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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)

Adam Lambert's performance made me sick. If he wants to display his sexuality let it be in the privacy of his own bedroom not in front of millions of Americans. This is local T.V. not porno T.V. My children were watching this and they think that he is repulsive and he should be ashamed of representing America on American Idol.

Ok 1st Janet was WONDERFUL. I mean isn't she one of the few people who actually performed... ie danced and moved at all? She sounded great and looked great. Shakira was H-O-T as usual. Rihanna...hmmmm did she lip synch. you could barely hear what the words to her song were. No dancing at all. Just a lame performance. Jayz and Alecia Keys was a decent show. Maybe a B-. Lady Gaga and BEP were good. Not a big fan but they did a good job.

I watched tonight's show and specifically wanted to see Adam Lambert perform. My 13 year old loves him and thinks he is an amazing performer. She went to bed early and asked me to tape it for her. I did tape it, however I will not let my daughter watch this type of trash. I know he wants to break out and show the world his dangerous side, but why alienate and entire population of kids to do it? His trashy display was worthy of the almost silent "golf clap" he received from a very uncomfortable looking audience. I would imagine this will hinder sales of his album. I certainly will not let my daughter download his video, nor will I allow her to see him in concert until he cleans up his act. Trash...

Lady Gaga seems to resemble Dee Snyder too much for it to be a coincidence. A love child from the set of one of his movies perhaps?

Ohhhh, Adam, what have you done? I am an AVID Adam fan, love the new album streaming elsewhere, and think this man has pipes that compare with anyone's, but why such over-the-top lewdness on TV? I think his vocals really suffered and the "fall" was obviously supposed to be a roll but his vocals really faltered there. I think he blew a huge chance to really garner a lot of new fans and promote his album. IMHO, for what it's worth.

I have always been a HUGE fan of Adam Lambert. But after his performance on the music awards tonight, I am Thoroughly DISGUSTED with him. My 10 year old daughter was allowed to stay up to see him, as she also is a screaming fan. WOW I had to cover her eyes, so she would not be exposed to such explicit behavior! I have lost all respect for Adam at this point, and, am no longer a fan. What a shame, an amazing artist and he has resorted to this kind of performance. In my opinion as a parent this was not suitable for television, especially when children watch these awards. Shame on the people who allowed this to be shone on the music awards. I will never tune into the music awards again!!!!

Oh! ADAM LAMBONE! What happened? You sucked!

Rihanna A-? she was horrible.

U have got to be kiding me! GaGa was a gag me! It was the American croch awards. Get out of the grave!! Carrie, get new people, and believe in your voice!! There was some good stuff- clips of Michael Jackson. There is hope, Taylor swift won for her music--"music awards"
a clue, how many songs did they silence? One song was almost completely blanked out. I am discontinuing my donations to the arts, really do not want my money to go to supporting this trash! I encourage others to do the same! In such terrible economic times we have such horrible music! No inspiration or entertainment from the music community.

I agree with most of the ratings, although i would have down-graded all of them at least 1 letter. There wasn't a single stand-out for me despite the zombie/vampire/fighter/futuristic motifs favored by most of the artists. Now i remember why I never watch this--i was drawn in by the name performers. The sound also sucked making sorry songs completely unhookable.

Watched most of the American Music Awards, and I have one question:
Where was the music?
I heard lots of noise, saw lots of special effects, heard talking, screaming
and shrieking, but music?
Not so much.

Janet Jackson looked like she was wearing MC Hammer's old pants. The
crotch was so low, I thought she had a loaded diaper on.
Daughtry's song was as boring as they come. Embarassing!
Too many dancers, confusing sets, a huge mish-mash of junk.
With the exception of Kelly Clarkson, there was nothing musical about
the entire ear-popping show.
Whitney Houston's song - the lyrics were trite, the song less than mediocre.
And she doesn't ever soar. Or smile.

The best part of the entire program was turning it off and listening
to the silence that ensued.

What a classy show. I don't know how they will top this one. There is only one thing, Adam Lambert. I know that he can pull it off, but I am really disappointed in that he used it for this show. I'm not prudish it was just rude. Hey Whitney, you're great and I'm proud of you. Good Luck to you.

