The 2015 American Music Awards boasted a slew of A-list talent, knockout live performances and plenty of surprises (that makeout session, for one). From AMA host Jennifer Lopez’s live opener to Justin Bieber’s medley, here are the 2015 AMAs performances ranked worst to best.
19. Jennifer Lopez, “Waiting for Tonight” + Dance Medley
While we appreciated Jennifer Lopez opening with the always welcome “Waiting for Tonight,” the ensuing dance medley was just a little bit confusing. For the first 3-5 songs, it was fun and unexpected, but after 5 minutes of J.Lo dancing to a 2015 megamix without singing a note, you kinda wondered when it was going to wrap. Her heartfelt monologue afterward, however, was fantastic.
18. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild, “Home Alone Tonight”
Country superstar Luke Bryan took the stage with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild for the duet “Home Alone Tonight” (Macaulay Culkin not included). They sounded good vocally, but the song itself wasn’t terribly memorable.
17. Gwen Stefani, “Used to Love You”
Gwen’s synthy breakup ballad received a laser light show at the AMAs. Despite that, it was still one of the night’s least interesting performances — it’s a great song, but the background was a little off. Gwen singing in front of a screen projecting 3-4 weepy Gwen faces was just too much, and the backup dancers popping out of the fog like whack-a-moles didn’t make it any less odd.
16. Pentatonix & Symphony Orchestra, Star Wars Medley
We couldn’t be more excited for the new Star Wars, and Pentatonix is a reliable live act we’re always excited to see at an awards show. But the group singing along to the wordless Imperial March and the main Star Wars theme was about as WTF as you’d expect. It was a lot of vocal ba-ba-baaa and doo-doo-doo, so honestly, when the orchestra took over, it was a bit of a relief.
15. 5 Seconds of Summer, “Hey Everybody”
Once you got over how much the song’s melody sounds like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” you could just let yourself enjoy one of the night’s few rock performances. They made up for the night’s dearth of live instrumentation by banging on theirs as hard as possible.
14. Walk the Moon, “Shut Up and Dance”
You’ve heard it a million times, and it still isn’t getting old. Unlike most of the night’s performers, Walk the Moon seriously sold their song, rocking out “Shut Up and Dance” hard and shimmying on stage to the undeniable dance-rock hit.
13. Selena Gomez, “Same Old Love”
An old school Hollywood staircase, backup dancers with MC Hammer pants and finger snaps aplenty, Selena Gomez’s AMAs performance was the right combination of visual weirdness and elegance.
Macklemore got emotional rapping about addiction and the broken American dream on the live TV debut of his new song “Kevin,” which features the absurdly soulful Leon Bridges on the song’s chorus. It’s hard to judge a song you’ve just heard against familiar hits, but the newcomer “Kevin” stood strong in a sea of well-worn material at the 2015 AMAs.
11. Carrie Underwood, “Heartbeat”
Surrounding by candles, Chinese lanterns, fog and backed by a harvest moon, Carrie Underwood delivered her lovely, nostalgic “Heartbeat.” Whether it was the lighting or her red gown fluttering in the wind, it felt like the night’s most classically gorgeous performance.
10. Demi Lovato, “Confident”
“What’s wrong with being confident?” Demi Lovato asked the 2015 AMAs. But honestly, she didn’t even need to say the words. Her controlled stare, killer bob and sinuous dance moves announced her #Confidence to the world before her mouth even opened.
9. Nick Jonas, “Chains/Levels/Jealous”
Starting with a toned-down version of “Chains” on the ivories, Nick Jonas quickly moved past the low-key intro to a forceful version of “Levels” that found the solo Jo Bro abdicating the mic and stepping behind the drum kit to pound the skins for a second. If that wasn’t enough, he brought out a massive gospel choir for a group sing-along of “Jealous” that had the entire audience clapping and dancing along.
8. The Weeknd, “The Hills”
Combining LED pyro with real-life flames, The Weeknd lit up the AMAs (and Wiz Khalifa, who was otherwise looking pretty sleepy all night) with his No. 1 hit “The Hills.” He looked like a lover stalking the ruins of an ex’s house he’d just burned down — which is to say, he looked totally in his element.
7. Coldplay, “Adventure of a Lifetime”
Be honest: You were not expecting Coldplay’s AMAs performance to be so turned up. The oft-melancholy band brought out the neon psychedelic colors, party confetti and gorilla backup dancers (What? Yes, gorilla backup dancers) for their live performance of “Adventure of a Lifetime,” and the change of pace was hugely welcome.
6. Meghan Trainor & Charlie Puth, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You/Marvin Gaye”
Wearing raincoat chic, Meghan Trainor let her soulful vocals take the spotlight during her AMAs set. Well, at least until Charlie Puth joined her on a grand piano for their duet. While their voices sounded comfortable blending on “Marvin Gaye,” their lips looked even more at home together: The two wrapped their duet with a long, tongue-heavy makeout session that left no doubt that the two were dating. Or did it? