Billboard Music Awards: A few observations
The 2012 Billboard Music Awards, which aired live for East Coasters from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas Sunday night, earned the right to be called the most awkwardly awesome three hours (yes, three?!) of music to hit TV so far this year.
Raucous pop jokers LMFAO stripped down to their undies in the opening, Whitney Houston was beautifully feted, Taylor Swift was shocked to get yet another trophy, Justin Bieber outperformed Usher and Chris Brown, and platinum-selling pop stars either played karaoke or mimed their way through performances of their own hits.
Like the American Music Awards and Video Music Awards, the statuettes that are handed out don’t quite matter here. Example: British powerhouse Adele collected 12 of the 46 statues handed out and didn't even show up, making the telecast largely a performance spectacle (seriously, producers could easily have chopped an hour out of this show).
A few, er, observations from the evening:
Whitney Houston’s touching tribute. The passing of pop titan Whitney Houston on the eve of the Grammys left producers reeling with how to appropriately address her death. They delivered a beautifully understated moment courtesy of Jennifer Hudson, and the Billboard awards followed suit when it tapped another “American Idol” alum, Jordin Sparks, to lead the segment honoring Houston.
Sparks, who plays Houston’s daughter in the singer’s final film, “Sparkle,” delivered an elegant take on Houston’s iconic torch song, “I Will Always Love You,” after John Legend’s reserved rendition of “The Greatest Love of All.” Houston’s family, including her daughter Bobbi Kristina, were on hand to accept the Millennium award on her behalf (their presence got headlines for more dramatic reasons). Hopefully, BET and MTV took notes for their upcoming award shows.
Just one request, now that Sparks and Hudson have deftly tackled that song: Let's dig deeper into Houston’s catalog for more unexpected musical selections.
Gotta give it to Cee Lo Green. After his recent breakout year saw him cross over to the pop charts and become hotly in demand (“The Voice,” a Vegas residency, numerous endorsement deals), Green made good on his promise of returning to his roots as the front man of Southern hip-hop outfit Goodie Mob.
Their performance of "Flight to Win" was one of the night’s highlights due to Green’s keen eye for glitzy spectacle -– they tapped Jean Sok, a one-legged dancer from Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour. Just when it couldn’t get better they launched into a glorious tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch with the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).”
Donna Summer deserved better. Though Houston’s tribute left this writer sated, I was dumbfounded with what producers cobbled together for Donna Summer. Granted, they didn't have much time to plan, as Summer passed away on Thursday. Major kudos to Natasha Bedingfield for stepping in to tackle Summer’s classic “Last Dance,” but for those of us at home (and not at the MGM) -- running an ABC promo over Bedingfield’s vocals before that premature cut to commercial was cold and callous.
Thankfully, hosts Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, stars of the sitcom “Modern Family,” were able to give Bee Gee Robin Gibb, who passed away earlier in the day, an uninterrupted moment of silence.
No love for Dick Clark? What gives? Sure, the man created the AMA’s, which gives the Billboard Awards a run for their money when it comes to award-shows-that-aren’t-really-about-the-awards. But the guy is too much an icon in music to be just overlooked. Unless, of course, I missed something during the opening LMFAO medley?
Cat got your tongue? Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and Taylor Swift have something in common besides being cute faces with more chart power than vets twice their age: None of them should be allowed to accept awards. Not that they shouldn’t win them, it's just become painfully awkward to watch them accept.
Swift’s “Really? I won?” adorkable shtick has become a stale joke, and producers made it worse by having Zooey Deschanel, another “watch me be adorable and quirky” ingenue, present her with the woman of the year trophy. Despite Swift's consistent surprise, she always manages to spit out an eloquent speech. We just aren’t sure why she hasn’t helped her peers -– namely Brown and Bieber.
Brown, as always, could barely form an actual sentence when he collected the R&B artist statue, while Bieber delivered the longest stream-of-consciousness ramble when he attempted to thank everyone and anyone for his social artist of the year trophy, an award that in no stretch of the imagination should actually be handed out during the telecast.
Shameless plugging. Promoting your upcoming project at an awards show is expected and welcomed, but for those not lucky enough to get a performance slot to premiere a single, we have to find craftier ways to promote your upcoming works than saying “my new album [insert title here] is in stores next week.” A few artists mistook presenting duties as personal commercials, and it was pitiful to watch. And, no, I won’t be buying your album, despite how great you said it was as you presented an award to someone else.
Please hire Pink to host next year. Our favorite anti-pop star has been on maternity leave for some time, but if you ever need a lesson in snark, follow her Twitter posts during any award show for her unfiltered comments. She really should consider hosting one of these things in the future, as music award shows have strayed from poking fun at the general craziness of those onstage.
Favorite quips? During Brown’s dance-heavy (and lazily mimed) performance of “Turn Up the Music,” she wrote on Twitter, “one day if i lipsync, i hope i do it as well as him....” The dig was even co-signed by her husband, Carey Hart, who remarked “Im pretty sure i saw my wife did that same performance, but she was 3 months pregnant and actually sang the song” in reference to Pink’s similarly BMX-themed AMA performance back in 2010.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: Top, LMFAO; middle, Jordin Sparks. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images via ABC