While the boring adults of America were biding their time until the "Mad Men" series finale Sunday, the kids down the hall were donning headphones, staring at screens and occasionally dancing while reveling in another kind of televised marketing exploration: the
The annual ceremony and
As determined by sales, radio airplay, streams and social-media interactions, the Billboard Music Awards are, by definition, a popularity contest. As such, its nominees included some of the biggest names and best-looking in contemporary pop music, including
Most of the other victors, including One Direction, Florida Georgia Line, Iggy Azalea and John Legend, were in Vegas to accept their awards. Many of the more prominent nonwinners, including Pharrell, Beyoncé and Perry, were conspicuously absent. This isn't the Grammys, after all. It's not even the
Plus, it didn't take a mathematician to calculate that one artist, Swift, dominated the charts over the last year and that she would therefore leave with the most awards. She won in categories including top artist, top Hot 100 artist and top digital song as well as the fan-voted Billboard Chart Achievement Award. Sitting in the front row with her boyfriend,
It's probably more accurate to say that Swift served as the show's crutch. The artist not only won but she was also shown reacting to nearly every onstage moment. The lens caught Swift singing along, lost inside "Girl Crush" while onstage, Little Big Town and
Awards? Yes, there were awards. But they're mostly meaningless to everyone but the artists, their families and their handlers. This night, and the whole reason for the three hours of broadcast and 51 minutes of commercials, was about "live" renditions of hit songs.
The best performances? Fallout Boy's frenetic take on "Uma," their ode to
Her hands heavy with diamond rings, Hill held her microphone close during her guest spot with Little Big Town for "Girl Crush." The song, about a love so heavy that it transcends jealousy, made the volume of mediocre artistry surrounding it nearly bearable. Clarkson also excelled. She sang live — of course. Clarkson is fearless and proved it with a confident take on her new "Invincible."
The worst performances? Nick Jonas held a heavy metal guitar for most of his performance of "Jealous," but it was mostly a prop. Imagine Dragons "honored" Ben E. King's memory with a take on "Stand By Me" that illustrated just how vocally and musically soulless a band it is. (Swift seemed to love it, so what do I know?)
At least the band performed it live.
Mariah Carey, who just opened a Las Vegas residency, sounded unrehearsed, her voice buried deep in the mix for takes on "Infinity" and "Vision of Love." It was far from perfect — at least what you could hear of it. Surrounded by much instrumentation as if to mask her deficiencies, she capped "Vision" with an upper octave squeal. It very much impressed Swift.