Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 1:31 am | Fair 58º


Jeff Moehlis: Dr. Poplove at the American Music Awards

Or: how I (almost) learned to stop worrying and love pop music

When I bought my ticket for the American Music Awards, which took place Sunday night at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, I decided to go to the show with an open mind, trying to understand why someone like Nicki Minaj sells a gazillion more downloads than, say, Fleet Foxes.

As it turned out, Minaj was one of the big winners of the night, with awards for favorite rap/hip-hop artist and favorite rap/hip-hop album.

She also had the high-profile opening slot with DJ David Guetta, singing and rapping “Turn Me On” and “SuperBass.” I’ll admit that even though her music doesn’t do much for me, she did put on a good show, with lots of help from the sparks, flashes, video screens, dancers, giant robots, and speakers on her derriere.

Minaj’s awards were part of a big night for the ladies.

Taylor Swift won three awards, including the coveted Artist of the Year, beating out Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne, Katy Perry and Adele. Swift acted shocked to win this one — and I say acted because that’s how it seemed to me — and I must say that I was a bit shocked myself. Sorry, Ms. Swift, I’m not trying to be “mean,” but your biggest 2011 hit “Sparks Fly” does not have the same impact as Adele’s “Someone Like You” or Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Adele did win three well-deserved awards, including favorite pop or rock female artist and album, and was probably Swift’s main competition for Artist of the Year. Her soulful voice and songs of heartbreak have won her fans around the world, including myself, but sadly she couldn’t make the trip or perform at the show because she is recovering from vocal cord surgery.

In another victory for the ladies, Rihanna won favorite soul/rhythm & blues album, beating Chris Brown — hey, careful not to misinterpret that statement — and Beyoncé, who instead won favorite female soul/rhythm & blues artist.

In my preferred category, Alternative Rock Music, the rebooted Foo Fighters were chosen as favorite artist. But this was not announced on camera, and in fact the closest that the Foo Fighters got to the stage was Alanis Morissette — who it has been claimed looks a bit like the beardless Dave Grohl — introducing Mary J. Blige. The other nominees were also quite worthy of this award, in my opinion: The Black Keys have given a cool update to blues rock, and Mumford & Sons bring a brilliant intensity to indie folk rock.

The favorite pop or rock band award went to Maroon 5, who performed their hit “Moves Like Jagger” — which is no doubt more radio friendly than “Shoots Up Like Richards” — before singer Adam Levine rushed over to sing for Gym Class Heroes’ cool hit “Stereo Hearts.”

The Favorite Pop or Rock Music Male Artist award went to Bruno Mars, who managed to top Justin Bieber (a surprise, given his fan base of girls who seem to have lots of time to vote on these sorts of things) and Pitbull (not so much of a surprise). Speaking of Bieber, he performed a reggae-tinged Christmas song “Mistletoe” while the audience in the more expensive seats waved red glow sticks. This seemed out of season to me, but the screaming girls didn’t seem to care.

Perry, a Santa Barbara native, performed her new pop ballad single “The One That Got Away,” accompanying herself on guitar and looking a bit like a pink Jetson. Afterward, Perry received a special achievement award for her five No. 1 hits from her album Teenage Dream, the first female to achieve this feat, matching Michael Jackson’s five No. 1s from Bad.

Another notable performance was the medley by American Idol judge and newly single lady Jennifer Lopez, although not necessarily for the right reasons. In what has been criticized as a shameless blurring of the line between the show and the commercials — and let’s be honest, this line is already pretty thin considering that the whole point of the show is to get you to buy the artists’ music — J.Lo jumped into a Fiat car during her performance. Somehow less controversial is the fact that she shed most of her clothing, ending up dancing quite suggestively during her hit “On the Floor,” which I would have to admit was one of the most thrilling performances of the evening.

Later, J.Lo, who won the award for favorite Latin music artist, joined Black Eyed Pea for his new solo single “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which was heavy on the analog synth sounds but light on excitement, to my ears at least. The visuals were cool, though, with glow-in-the-dark dancers giving a rather surreal effect.

The best was saved for last: LMFAO made me, well, LMFAO (look it up if you need to) with an energetic, crazy and hilarious medley of “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy and I Know It.” Most outrageous was when most of the people on stage, including DJs Redfoo and SkyBlu, stripped down to smiley-face underwear. This included David Hasselhoff, who showed up at the end and was wearing a shirt that said “Don’t Hassel the Hoff.”

Bieber danced along for a bit in cheetah-print leggings while the DJs chanted “Go Bieber,” but his presumed smiley-face unders stayed covered up. Oh, did I mention the inflatable zebra bouncing around the crowd?

So why are Minaj and her fellow pop stars so popular? The cynic might say that the music industry has enough money and resources to make their chosen ones into stars. And there is no doubt a lot of truth to that. But this can only work if enough people like what they hear. And while I can’t claim to love all of the music represented at the American Music Awards, or even most of it, I have to admit that there is actually some good stuff mixed in.

2011 American Music Awards

Pop or Rock Music

» Favorite Male Artist — Bruno Mars
» Favorite Female Artist — Adele
» Favorite Band, Duo or Group — Maroon 5
» Favorite Album — Adele/21

Country Music

» Favorite Male Artist — Blake Shelton
» Favorite Female Artist — Taylor Swift
» Favorite Band, Duo or Group — Lady Antebellum
» Favorite Album — Taylor Swift/Speak Now

Rap/Hip Hop Music

» Favorite Artist — Nicki Minaj
» Favorite Album — Nicki Minaj/Pink Friday

Soul/Rhythm & Blues Music

» Favorite Male Artist — Usher
» Favorite Female Artist — Beyonce
» Favorite Album — Rihanna/Loud

Alternative Rock Music

» Favorite Artist — Foo Fighters

Adult Contemporary Music

» Favorite Artist — Adele

Latin Music

» Favorite Artist — Jennifer Lopez

Contemporary Inspirational

» Favorite Artist — Casting Crowns

Artist of the Year

» Taylor Swift

New Artist of the Year

» Hot Chelle Rae

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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