Is anyone shocked that the music industry sucks big time. I wouldn't pay a nickel to see any of these acts. If you do you're a sucker. You are paying for lip-synching and the "performers" are laughing at you all the way to the bank.

Adam we so disappointed it you. What a tasteless performance. I thought you had more class. Shame on you!

Kelly Clarkson has a beautiful voice and was by far - the best...
New York...monotonous and long winded-
Shakira, always hot, and finally getting the American respect she deserved 1- years ago.

The fact you gave Rihanna an A, Makes you loose any and all credibility. I thought she was one of the worst act of tonight and she sounded horrible, I mean just horrible. I will give Janet, Whitney, Kelly, Shakira the prize tonight.

Was Todd actually really watching? I do not see any mention of J Lo's little spill after she walked up the dancers back and fell on her butt we she jumped off their backs. Did anyone outside me see that?

Whitney RULES. Pray she never goes back to the drugs or Bobbie Brown Sugar, altho' I think she still loves him and misses him-- insanity-- same thing over and over. Everyone else is lame as hell. I did miss Shakira, but I'm sure she was great. Green Day needs to flippin' liven up-- they were killing me. Maybe that's the plan. Lady G-- put some clothes on-- I'm just glad her hair didn't catch on fire! J Lo-- whatup w/that stupid costume? Consult with Colonel Sanders-- how to thin the thighs! Eminem-- very good. Rarely watch TV and certainly not this stuff-- but, it was fun and I appreciate that a friend alerted me to it! :) Have a good night people.

Was Todd actually really watching? I see no mention of J Lo's little spill. Did anyone outside me see J Lo walk up her dancers back and when she jumped off, she fell on her tush and jumped up quickly.

My dear Adam-this was your BIG chance to pick up so many more fans (who do not watch American Idol). I am so disappointed in your song(?!) from tonight. It was so disgusting-you do not have to do such lewd things!! You have a beautiful voice-let it be your power. I hope my Granddaughters were not watching tonight if they were i hope their mother's covered their eyes!!
Carrie you rocked the house tonight!!

Michael Jackson sold more albums this year than any other artist nominated with his Number Ones album - including Taylor Swift. His This Is It film broke box office records, he became the first artist since 1970 to have a number movie and number album at the same time, and the concerts, if he had lived, would have been ground breaking. He was creating things for those concerts that have NEVER been done or seen before. And Michael sold out 50 shows at the 02 Area (that's over 1 millions tickets) and yet another record for selling out the most shows at the 02 Arena. The next closet was 30 shows - and there was demand for Michael to perform 80 shows. No one comes close to Michael's talent and longevity. The show mentioned that Eminem has sold 80 million records total - Michael's Thriller album alone has sold over 100 million copies and he's sold over 750 million albums. When he passed away, he was working on TWO albums, a pop/r&b album and an instrumental. No one compares to Michael. Michael is a LEGEND and was the Artist of the Year. Even Taylor couldn't believe she won. All of Michael's music is TIMELESS and is better than anything else out today. I think Taylor is cute, sweet and talented but no way do I think she deserved to win artist of the year - and neither did she. However, I have to thank Taylor for the heartfelt things she said about Michael. Thank you Taylor.

Looks like JLO finally got knocked out- on her ass! Her performance as a so-called singer sucked as usual and her dance routine was right out of In Living Color. Did anyone catch the tantrum as she walked backstage- oh and tripped.

Adam Lamberts performance was totally innappropriate for LIVE TV and was disgusting to watch..keep it in the bedroom Adam, we don't want to see it! Shame on the AMA and ABC for not editing his performance before millions of children saw it..id rather had heard the rappers cussing than Adam's raunchy act. An American Idol he is NOT!

Whitney Houston kind of disappointed me..im glad she is back and has gotten herself back on track, she looked good.. but her voice has been ruined by the drugs, she just isn't the same Whitney!

Taylor Swift...at least she was in London when receiving her awards so Kanye couldn't run up on stage and take them away from her saying "they should have went to Michael" :)

Anyone notice that the dances had absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics?
It was just the same moves, over and over again - spread legs, pelvic thrusts,
anything with a sexual connotation.

It got old real quick.



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