"I will love you unconditionally," promised
The song about finding love after divorce is part of her plan this year to age up her image. But that line from its chorus might also describe the audience loyalty that pop stars on Perry's level once enjoyed, back when fans pledged allegiance to artists and could be expected to stick with them through the occasional misstep or hiatus.
Today, though — in an age of always-on entertainment options — stars must refresh that devotion on a day-to-day, even minute-to-minute basis. And with their large viewerships and social-media tie-ins, awards shows have become perhaps the most effective way to remain a part of the conversation.
So where A-list talent used to come out primarily for the
The result is a kind of promotional arms race in which who won what isn't nearly as important as who turned up to feed the beast. (In the unlikely event that anyone asks you,
If this state of affairs calls to mind the picture of a performer punching a clock — putting in the work to hold on to that highly conditional love — well, the AMAs this year didn't do much to diminish that idea.
The majority of the performances felt like little more than brand-maintenance exercises: a hectic yet joyless rendition of "Timber" by
Timberlake poured some live-band muscle into "Drink You Away" but didn't really put across the boozy desperation of the song's lyric; as always, he was coolly professional.
And Imagine Dragons demonstrated how largely unexciting the prospect of an arena-rock group feels in 2013. (
Having struck out recently with her more outré moves,
Similarly adrift of late,
Other artists played it less safe to varying degrees of success.
T-Boz and Chilli of the great '90s girl group TLC provided the requisite award-show train-wreck moment with a performance of their indelible 1995 song "Waterfalls." The problem? The third (and arguably most important) member of TLC, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, died in 2002, and here she was replaced by the rapper Lil Mama, who played Left Eye in a recent VH1 biopic on the band. It was ghoulish.
But the gamble paid off; this was Lady Gaga at her theatrical, button-pushing best.
And then there was
In the days before the American Music Awards, she and the show's organizers used social media to tease something even more outrageous. On Sunday, though, the joke was on viewers as Cyrus performed her power ballad "Wrecking Ball" in front of a willfully amateurish image of a cat mouthing the tune's anguished lyrics.
The stunt blunted the impact of the song, one of the most emotionally potent of 2013. But in its thrilling perversity, it did what an awards-show appearance must these days: It gave us something to remember.
At least for a few days, anyway.