared as exploitative as it did sincere. 

Katy Perry billboard awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Best Balloons: Katy Perry

Katy wasn't in attendance, mind you, but her beamed-in performance of "Birthday" still managed to outshine 90 percent of stuff they shoved on the MGM Grand's stage. Currently on the U.K. leg of her Prismatic tour, KP bounded through an ebullient, chock-full-of-everything take on her latest single. She wore what appeared to be a Keith Haring canvas and, at one point invited a star-struck fan onstage for an actual birthday serenade (all we got her was a gift card). Oh, and for the grand finale, she floated across the arena on a bunch of balloons. All Shakira had was some pyro.

Mark Cuban Billboard Awards 2014

Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Best Awful Joke: Mark Cuban Goes Full Andy Kaufman

Dallas Mavericks and Landmark Cinemas owner Mark Cuban came out and showed why businessmen usually stay behind the scenes. Standing next to fellow Shark Tank personality Kevin O’Leary, he told this whopper of a joke: “We're here to announce our latest investment. We just spent 3.2 billion dollars to buy a hot new company called 'Beat-Downs by Solange'” With the gusto that he delivered it, we’d like to imagine he went into this knowing this was a stinker, and he went out for the sole purpose of making a huge audience groan.

Florida Georgia Line billboard awards 2014

Bryan Steffy/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Best Country Blowout: Florida Georgia Line Pillage All the Genre Charts

As country music’s best party starters, Florida Georgia Line made it very clear they’re also watching other things besides the country charts. Their solid performance of "This Is How We Roll" had the dancing girls of hip-hop, the flame-bursting pyrotechnics of hard rock and the punk-rock presence of Luke Bryan showing up to an award show in jeans and a ball cap. Pretty wild for guys with a banjo onstage.

pitbull performs billboard 2014

Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Worst Opening Number: Pitbull Earns a Yellow Card

There's no better way to kick off the 2014 Billboard Music Awards with a song that peaked at Number 88 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nothing can really sum up the show's confusing hodgepodge of popular things than an opening performance from Pitbull (a usually sunglassed pop chameleon), Jennifer Lopez (essentially a reality show judge at this point) and Claudia Leitte (and olá, people on social media in Brazil). Together, they performed the official World Cup song as animated soccer balls flew by. Not exactly testament to charts that deal with things people like the most — because, you know, there's nothing American audiences love more than soccer.

Ariana Grande

Christopher Polk/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP

Best Iggy Pop: Iggy Azalea

Performing with Charli XCX ("Fancy") and Ariana Grande ("Problems") in the first-half hour of last night's show, the Australian MC had great hook singers at her disposal — and in turn contributed to one of the night’s unquestionable highlights, a burst of early energy that culminated with Grande singing solo in platform boots and a chessboard dress. 

Jason DeRulo dancers billboard awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Best Backup: Jason Derulo’s Dancers

How do you make Jason Derulo interesting? Record execs have been trying to figure that out for years, but after the Billboard Awards, we think we've finally got the answer: Surround him with a team of triple-jointed backup dancers. They popped, locked, pushed, pulled, humped and even transformed into a human chair during Derulo's medley of "Wiggle" and "Talk Dirty to Me," and without them, we would've been left with little more than four minutes of Snoop cameos and 2 Chainz confounding censors. Needless to say, they had us going "Ham Sammich."

ariana grande billboard awards 2014

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Worst Product Placement: This Phone

The nimrod waving his massive smart phone in Shakira's face from the front row was either the result of irritating product placement or the worst security fail in recent history. Judging by the Samsung Galaxy ad that aired shortly after this ridiculous moment, we're going to bet on the latter. 

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