Although she was nervous about kicking off Sunday night’s (November 21) American Music Awards, Rihanna took the “challenge” and ran with it. Sporting crimson spirals and a skimpy two-piece, the Barbadian songbird turned out energetic renditions of Loud tracks “What’s My Name?” and “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)” revved up with tropical touches like a drum circle and dancers in fringe-laden outfits. The songstress’ hip-twisting, percussion-heavy set scored a standing ovation from the star-packed crowd.
Rihanna’s set established the tone for the rest for the evening, which was marked by similarly epic stage productions. After picking up the award for Pop Music – Favorite Band, Duo or Group, the Black Eyed Peas performed their single from The Beginning, “The Time (Dirty Bit),” hanging out in oscillating Technicolor boxes as dancers sporting cubed headpieces head-banged below.
Enrique Iglesias rocked his bawdy banger “Tonight” for the first time, swapping out the potty-mouthed lyrics for network-TV-friendly lines, crooning, “Please excuse me/ I don’t mean to be rude/ But tonight I’m loving you.” The Spanish superstar got the help of marching-band drummers and Cuban rapper Pitbull for “I Like It.”
Teen queen Miley Cyrus followed up with a subdued performance. Hitting the stage in a long, dark gown — a far cry from the teeny, skin-baring looks she often favors in concert — Cyrus sang “Forgiveness and Love” surrounded by tons of lit candles.
Diddy-Dirty Money took the stage for “Coming Home,” a midtempo, introspective offering from their long-awaited Last Train to Paris debut. Sporting slick all-black everything, hip-hop mogul Diddy dropped lines like “What if my son stares with a face like my own?/ And says he wants to be like me when he’s grown?/ Sh–, but I ain’t finish growing,” as his son Christian Combs looked on from the audience with a smile.
Onetime “American Badass” Kid Rock turned in a low-key, acoustic performance of “Times Like These,” a tribute to his hometown of Detroit.
Katy Perry ripped the stage with a firepower-laden performance of “Firework” backed by pyro-wielding dancers. Heralded by a chorus of young boys sporting sparkly red bow ties, Perry descended from the stage in an enormous star and belted the pop anthem before ripping off her dress to reveal a crimson sparkly jumpsuit. Perry finished up the performance in true diva style, as her dancers hoisted her above their heads.
Although most of the action took place during the performances, Nicki Minaj punched up Rihanna’s acceptance for Soul/ Rhythm & Blues Music – Favorite Female Artist by loudly plugging the release of her Pink Friday debut. The singer took the cheeky move in stride, gushing “Don’t we all wish we could have green hair and make it look good like Nicki?” when she took the mic and playfully patting Minaj on the behind as they headed backstage.
Pint-size “Whip My Hair” singer Willow Smith, rocking a yellow-and-gray outfit, introduced her “big brother” Justin Bieber, who took to the ivories for “Pray.” Flanked by a huge choir, the teen phenom’s impassioned rendition of the ballad scored a standing ovation.
Legendary rockers Bon Jovi’s set list spanned decades of hits as the foursome played their latest single “What Do You Got?” followed by classic stadium-rock smashes “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”
Increasingly svelte reality star Kelly Osbourne introduced a pregnant Pink , whose blossoming bump made its stage debut. Even with child, the pop rocker powered through “Raise Your Glass,” as a bevy of dancers twirled around candy-colored ramps, and brightly hued graffiti lit up monitors on the old-school hip-hop-themed set. The songstress did switch up her performance in one way: the famously acrobatic performer left the tumbling and harness-bound tricks to the dancers.
Ne-Yo pulled off the “theatrical” performance he promised, cranking out a medley of Libra Scale tracks. Sporting his familiar gentlemanly attire of a suit, tie and fedora, the singer and his company of dancers nimbly tore through songs like “Champagne Life,” “One in a Million” and “Beautiful Monster,” as scenes from his videos added cinematic flourish to the set. The singer also showed off his dramatic side — and his pecs — by ripping his shirt open at the end.
Country Music – Favorite Female Artist winner Taylor Swift took a vampy detour from good-girl fashion sensibility when she accepted her hardware in a clingy, silvery mini with her trademark golden spirals blown pin-straight. The country darling later manned the piano for an intimate performance of “Back to December,” shaking up the track by folding in some of the lyrics to OneRepublic’s smash “Apologize.”
When T-Mobile Breakthrough Artist Justin Bieber picked up his second award of the night, the teen superstar unexpectedly thanked a legendary entertainer for paving the way.
“I wanna thank Michael Jackson, because without Michael Jackson, none of us would be here,” the Biebs said.
Christina Aguilera debuted a saucy number from her forthcoming onscreen diva-fest alongside music legend Cher, “Burlesque.” Strutting around an old-timey peep-show set, the singer and several limber, leggy, lingerie-clad backup dancers brought attitude to “Express (Burlesque).”
Soul/ Rhythm & Blues Music – Favorite Male Artist winner Usher turned out a rave-worthy set with dance-music kingpins Swedish House Mafia for “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love.” DJs helmed the wheels of steel and neon-clad revelers enveloped the stage as the veteran superstar hit sharp, athletic moves.
Pop collective Muse picked up hardware for Alternative Rock Music Favorite Artist, and following Usher protégé Justin Bieber’s lead, gave a random shout-out to another dead pop-culture game-changer: Charles Darwin.
Train frontman Patrick Monahan brought the sparkle in bedazzled skinny jeans, and several ladies sporting “Soul Sister” T-shirts hit the stage for the band’s cheery hit “Hey Soul Sister.”
Pop hit factory Ke$ha indulged her inner rock star for a darkly atmospheric medley that included Animal joint “Take It Off” and Cannibal track “We R Who We R.” Donning a studded leather jacket and leg-baring bodysuit, the singer smashed a guitar emblazoned with the word “hate.”
Artist of the Year went to teen sensation Justin Bieber, who by that time was very familiar with collecting AMA trophies and chose to share the moment with Usher, whom he dubbed “not only my mentor but my best friend.” The two sweetly embraced before heading backstage.
The night closed with an epic performance from a crew of artists once known for their fan-hysteria-inducing powers. Chart-busting boy-banders New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys played a medley of some of their major hits. All nine fellas switched between BSB and NKOTB jams like “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “Hangin’ Tough,” sporting club-ready looks and working synchronized moves. The collective closed the set with “Larger Than Life” — a move likely designed to signal that the boys are back.
What did you think of the American Music Awards? Let us know in the comments!