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The Best Performances at the 2013 AMAs

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(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

By Kevin Rutherford

The American Music Awards don’t tend to bring in much of a captive audience beyond the night itself; while the GRAMMYs and, lately, the MTV Video Music Awards tend to have something to talk about around the water cooler the next few days, the AMAs mostly underwhelm, with hit-or-miss performances that are sometimes fun in the moment and awards that everyone forgets the next day.

The latter instance may still ring true — quick, if you watched last night, name one winner of a category — but to the AMAs’ credit, it spawned quite a few performances that folks might remember moving forward. Hey, it’s a start.

Photo Gallery: The 2013 American Music Awards

The AMAs honored a bevy of culturally relevant artists Sunday (Nov. 24), many of them not even from America. One Direction took home trophies for Favorite Pop/Rock Group and Album. Sweden’s Avicii is your Favorite EDM Artist. The show’s first Icon Award went to Barbadian singer Rihanna in a touching ceremony in which she received her award from her mother. On the American side of things, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake cleaned up in their respective categories before squaring off in Artist of the Year, with the Ms. Swift taking home the prize. You can check out the full list of winners at the bottom of the page.

As for the performances? Check out this handy list of what happened at the AMAs, each with an individual award of its own. From Miley’s psychedelic cat fantasies to Lady Gaga and R. Kelly’s West Wing drama, there certainly was no shortage of entertainment.

MOST THEATRICAL: LADY GAGA FEAT. R. KELLY “DO WHAT U WANT”

Could Gaga and Kellz possibly top their performance of ARTPOP‘s second single at Saturday Night Live earlier this month? Um, YES. The duo took the stage with a set modeled after the Oval Office, with R. Kelly as the president and Lady Gaga as a secretary. After a strange intro during which the president laid out his intentions, Gaga launched into the bumping tune, stripping down and joining Kelly atop the presidential desk. Only downside: a post-Oval Office performance took place and, while Gaga sounded tremendous and the sentiment of decrying the haters concerning her body was welcomed, it seemed an afterthought.

MOST WTF PERFORMANCE: MILEY CYRUS “WRECKING BALL”

The AMAs stuck Miley Cyrus at the end of the show, because that’s the way you keep the ratings high. Turns out that was the best decision ever. No idea if Miley’s performance of “Wrecking Ball” was supposed to be funny, but it at least had this writer laughing so hard it still hurt hours later. An Odd Future-esque, interstellar cat on the screen behind the singer, mouthing along to every word and even crying diamond tears during the bridge? Everything is the best. It needs to win all the awards.

BEST TRANSFORMATION FROM ALBUM TO LIVE SHOW: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE “DRINK YOU AWAY”

Remember part two of Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience? Yeah, if you don’t, you’re not alone. “Drink You Away” isn’t even much of a standout on the album, but once JT introduced the Tennessee Kids and clarified it was “a song about alcohol,” well, damn. The sound was fuller and Timberlake channeled his inner blues with an infectious performance. Horns, a myriad of backup singers, Timberlake-with-guitar and some girl whose only purpose apparently was to drink onstage? Rad.

BEST NOSTALGIC PERFORMANCE: NELLY FEAT. FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE “RIDE WIT ME”

Florida Georgia Line performed “Cruise” Sunday night, because of course they would. Nelly came out and joined them, because of course he would. And then, a sound! That opening riff! IT’S “RIDE WIT ME”! There was literally no reason to perform this thing, and that’s what made the absolute surprise of the whole situation so satisfying. This time, the country boys backed Nelly on the song, and you could tell it was definitely tickling some sort of long-held yearning for the duo and apparently 1D’s Niall Horan. All hail St. Louis forever and always, Amen.

BEST POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCE: ARIANA GRANDE “TATTOOED HEART”

Oh, honey. Honey. “Tattooed Heart” was an incredibly unexpected performance, but Ariana Grande was all, “LOL, what single?” and decided to show off her impressive vocal chops, with a back-to-basics approach. A quartet of singers backed her up and even had their own choreography, but the star was Grande. She belted it. All hail Queen Ariana forever and always, amen.

BEST USE OF AN ORCHESTRA: RIHANNA “DIAMONDS”

Rihanna has a ton of good songs, which made her receipt of the Icon Award quite fitting. “Diamonds,” though? Not the best to choose in terms of showing off why you’re the baddest bitch, in theory. But add some strings, dramatic hand/arm motions (seriously, those things got a workout) and a spot-on vocal? Shoot, “Diamonds” is kind of muscular with the proper backing. Way to go, violinists everywhere.

