American Music Awards 2013: What worked, what didn’t

Miley Cyrus and the kitten
Did Miley Cyrus’ performance of “Wrecking Ball” at the American Music Awards ruin the song for you?
(John Shearer / Invision / Associated Press)

Award shows take note: It pays handsomely to satisfy teen girls.

The American Music Awards drummed up 12.9 million viewers, a 32% bump over last year, marking the show’s second-biggest audience in 11 years, according to preliminary numbers released by ABC on Monday morning. 

While the network is likely relieved that its telecast wasn’t a spectacular bomb like last year’s show (and is  probably curating gift baskets to mail to big draws like One Direction, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna), let’s look at what worked and what didn’t Sunday night.

What worked:


Teenage Dreams. Of all the glowing figures ABC released this morning, one stood out the most. The telecast was up 86% in viewers ages 12 to 17, delivering a high not seen for the AMAs since 2004. It was quite obvious inside the Nokia Theatre that teens were the driving force of the show. One Direction pretty much only had to breathe and the venue erupted with bloodcurdling screams from young girls. The dreamy British boy band sent them into a fever pitch during its performance, which you could barely hear over the pandemonium. This energy carried on when pretty much any boy walked onstage, and it was only amplified if he had scruffy facial hair and sensitive eyes. Austin Mahone? Screams. Jaden Smith? Screams. Luke Bryan. Justin Timberlake. Imagine Dragons. So many screams.

AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS 2013: Show highlights

Pop heroines. This intense fandom, which I wrote about earlier, carried over to the smattering of pop heroines on the bill: Rihanna, Gaga, Swift, Cyrus and Ariana Grande. Rihanna showed up to collect the specially crafted Icon Award and run through “Diamonds,” Gaga and R. Kelly did a witty mash-up of ABC’s “Scandal” and “Trapped in the Closet” for a performance that scored a standing ovation, Swift continued to thank girls for sticking by her (and buying 6 million copies of her last record) and Grande won everyone over with a nervous speech as she won for new artist.

Yet it was Cyrus who had the crowd waiting to see what she would do. She opted to slightly tone it down for her closing performance, armed with only a cat-printed bikini and a backdrop of an awfully adorable kitten mouthing the words to her power ballad “Wrecking Ball.” Once the kitten started crying, the crowd swooned. Who cares if young kids don’t understand irony, there was a crying cat onstage. Cyrus knew what the crowd really wanted, and once the song ended and the camera panned,  she turned around and did a quick twerk.


What didn’t:

Pitbull as host. Everyone loves Mr. International, and no one looks better in a suit. But despite being the master of ceremonies, he didn’t really move the show along the way a host should. Which is a shame considering that the laborious, three-hour telecast could have really used more of Pitbull’s charm.

AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS 2013: Red carpet arrivals

Katy Perry’s opening number. She was dressed as a geisha. It’s not going over so well on the almighty Internet

Speaking of weird racial overtones. In a show that celebrates the most tweeted about and downloaded pop stars, the night’s few uncomfortable moments came courtesy of commentary on race. When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis accepted the award for favorite rap/hip-hop act, Macklemore made a plea against racial profiling, dropped a Martin Luther King Jr. quote and, because they were being beamed in from Florida, mentioned the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

While its always great to see rappers stand for something, Macklemore has made a strange habit of speaking up about societal ills as he’s collecting award show trophies. There’s nothing wrong with using that platform, and it’s encouraged. But when it sounds as rehearsed as his words did, no one needs it. Not even the audience was moved by his words, most looking around uncomfortably. It also didn’t help that the pair beat out Kendrick Lamar for favorite rap album, but that’s a point worth saving for the Grammys.

The weirdness continued when Timberlake mocked the accent of Rihanna’s Barbadian mother, and before he was feted with favorite soul/R&B album, comedian Sarah Silverman offered this ironic quip: “There are three amazing nominees for favorite soul/R&B album tonight. One: a white kid from ‘The Mickey Mouse Club.’ Another: the son of the dad from ‘Growing Pains.’ And the other: a strong, soulful Caribbean woman of color. I don’t know who will win, but I do know who should find this most ironic if she loses.” After Timberlake won, he offered this equally odd response: “Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve ever been racially profiled by a white woman.” Sigh.

The show’s run time. Why is this show three hours? Seriously. Why? I understand shoving a dozen-plus performances into a telecast, but can’t some of them get pared down to bumper numbers? Surely, there’s at least an hour that can be trimmed here.


One more thing. Kesha, please stop whatever it is you keep doing onstage. Watch below for some afternoon embarrassment:


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