But there was even more than that. Host Pitbull had dancers that did a whole lot more than just twerk. And TLC had many in the dark for a bit. Here are the 10 moments that made us clap in approval, shake our heads in wonder and laugh at their kookiness.
Katy Perry Goes Geisha
Pop star Katy Perry may be a Cali' gurl, but her performance at the AMAs was Japanese-inspired. She and crew were dressed as Geishas—faces powdered and bodies wrapped in colorful duds. With pink flower petals raining on them, Perry sang her new ballad “Unconditionally” as the show’s big opener. Her soaring voice did not disappoint, earning the night’s first standing ovation.
Pitbull and His Dirty Dancing Class
pper, Miami resident and AMA host Pitbull made his first order of biz teaching the audience that there are grittier dances out there than Psy’s “Gangnam Style” style gallop and even Miley Cyrus’ famed twerking craze. For a trip down memory lane, Pit’ brought out some ladies to demonstrate the doo-doo brown, the hydraulic and more. Rapper and fellow Miami playboy Uncle Luke Dirty even got a shout out for his love of dirty dancing during his 2 Live Crew days.
Ariana Grande Picks the Retro Route
In a shimmering, snug red dress, pop upstart Ariana Grande performed a doo-wop rendition of her “Tattooed Heart” with four male background singers swaying in ‘60s Motown-like unison. The Mariah Carey-esque singer had enough air in her vocals to blow haters across the Pacific Ocean in sailboats. That voice is strong.
Macklemore Gets Real During Speech
In spite of all the hits Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist” spawned, many are questioning how the pair won the award for Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album over arguably the best rapper of all time (Jay Z) and Kendrick Lamar, whose “Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City” has been widely regarded as a classic just a year removed from its release. However, what can’t be questioned is Macklemore’s thoughtful acceptance speech.On location in Miami (they’re on tour), the Seattle rhymer recited a Dr. Martin Luther King quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And then he went on to speak of slain Black teen Trayvon Martin, saying we should “look out for the youth.” Not many acts would use the bulk of their moment at an awards show to talk about such things. But with songs like this in their catalogue, it makes sense to see Macklemore fight for what’s right.They'd later perform "Can't Hold Us" for their raucous Miami crowd.
Justin Timberlake’s Tries to Drink Away the Pain
blending soul, country, and blues, Justin Timberlake and his band The Tennessee Kids performed “Drink You Away,” a cut from the second half of his top-selling “20/20 Experience.” Fittingly, the set was designed like a bar, with heartbroken back-up singers taking swigs to ease their pain while Justin wailed with his vocals and plucked away on his guitar.
Rihanna Gets Props from Mom, Justin Timberlake and Jay Z
Hair fastened around her skull by blinged out bobby pins, a dazzling chocker around her neck, and black outfit to finish, Rihanna sang her smash “Diamonds” with a marvelous string section in tow. The showing segued to her accepting her Icon Award. In a video, mentor Jay Z (who also signed her to her first record deal at Def Jam) congratulated her, jokingly asking, “Between me and you, can you believe this shit?”
Mother Monica Fenty presented the actual award to her daughter right after saying, “I applaud and admire you for being so strong.” “Can we talk about how cute Rihanna’s mom is?” Justin Timberlake asked moments later while getting his Soul/R&B award. So cute.
Kendrick Lamar: Poetry and Pools
Lamar ran through two jams from his “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” album, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Poetic Justice.” His words and his band’s beats had Taylor Swift at attention, with the country pop star swaying for as long as he was on stage.
Lady Gaga and R. Kelly Get It On in the White House
R. Kelly starred as leader of the free world, President Kelly (six years in office, by the way) while Gaga was the secretary that keeps his eye wandering. Together they performed “ARTPOP” single “Do What U Want.” It was an odd spectacle, equipped with cheeky off-Broadway theatrics (Kelly being questioned by a faux reporter, wondering how naked pictures of the Prez turned up on Instgram) and both singers taking turns standing on top of the Oval Office’s table.
TLC Splash with “Waterfalls”
TLC performed their classic single “Waterfalls” with rain splashing on a digital backdrop. Original members T-Boz and Chilli held down their parts, Rapper Lil Mama tried to hold down the fort for Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who died in Honduras 13 years ago. Mama’s showing was solid at best with her spitting Left Eye’s verse over a musical breakdown that featured rapper Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” beat.
Miley Cyrus Gets Catty on “Wrecking Ball”
With a kitten oddly lip-syncing her lyrics behind her on a digital screen, Miley Cryus—wearing a two piece cat face screen-printed barely there outfit—performed “Wrecking Ball.” By the time she got to its bridge, the cat was crying diamonds. Trippy, to say the least. Taylor Swift loved it, though. When Swift hit the stage immediately after to accept the evening’s final award (Artist of the Year), she was breathing hard. “I’m out of breath,” she said. “I was going hard with the whole ‘Wrecking Ball’ thing.”