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2009 American Music Awards: Grading the performances


Grading the performances at the 2009 American Music Awards, typos and all.

Janet Jackson. So, supposedly the American Music Awards were going to open with a performance from Janet, and that's technically what happened. Except Janet's performance was largely a commercial for her  "Number Ones," in which the singer, in a tan outfit that looked like it was ripped straight from the racks at REI, performed a medley of her hits. Imagine going to Amazon.com and clicking on a bunch of song samples from her two-disc set. That's largely what this performance was -- it's "Miss You Much"! and now it's "What Have You Done for Me Lately"! -- and if you were a Janet fan, you surely enjoyed this swift little medley. It was a safe and solid opening, and it gets a slight bonus for focusing entirely on Janet and not becoming another Michael tribute, so B-.

Daughtry. Boom! Nothing ignites the excitement of a three-hour award show like a mid-tempo rock ballad from heartland rockers Daughtry. "No, there's no life after you," leader Chris Daughtry sings through gritted teeth, trying to muster some importance out of these tepid lyrics and lightly strummed electric guitars. This type of song is typically saved for the moments during an arena show when a band says, "This one is for the ladies," and everyone goes and buys a hot dog. D


Shakira. Rather than perform "She Wolf," Shakira opts for her more recent single "Give It Up to Me," and turns in a performance worthy of Broadway's "STOMP." A little militant, and a little bit "Single Ladies," Shakira's minimalistic outfit matched the sparseness of the song. Her dancing didn't match the oddness of "She Wolf," but it was aggressive, and put the viewer on the defensive. B

Keith Urban. In case Shakira was too risque for you, don't worry -- the AMAs went right back to PG with Urban's good-time country rocker, "Kiss a Girl." The AMAs have gone back and forth between sexy and middle-of-the-road thus far, and Urban, sporting a slightly shiny Western shirt, kept things simple and to the point. "Say goodbye to all the rules," he sings in the song, but this country-crossover rocker never strays from them. B-

Kelly Clarkson. Yes, she had an album this year -- don't forget! -- and she sold it well tonight with a solid take on "Already Gone." Looking glamorous and sounding terrific, Clarkson was a classic throwback, a reminder of a time when "American Idol" didn't make all artists think they had to over-sing. B+

Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Dressed all spiffy in their finest formal wear, Keys and Jay-Z performed their pandering "Empire State of Mind." This was fine the first time we heard it on an award show -- at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it was fine at the World Series, but enough. It's worn out its welcome. Yes, we know New York is cool. Bars are open late and the public transportation is swell and all, but performing this love letter to New York in Los Angeles? We're tired of it. No more songs about cities. D Side-note: The introduction by Alex Rodriguez gets an F. And was he chewing gum? He's unprofessional off the field too.

The Black Eyed Peas. The Los Angeles popsters received a showcase performance, getting to offer live takes of "Meet Me Halfway" and "Boom Boom Pow," two of the most ubiquitous songs of the year. Viewers were reminded of this fact repeatedly, with their sales constantly hyped, and the Black Eyed Peas declaring themselves "the new kings" at the end of their performance. On record, "Meet Me Halfway" is all electronic futurism. Live, it was a bit messier, but there was plenty of eye candy in this extended performance. Crazy wigs and stereo outfits and some crowd-pleasing samples of C+C Music Factory and Nirvana. It was all pop-culture nonsense, and that's what the Black Eyed Peas excel at. B+

Rihanna. Ne-Yo told us that the "R" in her "Rated R" stands for either "remarkable" or "really, really sexy." Not quite sure if it completely hit both of those notes, but it was definitely over too soon. Performing in a sort of sci-fi junkyard, Rihanna came onstage in what could have been a torture device. Like Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna is definitely tapping into the cyborg pop mentality that's all the rage at the moment (nice spikes on the shoulders). She gave us snippets of two songs from "Rated R" -- "Wait Your Turn" and "Hard" -- but it would have been better to just stick with one. To her credit, she sounded sharp, metallic and owned the songs. The night's best performance thus far. A-


Carrie Underwood. Was it really just a week ago that this song was performed on the Country Music Assn. Awards? There were fewer nods to Nashville tonight, or maybe it was just too hard to focus on the slide guitar when Underwood was sporting some kind of half-dress, half-lingerie outfit, and the band was nowhere to be seen. This wasn't about the song; it was about her strutting around onstage. C