BEST PERFORMANCE HONORING A LEGEND: JENNIFER LOPEZ WITH A CELIA CRUZ MEDLEY

Celia Cruz died 10 years ago, but that didn’t stop the AMAs from honoring the Cuban salsa legend with a medley performance by Jennifer Lopez. Has J-Lo sounded this good in years? Homegirl sounded like an icon in her own right on the string of Latin tunes, adding in some electric dance moves to complement her feverish crooning. That was hot.

BEST PERFORMANCE OF A SONG BEN FOLDS SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN BUT SOMEHOW DIDN’T: A GREAT BIG WORLD FEAT. CHRISTINA AGUILERA “SAY SOMETHING”

I mean, come on, A Great Big World‘s Ian Axel is a dead-ringer for Folds, in both voice and look — though it’s great seeing piano-driven ballads like “Say Something” getting their day in the sun again. Shoutout to the harmonizing between Axel and Christina Aguilera, too. She can absolutely wail, but shows great restraint in harmonizing with her duet partner. Gotta stay relevant somehow?

BEST QUASI-MILEY PERFORMANCE: PITBULL FEAT. KE$HA “TIMBER”

In all, “Timber,” the new single of AMAs host Pitbull featuring reliable ol’ Ke$ha, was a completely tepid performance of a song that will probably stick around because it’s basically tailor-made for appearing in all the commercials necessitating an up-tempo pop tune. Can we just focus on Ke$ha, in one instance, teasing a bend-over-and-twerk move in front of Pitbull that, had she gone through with it, would’ve emulated Miley’s VMA showing? LIKE CAN YOU NOT, PLEASE?

MOST QUESTIONABLE USE OF PERCUSSION: IMAGINE DRAGONS “DEMONS”/”RADIOACTIVE”

Anyone who knows Imagine Dragons‘ stage setup knew that, even though the alt-rockers began with current hit “Demons,” “Radioactive” was sure to come. And it did, in all its everyone-grab-a-drum-let’s-go-to-town glory. Sure, the song’s meant to be rather hard-hitting, and the booming percussion reflects that. I guess if this band thing doesn’t work out, the rockers can head back to their native Las Vegas and join the Blue Man Group or something.

THE OTHER NOSTALGIC PERFORMANCE: TLC FEAT. LIL MAMA “WATERFALLS”

It’s cool to see TLC still out here hustling, but the duo’s performance of “Waterfalls” was kind of… eh? *embattled shrug* Chilli and T-Boz were sounding great, and special guest Lil Mama took the helm of Left Eye and didn’t falter. For whatever reason, there just wasn’t much of a wow factor beyond the fact that the song was getting performed at all (and unlike “Ride Wit Me,” it was already expected), and damn, it just sort of made you sad sans Left Eye.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

-Luke Bryan was totally OK on “That’s My Kind of Night,” but that boy’s hips don’t lie and tons of country fans were starting to feel it right.

-Rap didn’t get much of a showcase Sunday night, but Kendrick Lamar did the genre proud with a captivating one-two punch of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Poetic Justice,” featuring the future goddess SZA.

-Oh, there was also Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ performance of “Can’t Hold Us” in Miami, because Pitbull was hosting and something something Miami, dale.

-Katy Perry kicked off the night with a solid, if not unspectacular “Unconditionally,” featuring the singer in an Asian-themed getup and stage set. The parasol dance was pretty rad, though.

-”Story of My Life” was One Direction‘s showcase for the evening and damn, Harry sure goes for those notes on the chorus, even if he wasn’t hitting them half the time. Story of most of our lives at karaoke, amirite?

American Music Awards Winners List

Artist of the Year: Taylor Swift

New Artist of the Year: Ariana Grande
Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist: Justin Timberlake
Icon Award 2013: Rihanna
Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Pop/Rock Band/Duo/Group: One Direction
Favorite Pop/Rock Album: Take Me Home – One Direction
Favorite Male Country Artist: Luke Bryan
Favorite Female Country Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Country Band/Duo/Group: Lady Antebellum
Favorite Country Album: Red – Taylor Swift
Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album: The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist: Justin Timberlake
Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist: Rihanna
Favorite Soul/R&B Album: The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience – Justin Timberlake
Favorite Alternative Artist: Imagine Dragons
Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist: Maroon 5
Favorite Latin Artist: Marc Anthony
Favorite Contemporary Inspirational Artist: Matthew West
Favorite Electronic Dance Music Artist: Avicii
Favorite Soundtrack: Pitch Perfect

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