Entertainment & Arts

Here’s why the AMAs needed more fun moments like the show-closing wet Bieber

AMAs 2015

Justin Bieber performs, in a lot of water, during the American Music Awards finale during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater

(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

The list of things nobody tunes into the American Music Awards to see is a long one, but this year’s edition seemed determined to pack in as many of them as possible.

There was the goofy Seattle rapper Macklemore ranting hard about prescription-drug abuse. There was Alanis Morissette, that icon of 1990s alternative pop, performing a song older than many in the broadcast’s intended audience. And there were Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth sharing an uncomfortably intimate onstage kiss that dared you to look away.

Yes, Sunday night’s show, airing live on ABC from the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, often made you wonder if the AMAs had forgotten their place as a young, fan-voted alternative to the more august Grammy Awards and the proudly edgy MTV Video Music Awards. Eager to stand out in an increasingly crowded award-show scene, the production doubled down on would-be big moments but ended up sacrificing much of its breezy charm. (For what it’s worth, the night’s big winners — including One Direction, Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande — stuck tight to the AMAs’ established brand. But performances, not trophies, were what mattered here.)

The show started promisingly, with Jennifer Lopez doing a few bars of her song “Waiting for Tonight,” then stopping the music to announce with a not-quite-straight face, “Tonight’s not about me.” That was the cue for an impressive sequence in which Lopez, also the show’s host, moved with real fire to some of the year’s most indelible pop hits, including the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” It felt like fandom professionalized, precisely what an awards show should do.


The Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer was fun too, bashing through an appealingly scrappy version of its pop-punk song “Hey Everybody!” And Coldplay appeared to be having a good time in “Adventure of a Lifetime,” which for some reason featured the band’s grinning frontman, Chris Martin, dancing alongside several people in gorilla suits. (You want coherence? Watch the International Bluegrass Music Awards.)

Yet too many other acts seemed deflated by the pressure to deliver something noteworthy, none more than the usually effervescent Gwen Stefani, who looked miserable — more miserable than she meant to, that is — in “Used to Love You,” her gloomy new ballad about her breakup with her husband, Gavin Rossdale.

Teaming with Demi Lovato for the groundbreaking “You Oughta Know,” Morissette failed to muster the intensity that might’ve shown a new generation the impact her song has had on today’s young stars. And One Direction, the British boy band on a lengthy farewell tour before it goes on hiatus next year, seemed utterly bored in a performance of “Perfect,” hardly up to the task of a weepy emotional display.


The AMAs managed a few genuine jolts. Nick Jonas was unexpectedly soulful in a medley of his 2015 hits, equaling a lively gospel choir in “Jealous.” Justin Bieber, who closed the show, effectively literalized the cleansing he’s been after following several years of tabloid troubles with a performance of “Sorry” that had him drenched in a simulated downpour.

There was also the surprising presence of Celine Dion, who sang Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’Amour” as part of a tribute to the victims of the recent Paris terror attacks. Before Dion performed, Jared Leto gave a sober, seemingly heartfelt speech in which he spoke up in favor of immigration and described one Parisian’s refusal to give into fear.

Like much of this year’s AMAs, Leto was aiming for Oscars-style gravitas. But in this instance, the weight of the moment felt earned.


2015 American Music Awards winners

American Music Awards 2015: Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor and that kiss


American Music Awards 2015: Macklemore reaches for big issue on new song ‘Kevin,’ but falls short

Get our daily Entertainment newsletter

Get the day's top stories on Hollywood, film, television, music, arts, culture and more.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.