Lady Gaga. Coming onstage like a creature from "Pan's Labyrinth," Lady Gaga was all twitchy masked dance moves for this two-song medley. That was a good thing, as her "Bad Romance" is a bit of a mess, ultimately falling back on the retro-synth choruses that Gaga can't resist. There was broken glass and a flaming piano (no flaming bras, sadly), and Gaga showed off her pipes on "Speechless" as she got violent with some water bottles. Gaga makes for entertaining television, no doubt, but at some point she's going to need more than just crazy masks, pryo and fake blood. C+

Mary J. Blige. Her "I Am" isn't a knock-out on par with "I Can See in Color," but it's the type of ballad Blige can perfectly deliver in her sleep. On a night were futuristic flash and bare skin were all the rage, Blige kept it lovingly old school. B

Jennifer Lopez. Given an elaborate stage with a fake boxing ring, Lopez was hyped as "the main event." She wasn't. Her "comeback" single, "Louboutins," is a silly little trifle, and that may even be too complimentary. She sounded Auto-Tuned for the entire performance, and the title is a ridiculous word to repeat multiple times in a pop song. But it'll sell some shoes this holiday season, so maybe some retailers are stoked. D

Whitney Houston. She received a standing ovation, and it was deserved. With "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," Houston hollered and showed a bit of a rasp. If her instrument isn't what it once was, it can still silence a room. Compared to Blige a few songs ago, Houston was perhaps a bit over the top, but she belted until she was nearly out of breath. It was a powerful moment. But the angelic background lighting? Could have done without that. A-

Alicia Keys. Getting a chance to redeem herself for her earlier performance, Keys drops her new single, "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," in her second performance of the evening, touching on a bit of '70s R&B vibe. Her gold-draped jacket will dominate the gossip sites Monday, and the single's good too. Keys doesn't belt at the top of her lungs here, and though I prefer her when she's at the piano (she sat down and played in the song's final moments), she's softly restrained for much of the song. The background dancers, copping some vintage "West Side Story" Broadway moves, were cute to boot. B+

Eminem and 50 Cent. The censors worked overtime in this collaboration for "Crack a Bottle," as there was more silence than music. That about sums up the performance as well, as this was all offensive swagger. But it didn't shock -- it was simply kind of annoying. D

Timbaland, SoShy and Nelly Furtado. This song needed a little more Nelly Furtado and a little less Timbaland, but the producer-rapper certainly keeps good company. This slinky dance-floor cut excels when newbie SoShy and Furtado trade vocals, and hits a bit of a wall when Timbaland controls the microphone. B

Green Day. Here to perform recent single "21 Guns." It's the least exciting of the singles from "21st Century Breakdown," but it does show off the band's more theatrical, serious side. With all its stops and starts, and on-the-sleeve crooning from Billie Joe Armstrong, it certainly feels important, but it never quite takes off. B-

Adam Lambert. You wouldn't have seen this on "American Idol," a show that has broadcast its share of monstrosities. Borrowing some of Rihanna's shoulder spikes and torture devices, Lambert dragged women around onstage and got frisky with dudes, all in what seemed like an overly calculated way to show himself off as some sort of glam-gone-dangerous artist -- and to instantly distance Lambert from the family-friendly "Idol" fare. It all would have been forgivable if the song actually had a hook. Lambert has the voice, and a charisma that stands out in today's pop music landscape, but this was provocation by the numbers. D

. -Todd Martens

Photos: Shakira, Lady Gaga and Carrie Underwood. Credits: Associated Press


The 2009 American Music Awards red carpet

2009 American Music Awards: Scorecard

American Music Awards: Three reasons to watch, three reasons to avoid

Grammys 2010: An early look at album of the year contenders (Part 1)

Grammys 2010: An early look at album of the year (Part 2)

Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson dominate American Music Awards nominations 

Rihanna, Green Day added to American Music Awards lineup

Guess who's getting Grammy nominations?

Adam Lambert kicks off rehearsals for American Music Awards

Comments () | Archives (110)


Jennifer Lopez was the best performance of the night.

