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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 2:03 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Popularity Contest at American Music Awards

Sunday's celebrity-studded ceremony honored today's favorite artists

Who knew that riffraff like you or me could just buy a ticket to the American Music Awards, the celebrity-studded show that took place Sunday night at the Nokia Theatre Live in Los Angeles, and was broadcast on ABC?

I got one, although I didn’t splurge to get the Red Carpet Ultimate VIP Package for $1,750, which included a primo seat, pre- and after-party passes, a rehearsal pass, a limo pass and more. If they threw in a foot massage from Fergie I might have considered it. If you’re curious, my “cheap seat” at the back of the theater cost $80, plus more than $20 in fees.

But it was worth it, mostly because of the show’s surprises.

This included Pink’s new song “Raise Your Glass” being performed in low-fi style by Ariel Pink; apparently the mix-up was due to a clerical error. Another unexpected lineup change was the planned (not-so-) New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys joint performance being replaced by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros singing “40 Day Dream”; this was reportedly the result of Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert winning a last-minute bet that the New Kids’ Joey McIntyre couldn’t spell “Aoxomoxoa.”

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening came courtesy of Nathan Williams from Wavves, who abruptly stopped playing “Post Acid” to spew a profanity-laced, reverb-drenched rant about American Music Awards founder Dick Clark. He was quickly escorted offstage by Pitbull as the show cut to a commercial. Williams later apologized for behaving like a rock star.

OK, you got me. Apart from me getting a “cheap seat” ticket, none of the above actually happened. The proceedings were planned to a T, highlighting artists who are massively popular with the masses, certainly not some of today’s most interesting artists such as Ariel Pink, Edward Sharpe et al or Wavves. I think the only real surprises were that Taylor Swift had straight hair, that the New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys still drive the ladies crazy, and that Kanye West didn’t offend anybody. For the last “surprise,” it probably helped that West didn’t attend.

The American Music Awards honor the listening public’s “favorite” artists. The winners are determined by online voting, radio play and sales figures.

The big winner of the evening was 16-year-old Justin Bieber, who won the T-Mobile Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock Music Album and Artist of the Year awards. His voting demographic seemed to be well-represented by the girls in the audience who screamed loudly every time his name was mentioned. To his credit, Bieber, who performed “Pray” with a gospel choir during the ceremony, seems quite genuine and appreciative of his fans and the people who have helped him — most notably Usher, who Bieber called onstage to share the moment after being named Artist of the Year.

Speaking of Usher, he also had a big night, winning Favorite Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album. (And with Bieber on his label, a win for Bieber is also a win for Usher.) Usher gave a dance-club-on-steroids performance of “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” with help from Swedish House Mafia. The Favorite Artist award had him pitted against Chris Brown, who notably pleaded guilty in 2009 to felony assault for beating up the show-opener Rihanna, who won Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist this year. Brown is under court order to keep a minimum distance from Rihanna.

Personally, as someone who strongly opposes violence against women (duh!), I’m glad that he kept a rather large distance, by staying home.

The Black Eyed Peas performed their new song “The Time (The Dirty Bit),” which updates “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” from the movie Dirty Dancing for the auto-tune generation, and included dancers with lit-up cubes on their heads. Hmm, like fellow performer Ke$ha’s breakthrough “Tik Tok,” this song rhymes “swagger” with “Mick Jagger.”

Ah, Ke$ha. Under a rain of glitter, she performed “We R Who We R,” which included smashing a guitar that said “Hate” on the back. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R” share enough musical similarities with presenter Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” to make me wonder if Ke$ha and Cruz are really the same person. Did anyone see them together at the American Music Awards? For starters, compare the musical background where “Tik Tok” goes “Don’t stop, make it pop ...” and “Dynamite” where it says “‘Cause we gon’ rock this club ...”; also, compare “We R Who We R” where the lyrics go “Tonight we’re going hard ...” with “Dynamite” where the lyrics go “I came to dance ... .” Oh well, it’s not for me to establish priority here, and the cynic might conclude that there is a formula for successful pop music, anyway.

There were many more performances. Santa Barbara’s Katy Perry, looking dazzling in red, sang a pyrotechnic-heavy “Firework” in which she descended from a freakish height not apparent to viewers at home. Pink (no, not Ariel Pink) sang “Raise Your Glass” amid a circus of performers that must have blown half the show’s budget. (One assumes that Pink, who recently announced that she was pregnant, has something nonalcoholic in her raised glass.) Miley Cyrus sang a ballad, Kid Rock sang a ballad (about Detroit), Christina Aguilera shook her butt in lingerie (oh, yeah, and sang a song from Burlesque), Ne-Yo and troupe were theatrical (and perhaps a bit suggestive in places for the Bieber fans), Bon Jovi sang a medley including “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Train sang “Hey Soul Sister,” Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull gave an energetic laser-light-show-enhanced performance of “I Like It,” guitar god Santana and Bush’s Gavin Rossdale recovered from a shaky start for a cover of “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and the New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys teamed up to close the show with a medley of songs that, as I said above, drove the ladies crazy.

In a category with some of the more interesting contenders, Muse won the Favorite Alternative Rock Music award over Phoenix and Vampire Weekend. (What, no Arcade Fire?) But most of the audience seemed bemused (no pun intended) about what this category was doing amid the spectacle of the rest of the show.

On the country music side, the winners were Swift (Favorite Female Artist), Lady Antebellum (Favorite Band, Duo or Group), Carrie Underwood (Favorite Album) and Brad Paisley (Favorite Male Artist). Fair enough, but I personally prefer my country music with a bit more edge. Swift might diss her ex (“Dear John”) and music critics (“Mean”), but I doubt she’ll ever shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Similarly, the chap from Lady Antebellum may be a little drunk at quarter after 1, but he’s probably not having a beer for breakfast as he comes down on Sunday morning. Incidentally, is it just me, or does it seem like Swift wears high heels more often than she wears sneakers?

A few big artists were missing. Lady Gaga, Eminem and Shakira were no-shows. All won awards. Adam oh-my-God-he-kissed-a-dude-on-TV Lambert wasn’t even nominated, prompting online outcries from his fans.

But overall, the show gave the people what they wanted. To all you cynics and Ariel Pink/Edward Sharpe/Wavves fans, remember the following: The people have spoken.

2010 American Music Award Winners

Pop/Rock Music, Favorite Male Artist — Justin Bieber
Pop/Rock Music, Favorite Album — My World 2.0 by Justin Bieber
T-Mobile Breakthrough Artist of the Year — Justin Bieber
Artist of the Year — Justin Bieber
Pop/Rock Music, Favorite Band, Duo or Group — Black Eyed Peas
Adult Contemporary Music, Favorite Artist — Michael Buble
Rap/Hip-Hop Music, Favorite Male Artist — Eminem
Rap/Hip-Hop Music,k Favorite Album — Recovery by Eminem
Soundtracks, Favorite Album — Glee, Country Music
Favorite Band, Duo or Group — Lady Antebellum
Pop/Rock Music, Favorite Female Artist — Lady Gaga
Contemporary Inspirational Music, Favorite Artist — MercyMe
Alternative Rock Music, Favorite Artist — Muse
Country Music, Favorite Male Artist — Brad Paisley
Soul/Rhythm & Blues Music, Favorite Female Artist — Rihanna
Latin Music, Favorite Artist — Shakira
Country Music, Favorite Female Artist — Taylor Swift
Country Music, Favorite Album — Play On by Carrie Underwood

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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