Green Day is at its best when a widely divisive president ascends to power.
That was true in 2004 for "American Idiot," and it's maybe even more true in 2016 for "Revolution Radio." At Sunday's American Music Awards, where Green Day played the double-time barnstormer "Bang Bang," the band had the one truly political moment of the night when its members led a chant of "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A."
It wasn't quite a real risk for the band, which enjoyed a mid-career renaissance for saying similar things about George W. Bush. Nor were too many in the audience inclined to disagree with the group.
But at a show where most acts had to figure out whether or not to acknowledge the election and the cultural storm around it, Green Day proved that being outspoken could also make the best theater.
Whatever role there still is for a trio of old-guy punks in the confusion of culture today, Green Day looks ready to fill it.
Twenty One Pilots, the night's other big rock band with at least a nominal interest in punk, used the look of a basement show — ski masks, instrument tossing, huge jumps off the furniture — for its mashup of hits "Heathens" and "Stressed Out."
Those are two of the most uncategorizable chart smashes on the radio. Other AMA performers like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber tried to use their newfound sincerity (and Gaga did sound great on "Million Reasons") to kick-start their place in the pop firmament.
But Twenty One Pilots' set, for all their confounding genre moves, felt like something new was afoot.
The band is kind of a millennial angst machine that makes new use of uncool genres (white guy reggae, mainstream EDM, rap-rock); right now, Twenty One Pilots is a defining pop act for a young crowd where genre means nothing but anxiety is everything.
Speaking of anxiety, Selena Gomez had the night's one moment of actual earnestness with her acceptance speech for favorite female artist. Visibly on the edge of tears, she said her last year of suffering vicious depression had taught her that no one, not even celebrities, is immune to its pull.
"If you're broken, you don't have to stay broken," she said, punctuating the generally fizzy show with real emotion.
But maybe it was Chrissy Teigen who actually had the night's most trenchant commentary. In introducing her husband, John Legend, she extolled their relationship before uncorking a profane-bleep-parade howl against the fallout of President-elect Donald Trump's election.
It was funny, spontaneous and about all there was to do at a show like this, in a time like the present.
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