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Entertainment & Arts

American Music Awards coverage: Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande win big as performances steal show

American Music Awards

A “Star Wars” concert, Ariana Grande, a passionate kiss between Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor, emotional tributes by Jared Leto and Celin Dion, Justin Bieber’s water ballet, Nicki Minaj, and artist of the year One Direction were the talk of the American Music Awards.

(Matt Sayles/Invision/AP / Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The 2015 American Music Awards have ended, and once again they continued their track record for reflecting the biggest names in pop. Winners of the fan-voted awards included One Direction, the Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. The show looked to offer a glimpse of who dominated the pop conversation in 2015, but the performances made the biggest impact, including a kiss between Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth that went on (and on), a heartfelt tribute to Paris from Celine Dion and Jared Leto and Justin Bieber making a splash as the night closed.

American Music Awards close with Bieber in the rain

Justin Bieber brings the American Music Awards to an end. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Justin Bieber brings the American Music Awards to an end. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

One Direction won the American Music Award for artist of the year for the second year running and Justin Bieber closed the show by dancing and singing a medley in the rain.

Bieber started in ballad mode with "What Do You Mean?" and then dipped into "Where Are Ü Now" before wrapping with "Sorry."

All three present something of an image makeover for the young Bieber. The songs are low-key, largely friendly and graced with light-stepping electronics. It's a more grown-up, restrained Bieber, one with a surprisingly unifying approach to his sound.

And that's a wrap for our live, off-the-cuff coverage of the AMAs. Apologies for any typos. Stay tuned for a detailed analysis of tonight's proceedings.

Justin Bieber got soaked in his American Music Awards performance.  (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Justin Bieber got soaked in his American Music Awards performance. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

American Music Awards get in on the 'Star Wars' hype with Harrison Ford, Pentatonix

Harrison Ford at the American Music Awards.  (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Harrison Ford at the American Music Awards. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

When has the hype surrounding "Star Wars" gone too far? When an a cappella group from a reality show is performing the saga's theme on an award show.

In what amounted to free commercial space for Disney's "Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens," vocal group Pentatonix bom-bom-bommed its way through John Williams' signature theme with the help of a full orchestra. The American Music Awards, broadcast on Disney-owned ABC, also showed a brief clip from the film, this one showcasing Daisy Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn running from an attack on a desert planet.

The whole bit was introduced by Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, who led the crowd through brief clips of Williams' music from "Jaws," "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" before introducing the performance.

AMAs video: Jared Leto offers powerful tribute to Paris while introducing Celine Dion

Celine Dion performs at the 2015 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.  (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Celine Dion performs at the 2015 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

ABC announced it days ago, but little could prepare viewers of Sunday night's American Music Awards for Celine Dion's heartfelt tribute to Paris in the wake of Nov. 13's terrorist attacks.

Taking the stage after a somber, politically charged introduction by actor-musician Jared Leto, Dion sang an impassioned version of famous French troubadour Edith Piaf's song "Hymne à L’Amour" ("The Hymn to Love").

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Jared Leto, Celine Dion pay tribute to Paris

 Actor-singer Jared Leto speaks onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Actor-singer Jared Leto speaks onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

"Many of us here are the sons and the daughters of immigrants," said Thirty Seconds to Mars vocalist Jared Leto, just moments before Canadian-bred artist Celine Dion offered a tribute to France by performing Edith Piaf's "Hymne à L'Amour."

Leto, in his short speech, noted his band had recently played Paris' Le Bataclan theater, the site of one of numerous terrorist shootings across Paris on Nov. 13. "France matters. Russia matters. Syria matters," Leto said, before mentioning the United States and adding that "the entire world matters and peace is possible."

The AMAs interspersed images of Paris while Dion performed, opting for a lively rather than purely restrained tribute. Dion herself was stately and refined -- a big moment singer who rose to the occasion.

Macklemore teams with Leon Bridges in dreary return

Macklemore, left, and Leon Bridges perform at the American Music Awards (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Macklemore, left, and Leon Bridges perform at the American Music Awards (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

With "Thrift Shop," a fur-clad Seattle rapper known as Macklemore and his partner, Ryan Lewis, rocketed to Grammy glory in a celebration of recycled fashion.

But with that album's "Same Love," the duo also nodded toward social consciousness, and that's the well they drew from with the new song "Kevin," which featured a hook sung by vintage R&B crooner Leon Bridges.

But for all its capital-I "important" grandeur, with a gospel choir backing and prescription drug-abuse narrative, the song never took off, sounding more dreary and heavy-handed with Bridges' chorus of "put down the pen and look in my eyes." Capturing an issue isn't always easy.

