Rihanna doesn’t break the fourth wall. Last night at the iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles, the Unapologetic singer debuted her new single, “Bitch Better Have My Money,” and did it in true Rihanna fashion — with knee-high boots, a giant green fur coat and a full-scale replica helicopter looming behind her. There were no giggles, winks or nods at the camera, making the performance a welcome piece of method acting in a night hampered by production snafus and anticlimaxes. The Company Formerly Known as Clear Channel hit a couple of snags in throwing their second annual awards show, but the evening featured major acts to power through the clutter. Taylor Swift was the big winner, of course — her “Blank Space” took home Song of the Year, and she was named Artist of the Year on the strength of her fifth album, 1989. Meanwhile, a series of video interviews stitched together the program and caught candid moments from artists like Steven Tyler and Nicki Minaj. And who knew Mike Tyson looked so good in ombré?
Below are 10 of the highlights and lowlights from the event:
1. Best Unannounced Collaboration
About two-thirds of the way through the show, Tyson stepped up to the podium to deliver an introduction that was heartfelt, humble and totally unintelligible — except for the last word, “Madonna.” When the legendary pop star appeared, she was joined by Taylor Swift, who added a vigorous acoustic guitar line to Rebel Heart‘s “Ghosttown.” The pair began on twin stools, but they quickly attacked the stage like no other act on the bill.
2. Worst Joke
Jamie Foxx was slightly cramped by the show’s awkward scheduling, but the host’s jokes usually landed. A country song called “African-American Sniper” was particularly well-received, but an opening monologue joke about Bruce Jenner (who is reportedly transitioning from male to female) performing a solo his-and-hers duet was met with little more than nervous chatter. He fared better with a crack that Suge Knight, who recently passed out in court upon hearing his bail set at $25 million, hadn’t ducked down like that “since he was in the car with Tupac.”
3. Worst One Direction Fan
On the red carpet, many celebs were asked about Zayn Malik, who left mega-boy band One Direction earlier this week. Compton rapper YG was having none of it. “I don’t know nothing about that,” he said when pressed about who should replace the lost singer. Also overheard on the carpet: Boy George is a pretty good cook, but sticks to raw, vegan fare.
4. Best Fashion Choice
Big Machine Records’ Scott Borchetta didn’t want to be ambiguous. His label’s flagship artist, Taylor Swift, made waves for pulling her catalog off streaming services and wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining her decision. Borchetta arrived in a jacket that had “MUSIC HAS VALUE” emblazoned on the right sleeve and told Rolling Stone that “free music streaming has an expiration date.”
5. Best Pinterest Inspiration Board
Fashion designer and Jay Z muse Tom Ford showed up to present his client and friend Justin Timberlake with the Innovator Award. Ford brought with him a touching video montage featuring the former ‘NSync singer’s friends and collaborators, who explained what Timberlake has meant to pop music and to them personally. The 20/20 Experience star ended his long-winded acceptance speech with not one, but two quotes: the first from Steve Jobs, who once urged Stanford graduates to stay hungry and foolish, and the second from Theodore Roosevelt, who championed the doers and chided their critics. The segment was star-studded, earnest and overly sentimental — just like Timberlake.
6. Worst Stage Plotting
Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Hudson opened the show with “Trouble,” which featured the duo in a cutesy cops-and-robbers role-play. Who knows why Azalea thought it would be fun to frolic around in prison garb, but who’s surprised?
7. Best Wish Fulfillment Fantasy
Many performances were punctuated by short video interviews where accomplished artists recounted their “journey.” The best anecdote came courtesy of the Foo Fighters, who told the story of a European gig attended by a tribute band called U.K. Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl, exhausted from tour, recognized his British counterpart in the crowd and invited him onstage to perform “White Limo.” Apparently, the guy killed. Quipped the band: “You couldn’t come up with a better fucking name?”
8. Best Tommy Bahama Promo
When Florida Georgia Line took to the stage to perform “Sun Daze,” they gave the audience a closer look at what we can only assume to be the inside of Jimmy Buffet’s brain. The palm-trees-and-Christmas-lights décor, coupled with breezy guitars and an aw-shucks demeanor, temporarily took iHeartRadio to some faraway island — or at least the bar at an Islands Restaurant. The performance offered an immersive experience rivaled only by Snoop Dogg and Charlie Wilson’s X-rated take on James and the Giant Peach.
9. Most Overdue Trophy
Jeremih and YG took home the Hip-Hop/R&B Song of the Year award for their lean, kinetic “Don’t Tell ‘Em.” YG took the opportunity to taunt the Grammy committee for snubbing his My Krazy Life, but Jeremih took a more gracious approach: “This is the first award I’ve ever won,” said the Chicago singer, who earlier had hit the red carpet with family and friends rather than a team of handlers.
10. Best Piece of Impromptu Karaoke
On the sweltering red carpet, Entourage star and Best New Artist presenter Jeremy Piven stopped to tell a news outlet that the soundtrack to every one of his public appearances should be either Rick Ross’ “Hustlin'” or something by the Notorious B.I.G. When Rolling Stone asked Piven to name his favorite Biggie song, he did us one better, rapping the entire first verse of “Warning,” from the late rapper’s 1994 debut, Ready to Die.