Sure, the guys performed on the show Sunday evening, but it was the women who blazed.
Are guys even making relevant pop music right now? That's a ridiculous question, obviously, but after Sunday's American Music Awards telecast, it seems almost reasonable. Though plenty of men performed during this roundup of both trending and reliable chart toppers, the show's heat emanated from the feminine sphere.
[FOR THE RECORD: A review of the American Music Awards in Monday's Calendar section incorrectly said Whitney Houston sang "I Turn to You" on the show. Houston sang "I Didn't Know My Own Strength."]
Lady Gaga playing a blazing piano, Whitney Houston giving a touchingly rough-edged vocal performance, a startled Taylor Swift grabbing the top prize from the spectral grip of Michael Jackson -- this show wasn't just another ladies' night: It marked a notable shift in American pop music.
The AMAs always offer spectacle, in part because the awards themselves feel less meaningful than either the Grammys or more genre-specific fetes like the Country Music Assn. Awards. Won in a public vote after nominations are made according to radio airplay and retail sales, these prizes always have seemed somehow less prestigious than those determined by industry insiders or artistic peers.
What's fun about the AMAs is the breadth of the show, as top draws in many genres work to generate the most glitz in what amounts to a pop free-for-all.
This year, rock bands such as Daughtry and Green Day played and sang earnestly, and Eminem (assisted by 50 Cent) and Jay-Z (partnering with Alicia Keys) both rapped at the top of their game. Yet these moments felt like standard fare on a buffet overflowing with more scintillating choices.
It's not that rock or rap no longer speak to the mainstream; Eminem's album rather quietly became one of the year's bestsellers, as did the latest from Kings of Leon, who were nominated for artist of the year yet did not perform Sunday evening.