Three More Thoughts on the 2013 AMAs

JT

Even though I live-blogged the entire three-hour behemoth last night, I have lots to say about the 2013 American Music Awards. The live-blog format is necessarily limiting, and I’ve revised or expanded many of my opinions since the show aired. With that in mind, here are three big takeaways from this awards show (one of the silliest around, don’t forget.)

1. Justin Timberlake was robbed (by me).
After watching his performance of “Drink You Away” several more times, Justin Timberlake has won me over yet again. This time, he did it by loosening up more than he has all year, allowing his vocals to waver just a bit, in keeping with the song’s freewheeling spirit. This was a romp, and an electric one at that – the audience’s rousing ovation at the end says it all. Plus, I now think Justin was smart for keeping the vibe light and rowdy after a year of excellent performances saturated in pretention and luxury.

Also, I’d watch a six-hour-long Tennessee Kids concert sans Timberlake. No one has ever enjoyed playing backup to Justin Timberlake more than those cats.

(Skip to the 4:17 mark for a spectacular moment of vocal firepower. Get ’em, Justin!)

2. The “deep” performances had very little depth – and that’s OK.
On second viewing, Lady Gaga and R. Kelly‘s “Do What You Want” was merely a literal interpretation of the song’s themes, including the hypocritical exploitation of women and the sexualization of modern female pop artists. Not much more to analyze, but the vocals ultimately justified the the theatrics even if there wasn’t much more beneath the surface.

Miley Cyrus‘ performance continues to strike me as an intriguing (though possibly unintentional) commentary on our recent fascination with the extratextual elements of awards show performances. What is she saying? What does that mean? Ultimately, nothing, and that’s the point. Sometimes a cat is just a cat.

3. Simplicity and musicality won the night.
I’ve got no problem with effective spectacle, but most of last night’s showstoppers fell short of stopping the show. Katy Perry‘s “Unconditionally” was far too busy and concealed little musical firepower underneath the (potentially racist?) business swirling around her. TLC‘s mini-reunion (plus Lil Mama) inspired little enthusiasm on the Internet, surprising given the recent hubbub around the band’s VH1 movie. Rihanna‘s enormous backup band dwarfed her middling vocals during her unnecessary “Diamonds” retread. Even Imagine Dragons, known for filling stadiums and rousing crowds, was unmemorable during its energetic stint.

By contrast, the night’s subtler moments were the most satisfying. A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera harmonized beautifully on “Say Something” (the current #1 song on iTunes), and as Billboard‘s Bill Werde pointed out on Twitter, Aguilera never threatened to dwarf her diminutive co-stars, as she’s been wont to do in the past. Kendrick Lamar kept his knives at home and stuck to the smooth rhymes of his breakout hits.

And the night’s biggest winner, in my mind, was Nickelodeon-star-no-longer Ariana Grande, who demonstrated the virtues of a refined vocal instrument, a suave backing band, and a lovely melody. No twerking in sight. Stay classy, Ariana.

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