She killed it ! :D

J.Lo Rocks

UR kdding right..... JANET... a B-... REALLY?... now I know that everyone in california is HIGH.... That ICON is 43 and is the only one who danced till she sweated all over that stage... SHE GAVE MAJOR FACE!! AND SNATCHED MANY A WIG...... She didnt have to flash her cooch...cuss... or fall FLAT ON HER ASS!! but you gotta love haters like yourself that just means she was SOOO GOOD you couldnt help but to hate so HATE ON PIMP....

the reviewer could have at least PAID ATTENTION...those were LIQUOR bottles not water bottles...the song is about a woman willing to give up everything "i'll never write another song...won't even sing along" to save the man she loves from addiction (alcohol)...obviously Lady G is wasted on this sub-par non-intelligent so called 'critic'

This is for everyone saying that jay-z & alicia keep performing the same song. Everyone does that. that is the song that IS STILL rotating on the airwaves THAT is the song that everyone knows. THAT is the song that they get nominated for , so why wouldn't they perform it. Beyonce does the same thing. Single Ladies, Crazy In Love, all of her songs. Why would artists perform new songs that what their fans to sing along to the songs that are being played. duh

You guys are just haters, giving Jennifer Lopez a D really? Have you even seen the dancing and the energy in the performance, you guys are lame. And giving Rihanna an A have you even heard her vocals? And she didn't even dance. So disappointed in you guys

I tuned in too late to see Janet's performance --but at 10:34 p.m. I wish I'd tuned in earlier. I'm bored.

You are supposed to grade the performance, not the frequency of said performance! Jay Z and A Keys were by far the best, voice and show. Who cares if they did the song before? I could see them perform over and over

Alicia Keyes was outstanding as was Black Eyed Peas. Guess my favorites--Sharika was good...Whitney Houston could have stayed home and that lighting is always terrible on her when she performs and tonight worse than ever.


"Gaga makes for entertaining television, no doubt, but at some point she's going to need more than just crazy masks, pryo and fake blood. C+"


I finally had to turn off what was (other than a couple of performances) one of the most disgustingly vulgar lack of talent I have seen in many years. It is beyond me how this kind of garbage can be foisted on the general public. I can only hope that parents have the character and conscience to do exactly what I did!!!!

We still hope that Carrie Underwood will save her hometown movie theater. I don't know her personally, but I know that she is a wonderful person.

Lady Gaga can sing and she is clearly a performance artist.
Whitney Houston was great and I like the fact that she is singing about her crazy life that shocked us all.

Can we talk about how weird Germaine Jackson is - thanking Allah? Oh poor Michael - never preached your religion and there goes your crazy brother dissing you and most of all - your mother. I'm not even religious and I can't help but notice that disrespectful moment.

Well done Todd!! Thanks

Carrie Underwood's performance was an A+! It rocked! What is with you haters at LA TIMES? You constantly trash Carrie Underwood yet she sings circles around your precious Taylor Swift, who can't stay on key to save her life!

Carrie's performance was one of the best of the night!


Most discuting thing I ever watched, never again,

Jay-z and Alicia was the best act of the night! Carrie Underwood always sounds great!

The heat goes on for the Annual American Music Awards 2009. My best bet is Michael Jackson (memoir), Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga Will be the one who will dominate the stage today. Though, I expect gaga to do some "creepy" performance again as usual.

Hooray: http://bit.ly/american-music-awards-live-performance

Shakira is just sexy as usual :D

Ugh, who wrote this review? Rihanna is already a "has been". She cannot sing or dance. Shakira and Janet did great and deserve an A. I can't see what is so hot about Jay-Z. I see absolutely no talent where this person is concerned. Don't know why he is famous other than being married to Beyonce another D grade singer. All these "artists" are hyped and hyped by the media and are no better at singing or performing than someone like me singing only in the shower.

Lipsynching of Janet Jackson, Shakira and Lopez was shameless and the author of this article didn't even notice it?
What a moron!

Somebody has to comment on Lamberts fall mid song.. he recovered, but should have stayed down.

Janet smiling -- it's the big exclamation point!

I thought the AMA was supposed to be about music and a classy show. I watched along with our kids and was very outraged at the ending thought that was really class less and inappropriate.

Stop giving Rihanna a sympathy grade A.
She didn't do anything but walk around the stage. She's never been known for her great presence on stage and tonight was no different.
An "A" really?
Her vocals were extremely poor as well on some parts. Again, she's not known for live vocals either.
Gaga sang live with amazing vocals on speechless a song she wrote herself unlike Rihanna,and Gaga played the piano, so there is more to her than just fake blood and fire.
She was overall better than Rihanna.

Okay i didn't watch the entire thing. most of it was boring but i love love love Adam Lambert. Sure he fell but he recovered nicely and from what i understand was not the only one to fall. His performance was definatly something that will be remembered. Can not wait for his album on Tuesday. SEXY!!!

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