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2009 American Music Awards: Grading the performances

Shakira_live_amas

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

Lady_gaga_amas_ap

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_amas_ap

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

RELATED: 

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)

WTF R U TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EMINEM AND 50 CENT WERE THE BEST THERE!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!! BESIDES THEY SHOULDNT HAVE PUT THOSE STUPID CENSORS IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!! Who gives u the right to try to grade theese great singers when u guys can keep ur comments to ur self stupid raters. And i bet u guys suck at singing. So dont ever try to rate anything ever again.

I love Carrie Underwood! Janet was fantastic as usual. And as far as Adam Lambert goes, his show was disgusting. He is the only one making a big deal out of his sexuality. This was his first serious appearance since Idol and this is what he does? Uh-Uh...not cool. It wasn't about his music or voice at all. I'm sorry but that's what the music industry is about...the music. Gross is gross regardless of who is doing it.

These grades are horrible as were some of the performances last night! The writers OBVIOUSLY are grading these performances based on the stories and plotlines ( comebacks??!) to some of the acts namely rihanna and whitney. Rihanna could be one of the hardest people to watch because she brings no fire to the stage, the songs she chose to sing are the least likeable songs of her new cd. Whitney did not sound that great but she at least knows how to bring the drama. Everyone had theatrics in there performance so don't say lady gaga has to come from behind them, her theatrics are just more entertaining and she doesn't need a backstory or any pity to garner praise.

Ummmm Mary J Blige is a HATER!!!! She was serioulsly hatin' on Janet!! How are you gonna hate on JANET JACKSON, she's been bringing it since the late 80's . Mary I'm soo disappointed in you!! Your too old for that.

I was horrified by the performance of Adam Lambert and I felt the show was all about selling sex instead of music. You had lots of teenage children watching this show and I think most people will not watch next year if this continues. It has been the talk all over at work and I think the American people are tired of this trashy music and sexual performances. You don't have to sell your body if your music is worth a damn.

I didnt even watch it an I know dem grades are wrong especially rihanna own she cant sing she needs an F ALLLLLLLLLLL THE WAY

JANET SHOULD GET AN A, AT HER AGE SHE LOOKS, SOUNDS AND STILL MOVES GOOD. OMG I LIKE RIHANNA BUT SHE DID SO BAD AND YOU GIVE HER AN A OMG HAHAHA ARE WE WATCHIN THE SAME THING? BLACKEYE PEAS WAS NOT ON POINT AND THE VOICES DID NOT GO WITH THE MUSIC AT ALL. NEXT TIME IF YOU NEED HELP RATING I WILL HELP YOU.

JANET DESERVES HER RESPECT, SHE IS 43 AND CAN STILL MOVE AND GROOVE WITH THE 20YEARS OLDS. SO INSTEAD OF PEOPLE HATEING, SHOULD SHOW LOVE

what the hell? this isnt high school , you cant just RATE people.
janet jackson was the best though :) and rihanna cant sing for shizzzz.

LADY GAGA HAD THE BEST PERFORMANCE!!!

 
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