Pop & Hiss

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American Music Awards: Performances as they happen

November 23, 2008 |  5:14 pm

Pop & Hiss brings you instant reviews of all the performances at the 2008 American Music Awards, typos and all.

For a complete list of winners, click here.

For The Envelope's best & worst moments of the American Music Awards, click here.

Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Kathleen Battle: "Superwoman": And that brings the show to close with a lackluster bang. The AMAs would have been better to end with Kayne and his giant neon pin-ball machine. But the final performance kept in with the tone of the show, which was ballad-heavy, and offered few moments of excitement (see Kanye, or even Miley Cyrus). Keys, ultimately, won favorite album, and expect her "As I Am" to rack-up the Grammy nominations on Dec. 3. Queen Latifah added some much-welcome firepower to the ballad, but the dip into opera with Battle was an awkward award-show pairing that shouldn't have happened. C+

Sarah McLachlan and Pink: "In the Arms of An Angel": Go ahead, just try not to feel sad during this tune -- the musical equivalent of a Hallmark Precious Moments figurine. D

Kanye West: "Heartless": Just because the man is going all electronic is his vocal approach doesn't mean he's giving up the neon. Performing in front of a Las Vegas-meets-"Tron" back-drop, "Heartless" is epic in its minimalism -- it's whistling beat barely holding West in check. Half rapping and half ranting, anytime West would try to cut loose, the digital effects would rein his vocals in. It's the sound of heartache, geek style, complete with a Dr. Evil reference. A

Natasha Bedingfield, and then straight into Rihanna: The performances are coming quick now. First we get Bedingfield for no apparent reason (a favor to a record label? a reminder to Grammy voters?), and her "Pocketful of Sunshine" was a bucketful of forgettable fluff, especially coming after Lennox. Rihanna was cold and cool, as always, but love or hate "Good Girl Gone Bad," and it's not really an album worthy of eight singles, as is evidenced by the slow drama of "Rehab." Together: C-

Annie Lennox: "Why": And that's how a ballad is done. Lennox brought some grace to the AMAs, even if it was just to start  the hype for a 2009 greatest hits package. One of the starkest performances of the night, but also one of the most tension-filled. Lennox gripped the piano, and her vocal might briefly pierced some higher ranges but never gave in to flash. A

Surprise guest grade: Justin Timberlake. A surprise? Really? Is there an award show Justin Timberlake doesn't appear on? We like the guy, but: D

The Pussycat Dolls: Medley: Some spontaneity: One of the Dolls couldn't get her jacket off on a twirling stripper-pole move, and we'll refrain from Pussycat Doll/stripper jokes. While we no longer need to hear "When I Grow Up," a sympathy: C+

The Jonas Brothers: "Tonight": With its fizzy guitar riffs, the Jonas Brothers, like Cyrus, gave the show a jolt of caffeine. But Miley fared better. "Tonight" goes down easy, but it's kind of a mess, it's stop-and-start riffs and underlying electronics result only in aimless schizophrenia. C

Beyonce: "Single Ladies": Beyonce has a checkered award-show past. There was the Sugarland disaster at last year's AMAs, and then there was the weird spoken-word thing she did at this year's Grammys. But no such problems here. "Single Ladies" is a blast, and Beyonce and her dancing team are a joy to watch -- so much so that the fact that they don't even try to sing the tune isn't even bothersome. B+

The Fray: "You Found Me": Apparently the Fray are back, and I'm sure this whining, warbling ballad will inspire some tears on a very serious episode of "90210" in the near future. D

Mariah Carey: "I Stay in Love": As Mariah has dialed-down the theatrics, her ballads have come a bit back down to the earth. Mariah's restrained and professional on "Stay in Love," but the AMAs are seriously dragging with mid-tempo rockers and ballads. B-

Coldplay: "Lovers in Japan": Performing on a stage that looks like it's being taken over by a ticker-tape-parade was cute and pretty when Coldplay did it at the MTV Movie Awards, but hopefully Coldplay will have a new award-show get-up in time for Grammy. "Lovers in Japan" builds to a nice gallop, and Chris Martin -- even when he sounds slightly sloppy -- is still easy-going comfort, but the song doesn't quite hit the arena-rock magic that it hints at. C+


Miley Cyrus: "Fly on the Wall": So what does it say about pop music in 2008 when performances from such vaunted and hyped major-label artists as Leona Lewis, Taylor Swift, Pink and Ne-Yo were just completely obliterated by the Disney-bred Cyrus? Her "Fly On the Wall" -- with its teasing, taunting chorus -- was everything the AMAs have lacked thus far, namely just some energy. Sporting a black leather jacket, Cyrus shot back and forth across the stage, matching pace with the song's whiz-bang verses, and brought some attitude to the song's kinda zany -- and kinda devilish -- chorus. Kanye -- your move. A

Leona Lewis: "Better in Time": In a performance sure to dazzle Grammy voters -- expect Lewis to get a best new artist nomination in a week and a half -- the British pop R&B star showed off her ability to nail every note put in front of her, and coast through smooth ballads-- the kind sure to be heard in dentist offices for years to come. B-

Kanye West’s acceptance speech for favorite rap/hip-hop album: "Whenever you say, 'I want to be Elvis,' they say, ‘What’s wrong with you?' I want to be Elvis." A

Ne-Yo: Medley: A bit of "Miss Independent" and a bit of "Closer," but little of what Ne-Yo does best, which is some vintage, Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves. The jazzy breakdowns in "Closer" pitch him as a more serious R&B artist (pay attention Grammy voters!), but live, it just didn't sway. C-

Taylor Swift: "White Horse": The American Music Awards keep things gloomy with Swift's "White Horse," from her just-released, not-nominated new album, "Fearless." There's no possible way you can believe Swift when she sings that's she's "not a princess" and she's not living a fairy tale, as she's country music as envisioned by a Disney musical. To that end, this song would probably sound nice sung from a parade float down Disneyland's Main Street. C+

Pink. "Sober": Part ballad, part glossy rock song, "Sober" tries to build up more drama than its lyrics can handle, turning drunken revelry into bad high school poetry. D

New Kids on the Block. Medley: OK, this is already feeling like a commercial for one of those massive compilation CDs. Remember this song? And this one? How about four seconds of this one? All the hits! Wait, 10 seconds of this one! The New Kids were cute and nostalgic with "Right Stuff," but "Single" just seemed kind of sad. New rule: You can't sing the lyric "can I be your boyfriend" (old hits not withstanding) if you're 35 or older. D

Christina Aguilera: Opening medley: Things get started in familiar territory, with an Aguilera medley, the first of what is sure to be many whiplash-inducing musical performances this evening. But unlike her MTV VMA run-down, Aguilera backs into "Genie in a Bottle" rather than opening with it. In the span of five minutes, Aguilera hits on pieces of "Beautiful," "Fighter," "Ain't No Other Man" and "Keeps Getting Better," swapping back and forth between hats. Opening with the ballad allowed Aguilera to flex her vocal muscles, but the zipping between songs never allowed her -- or her background dancers -- to catch a groove. B-

--Todd Martens

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage