The American Music Awards are all about the performers, and Pop & Hiss will be covering the proceedings live right here all night.
Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Luke Bryan, Miley Cyrus, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar, Jennifer Lopez, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, One Direction, Justin Timberlake and TLC are among those appearing. Whew. Pitbull will host the telecast.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis lead the pack of nominees with six nods, while Taylor Swift and Timberlake follow with five nods apiece.
Florida Georgia Line, Rihanna and Robin Thicke each received four, and Bruno Mars and Imagine Dragons both scored three nods. Winners will be determined by online voting, and for the first time, fans will be able to vote for their favorite artists via Twitter.
The American Music Awards is airing live from the Nokia Theatre tonight, except on the West Coast, where it will be tape-delayed.
But never fear -- Pop & Hiss is live-blogging the proceedings, typos hopefully not included. Everything below this point is live.
5 p.m.: Katy Perry goes geisha to open the American Music Awards with “Unconditionally,” proving once again that long-standing cultural traditions are viewed as little more than trifling accessories to the pop elite.
But if the song began with a little bit of Japanese flavor, things soon took a turn for the bombastic, as Perry’s songs are little, tiny verses strung together with big, giant choruses. Perry watchers likely weren’t caught off guard by her performance, as she’s of late been posting pictures herself posing in kimonos with geisha girls. So perhaps she’s operating on the belief that it’s not cultural appropriation if Madonna has already done it. The term in that case is, what, hacky?
5:10 p.m.: The first American Music Award goes to Justin Timberlake for pop/rock male. It’s his fourth overall AMA trophy, and it, like all awards handed out tonight, will mean nothing, unless your family arrived early for Thanksgiving, in which case you may be discussing right now whether Timberlake’s songs are too long (they are). The awards are fan-voted, and JT thanked those who advocated for him on Twitter.
5:27 p.m. One Direction, introduced by Emma Roberts as one of her favorite bands, performed its attempt at maturity, at least if one were to define maturity as sounding kinda-sorta like Mumford & Sons. The song, despite repeatedly utilizing the word “frozen,” is not in Disney’s animated feature “Frozen,” which means that A) I can still see “Frozen” and B) the song can’t use a brand tie-in as its excuse for being terrible. There are multiple reasons I hate this song, but the primary one is likely unfair. I simply can’t tolerate a bunch of attractive young kids pretending to talk to me about heartbreak when their love affairs with starlets are tracked in every tabloid in the world.
5:47 p.m. First, Rihanna won her seventh-ever AMA trophy for soul/R&B; artist.
Then Imagine Dragons performed the night’s first medley, mixing up “Demons” and “Radioactive,” an impassioned performance that should serve as a tryout for a headlining slot at a future KROQ Almost Christmas concert.
That was followed by Taylor Swift winning favorite country album for “Red,” an album she said was “very different” than any she had made in the past. The secret? Hitmaker Max Martin, although Swift said it was the fans.
5:45 p.m. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won an AMA trophy for “The Heist,” and they preached against racial profiling in their acceptance speech, which was broadcast via satellite from Florida, where they were performing. Mackelmore did most of the talking, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Macklemore brought up that the act was in Florida and mentioned the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. “It’s time we fight against racism and the laws that protect it,” he said.
His partner, Lewis, thanked fans, and that was followed by a performance from Pitbull and Kesha, who sang a song that addressed America’s vast class divide. Or a song about shaking your booty in hotel rooms none of us can afford, either/or.
6:10 p.m. “We’re JT and the Tennessee Kids,” said Timberlake. ”This is a song about alcohol.”
He and his large backing crew then launched into “Drink You Away,” with Timberlake armed with an acoustic guitar and a pretty kicking gospel/blues crew behind him. The only issue: Lyrically, the song is all breakup torture, with nod after nod to an empty bottle and various forms of liquid poison. But I’ll tell you this, Timberlake sure makes me want to go out and get dumped (pretty much a three-times-per-year occurrence in my life), as few songs make a lonely drunken stupor sound this much fun. Heck, this is one of the most upbeat, lively tracks on Timberlake’s two “20/20 Experience” albums, at least in this rendition. That likely wasn’t the intended effect, however, and the result is a song that feels more “Smokey Joe's Café” than one that should burn.
6:23 p.m. Country stars Florida Georgia Line and rapper Nelly, who was sporting a Rolling Stones shirt, mashed up “Cruise” and “Ride Wit Me,” songs that could serve as separate months in a calendar full of girls in swimwear posing on cars.
6:42 p.m. The American Music Awards has gotten hip to so-called icon awards, giving its first trophy to bear that name to Rihanna, a pop star who’s had a career of about 10 years. But if one starts to consider the accelerated love-hate-love again nature of being a pop star in the Twitter era, her career is about 70 years old, applying the dog-year rule.
She performed “Diamonds,” was introduced by Bill Maher, and then her mother presented her the award. “Rihanna, I’m so proud of you tonight,” Mama Rihanna said. “I know the journey and your career have not always been an easy one, but tonight I applaud and admire you for being so strong and so positive and so humble and so focused. I mean, it’s amazing how you imagine to always take the good from your experiences. I’m so blessed to be a part of this historic moment.”
Rihanna took the mike and joked that her mom once told her that she had “an annoying, husky, little man voice.” Rihanna went though the early parts of her career, calling out Jay Z , L.A. Reid and her “glam team for making me look cute all the time.” She wrapped up by saying, “I can’t believe that at 25 years old, I’m holding an icon award.” But icons today are made via hits, not longevity.
6:46 p.m: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis joined the telecast to sing “Can’t Hold U.” The act was performing via satellite from Miami, a concert appearance that carried more energy than the ones here in Los Angeles. But if the group’s acceptance speech was Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis at its more socially conscious, this was the act at its most anthemic, full of hands-in-the-air shenanigans.
But more curious was Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for her country female trophy. “I want to thank country radio, also pop radio, and Hot AC and AC,” said Swift, rattling off radio formats as if her fans playing along at home were keeping score. So many genres embracing her music, said Swift, allows her to write music without a care, an awkward admission of bringing concerns of commercial viability into the recording studio.
The second hour of the AMAs came to a close with Jennifer Lopez paying tribute to salsa queen Celia Cruz, who died in 2003. I’m not the Latin music expert around these parts, but I would have rather seen a tribute to Jenni Rivera, who died last year.
7:40 p.m. Christina Aguilera played the role of the guest on A Great Big World’s “Say Something,” a song that’s been making the reality show rounds. The song is noteworthy largely for Aguilera’s restraint. “The Voice” judge is a rather lovely vocalist when not singing as if she’s trying to prove a point. But the performances are coming fast at this point, and local star Kendrick Lamar immediately followed with a little genre whiplash. Yet it was just an appetizer for the R. Kelly and Lady Gaga attraction that was to follow.
Days after the country remembered the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Gaga and Kelly played it for laughs. There’s plenty of drama in illicit White House affairs, but very little in “Do What U Want.”
Kelly, in his ironic “Trapped in the Closet” mode, played the role of president while Gaga did a strip tease. The pair brought a little more theatricality to the song, with “President Kelly” professing ignorance when scandal broke. It served only to further muddle the message of the song, such as it is.
Gaga has spoken of it as a statement of independence in the face of gossip rags obsessing over her body, but playing the role of scorned mistress with Kelly, an artist with a rather controversial past, wasn’t exactly a statement of empowerment. But if they were going for something that could pass as an OK radio play, it worked.
8:04 p.m.: The TLC reunion: Just rather uncomfortable and unnecessary … With Lil Mama in the role of the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, a reformed, tossed together TLC sang one of the tunes most associated with Lopes in “Waterfalls.” If Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins didn’t quite embarrass themselves, no one justified the reason for this to happen, as it largely just reminded audiences of who wasn’t onstage.
8:18 p.m. Let’s talk about Miley Cyrus.
First, cat lovers, and I am one of them, will largely rejoice. A kitten, projected on a screen onstage and made to look as if the kitty were lip-syncing to “Wrecking Ball,” was fascinatingly weird. You couldn’t take your eyes off it, and if you’re reading this and haven’t yet seen it, chances are you’re already searching for it in another browser.
It was twisted, but Miley knew what she was doing.
No one -- or thing -- loves cats more than the Internet, and Miley has succeeded in ensuring that “Wrecking Ball” will be the one performance that owns Twitter and YouTube tonight and Monday and quite possibly beyond. In fact, no other performance, even the Gaga/Monroe shtick, was as odd as this one. Added bonus: Since it largely just featured a kitten, it will be safe to talk about with your family over the holiday. Yes, Miley had a skimpy bathing suit on, but it had cats on it, so it wasn’t gratuitous (right?). Cats, as far as I’m concerned, improve almost anything. Almost.
But does it improve “Wrecking Ball”? The ballad is the most powerful song on Miley’s “Bangerz” album and the one song on the record that’s actually a showcase for her raspy-sharp vocals, neither of which will be the focus when you’re standing in front of a giant kitten’s head.
In fact, it made the song rather funny. Once diamond tears started streaming from the cat’s eyes, the whole thing just tipped the absurd scale. Everyone knows cats don’t cry like humans, let alone cry diamonds. And this is where Miley may have succeeded too well. By carefully crafting what will be a heavily shared YouTube clip, “Wrecking Ball” risks forever being associated with a giant kitten’s head, as a giant kitten’s head is even more memorable than a naked Miley swinging on an iron ball, which is what the actual video for “Wrecking Ball” contains.
Anyway, Pop & Hiss is rambling. The AMAs have ended. Stay tuned to this blog for further updates. The takeaway: More cats in things are always welcome. Got that, Grammys?