Last night’s American Music Awards perfectly encapsulated all of pop music right now: a mish-mash of performers from across styles, with a few clear kings and queens. Based on fan voting, the AMAs skew young and very, very crowd-pleasing. This was an awards show, after all, where an “icon award” went to someone who was just 25 years old: Rihanna.
But besides celebrating youth, beauty, brisk record sales, and telegenic qualities, the AMAs were three hours of good and relatively modest fun. This wasn’t – and has never been – an awards ceremony that’s really going to get offended tongues or fingers wagging. (It’s helmed by Dick Clark Productions, after all!) Instead, everyone gets in, does their thing, and gets out, mostly squeaky-clean and photo-ready.
Fusion was there, live on the ground, from the early red carpet trickle-ins to the not-bitter-at-all end of the shebang. Click here to read our red carpet report, and click here to read the full list of winners. But here are our 15 takeaways from the whole thing and how it represents the state of popular music.
1. Gaga’s attempting to pull ahead of Katy Perry again.
Okay, so the whole rivalry is absolutely silly and mostly warring-fan-created. But Katy was almost absent from the actual show and arrived with a pretty normal red carpet walk. Meanwhile, Gaga showed up on a horse and, again, teamed up with new BFF R. Kelly for a JFK-inspired dance number that just neatly straddled tasteful and tasteless. When are Gaga and R. Kellz gonna just say screw it and do a whole album together? Please?
2. It’s not really fair to put Taylor Swift in country categories any more. Taylor’s a pop artist now.
Let more country artists like Miranda Lambert and company have their shot at country awards, rather than handing “favorite female artist” to Taylor when she’s nominated in regular pop categories, too.
3. What happened to Pitbull?
We thought the guy would be on extra overdrive with “dale” and ridiculous Miami references given his huge platform. But instead, he seemed to overcompensate by acting, well, normal, save for a few Don Francisco and 305 references. Womp, womp! We love it when you ham it up, Pit! Own it!
4. Nelly is relevant again because of Florida Georgia Line, but that doesn’t mean they need to painfully perform his songs.
How completely, totally awkward was it when they attempted to join him for a group rendition of “Ride Wit Me?” That high squeal in the background is the shrieking sound of early ‘00s dreams dying.
5. Lil Mama is not really a worthy successor to the Left Eye Throne, sorry.
I mean. We know she got to be in the TLC biopic and everything. But seriously? She could not really hang filling Left Eye’s shoes in TLC’s surprisingly subdued rendition of the now-classic “Waterfalls.” Ugh.
6. Some of the best performances happen before the actual show, out on the red carpet.
That’s when you get intimate, stripped-down, soul-baring stuff from artists who perform mostly acoustically. Girl group Fifth Harmony charmed with soulful vocal chops, while Aloe Blacc warbled his way through his part of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” accompanied by strummy guitar.
7. Daft Punk got robbed.
It’s great to see the “EDM” (ugh) category in the awards, but Avicii as a winner over Daft Punk? It’s not like they’ve been in the game longer or had the song of the summer or anything…
8. Marc Anthony is our official All Things Latin Spokesperson for now, okay?
After cleaning up for “Vivir Mi Vida” at the Latin Grammys last week, our favorite compact Boricua came back to spread some more orgullo and grab a win here for “favorite artist – Latin.” That song’s a straight banger since, like we said here, you don’t need to know the words – or even Spanish – to sing a long.
9. It never seemed likely that Celia Cruz would enjoy a remembrance in a mainstream, English-language music awards ceremony, but Jennifer Lopez changed all that.
Could J. Lo’s version of “Quimbara” really hold a candle to Celia’s classic, throaty-voiced one? No, of course not, but for a minute there, the entire viewing public got a swift reminder of the legacy of the Queen of Salsa. That was another proud Latino moment – again, #WeOutChea, to use the best/most obnoxious Twitter hashtag ever.
10. Justin Timberlake is apparently master of all genres, and it’s hard to disagree.
JT came into the AMAs with nominations in pop/rock, soul/R&B, and regular ol’ “artist of the year.” That sounds about right. Everything the man touches is gold – which is why he took home “favorite male artist” in BOTH pop/rock and soul/R&B, as well as “favorite album” in soul/R&B.
11. You guys, there is a segment of the population to which Imagine Dragons counts as alternative.
I know, right? Plus, they were up against the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. What a meaningful little bunch there.
12. Demons have still not gotten Ariana Grande.
Sorry, but it’s hard to let go of her delightfully crazy cover story for the current issue of Complex, in which she claims to be actually haunted by demons. This story remains one of the greatest random pieces of music interviewing of recent weeks. However, to spite the demons, she continues to sing her life. That was enough to win new artist of the year.
13. There are a few categories that nobody really cares about.
Why do we even have them, then? Anyways, about five awards got announced, at least to press, coming off a commercial break at one point. They included favorite artist, “contemporary inspirational” (i.e. Christian, like winner Matthew West), and top soundtrack (Pitch Perfect.)
14. Country’s poking at becoming a real mainstream force again.
Besides Queen Taylor and all the other blonde, wavy-haired divas, dude country is coming back. Florida Georgia Line’s and Luke Bryan’s performances were as well-received as any of the others. They may not be hewing the total purist country line, but maybe their tactic is what’s going to interest new audiences in the genre.
15. The Internet wins!
Let’s talk about Miley’s closing performance. How cute was it? Instead of trying to shock people, Miley kept it highly rebloggable by singing “Wrecking Ball” (and singing it well!) in front of what was basically a huge cat gif, against a galaxy backdrop, that cried diamonds. Have we checked on Tumblr to make sure it didn’t just implode after that?
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.