Alanis gets the 20th anniversary treatment with Demi Lovato

Alanis Morissette arrives at the American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Alanis Morissette arrives at the American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)

Alanis Morissette resurrected her mid '90s hit "You Oughta Know" at the American Music Awards, this time as a duet with Demi Lovato, the latter's second performance of the night. Morissette was here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her "Jagged Little Pill." Morissette sounded great, her voice still lacing the song with bitterness and anger. So, the question: Did she need Lovato? Demi certainly didn't embarrass herself, but it's hard to figure out exactly what she added, as her voice is simply cleaner than Morissette's.

But here is the takeaway: If you want to get rock 'n' roll on an awards show nowadays, you'd better have a young star at your side.

Let's talk about that Meghan Trainor kiss for a moment

 (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

It was the make-out session heard 'round the Web: At the end of their performance of Charlie Puth's song "Marvin Gaye," Puth and Meghan Trainor locked lips in what might be the most talked-about awards show kiss since Madonna smooched Britney Spears onstage during the 2003 Video Music Awards.

It wasn't that Puth and Trainor had never kissed — an outtake of just such a kiss made the rounds on the Internet back in August after the release of Puth's video for "Marvin Gaye." What made the kiss so memorable was its passion — and its duration.

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Luke Bryan, Karen Fairchild perform kiss-off tune 'Home Alone Tonight'

Singers Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild perform onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Singers Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild perform onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The best way to get over someone ... well, one way to get over someone, at least, is offered by Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild in their "Home Alone Tonight." It's perhaps one of the cheeriest country ditties ever written about drunken hook-ups, with Bryan and Fairchild tossing the lyrics back and forth as if they were tossing a football out back.

Photo highlights: The kiss, the tears and more

 (Getty Images / Associated Press)

(Getty Images / Associated Press)

Closer on singer Gwen Stefani performing onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Closer on singer Gwen Stefani performing onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Singers Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor kiss onstage, something they've done before. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Singers Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor kiss onstage, something they've done before. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Nicki Minaj presents the award for favorite duo or group - pop/rock. (Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)

Nicki Minaj presents the award for favorite duo or group - pop/rock. (Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)

The Weeknd brings macabre relationship drama to the AMAs

The American Music Awards just got dark.

The Weeknd's latest hit, "The Hills," drowns in sinful excess, with The Weekend singing -- slurring at times -- like he's the depraved monster that the lyrics hint at. Surrounded by thin lines of fire, The Weeknd looked as if he were in a Gothic horror show as the beats patiently and ominously drove the song forward. It was the night's most captivating performance thus far.

All the American Award winners

Carrie Underwood just took the prize for female artist, country. Here are all the winners thus far. The American Music Awards are voted upon by fans.

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Coldplay brings new tune to the American Music Awards

"Turn your magic on," sang Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin on new track "Adventure of a Lifetime."

We're still awaiting the pixie dust over here, but Coldplay did bring dancers in gorilla suits and confetti for the song's performance, so there's that. That being said, Coldplay is certainly having more fun than it has had on recent albums, as the song is draped in disco glitter. It's slinky, and owes a bit of a debt to Phoenix, but brings some color to Coldplay's playbook. It'll sound great when you hear it in the aisle of your local grocery store.

Ariana Grande wins for pop/rock, female

Young pop star Ariana Grande won the American Music Award for pop/rock female, thanking her grandmother for voting for her. In winning the prize, she bested Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor.

Sam Hunt wins new artist

In what we can only imagine was one of the more closely contested categories of the night, country artist Sam Hunt took the new artist prize. The "In the Lonely Hour" singer bested Fetty Wap, Tove Lo, Walk the Moon and R&B star the Weeknd, one of the year's biggest success stories.

But Hunt's album "Montevallo" has been a sales monster, having sold more than 837,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. That tops the Weeknd's 663,000 copies sold for his "Beauty Behind the Madness."

For the Record: In a previous version of this post, the headline said Sam Smith won the award, not Sam Hunt.

Nick Jonas keeps it clunky

It's the 90-minute mark and the American Music Awards opt to stumble along with a Nick Jonas medley. Flat R&B, clunky drum solos and stodgy vocals that sound as if sung through a dental retainer, the next award can't come soon enough. Not even a gospel choir could add some swing to this mess.

One last AMAs go-round for One Direction

In a much-anticipated performance (at least among the group's very vocal fan base at the AMAs), One Direction worked through "Perfect," a by-the-numbers mid-tempo boy band ballad that still showed the act capable enough of giving the audience what it wants.

In this case? Plenty of assurances that you, who are within the sound of band members' voices, are indeed perfectly served with three minutes or so of of fantasy fuel as Liam, Louis, et al. whisk us away to places we "can't even pronounce." Who could refuse?

The listener may be perfect, but One Direction's pretty adept at this game too -- at least until those solo careers arrive.

Gwen Stefani fights back the tears

No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, in the tabloids lately for her love life, performed her gossip-baiting song "Used to Love You" on the American Music Awards stage. Stefani brought a lot more scratch to her voice than usual in trying to capture the post-breakup anger of the tune. But proclaiming to an ex that "I was the best thing that ever happened to you" isn't a good look for an argument on the driveway and it's not a good look on stage. Surrounded by projected images of her face, Stefani stood center stage as she strained to add more drama than the song can carry.

Nicki Minaj wins R&B/hip-hop album prize

Nicki Minaj won her first American Music Award of the night -- and fifth overall -- for her album "The Pinkprint," which won in the category or R&B/hip-hop album. She bested releases from Drake and J. Cole.

"I personally feel like I have the best fans on the planet," Minaj said while accepting the award. The AMAs are fan-voted. Before leaving the stage, she encouraged fans to "find your voice and find your purpose before it's too late."

Meghan and Charlie

Dance like nobody's watching, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth. We'll be right here, it's fine.

Ariana Grande wants your 'Focus'

Ariana Grande's genre- and era-jumping single "Focus" was given an R&B-schmaltz; arrangement, as Grande, in a barely there outfit, handled a swinging horn section by hollering at it rather than grooving with it.

Moments later, the audio companion to "Pitch Perfect 2" won the prize for soundtrack.

Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth lock lips

Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth ended their song with a rather passionate kiss -- five seconds and counting -- in a nod to the video for the song "Marvin Gaye."

How long was the kiss? So long that Luke Bryan made note it of when he won his prize for country male artist. This writer is no prude, but the moment was borderline uncomfortable -- less a moment between lovers than a make-out session in a straight-to-video film.

But if only that passion had been evident in their duet. The two trotted through "Marvin Gaye" as if they were runners-up in the local talent show -- this, moments after Trainor sang her own "Like I'm Gonna Lose You." Solo, Trainor was pleasantly spry, proving, after all, that she can do subtle.

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Demi Lovato asks what's wrong with being confident?

"I used to hold my freak back," Lovato sang on the American Music Award stage, "but now I'm letting go."

Did she let go? Loosened the grip would perhaps be more apt, as the black-clad singer tried to add some snarl to her "Confident" but kept the neatly wound song tight to her chest.

A Grammy preview at the AMAs?

Abel Tesfaye of the Weeknd wins the American Music Award for favorite album Soul/R&B;

The fans love their One Direction

...but Nicki Minaj is maybe not quite as on board?

Carrie Underwood

Country star Carrie Underwood was in full prom-theme mode at the American Music Awards with her rendition of "Heartbeat," a Hallmark-friendly ballad that has the misfortune of comparing a heart to a "kick drum." On a stage outfitted with lampshades, Underwood was here for the slow dance and turned down the energy.

One Direction wins 'Favorite Duo or Group'

The boys of 1D with an unsurprising win for favorite rock/pop duo or group. Sadly, one of our favorite duos was not nominated...

One Direction makes it three in a row

One Direction took the second award of the evening, winning the trophy for pop/rock duo or group. For those keeping score at home, it's the third year running that the act won the category.

Last year, One Direction also won the pop/rock album prize for "Midnight Memories."

First award of the night: The Weeknd

It's been an exiting first half hour of the American Music Awards. We've had only one award handed out so far, but a totally worthwhile one: The Weeknd won favorite R&B;/soul album for "Beauty Behind the Madness." The band beat out Chris Brown in this category.

And Prince presented the award. And you can never have too much Prince.

Here's band members finding out they won:

The risks of covering the AMAs

All black everything

Ricky Garcia, left, Emery Kelly and Liam Attridge of Forever in Your Mind (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

Ricky Garcia, left, Emery Kelly and Liam Attridge of Forever in Your Mind. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

The stars are making their way down the red carpet. We're capturing all the sparkly dresses and sharp suits right here >>

What is Harry Styles wearing?

The Twitterverse is freaking out about Harry Styles' suit on the red carpet. What is the One Direction singer wearing?

Some are LOLing Styles' style:

Some have jumped to his defense:

And others are saying he'll bring back the bell-bottom fashion trend:

And fashion it is!

The AMAs are almost here

 Walk the Moon arrives at the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Sunday. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

Walk The Moon arrive at the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Sunday. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

Now in their 43rd year, the AMAs -- like most pop awards shows -- have produced enough telecasts to seemingly operate on autopilot.

Broadcasting live from Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday at 5 p.m., the 2015 AMAs will fete the hitmakers that have ruled the pop charts this past year. Pop & Hiss wanted to go beyond the spectacle and see what it took to pull off Sunday’s show, from the number of custom emojis created (20) to the number of square feet of red carpet rolled out just for the occasion (20,000).

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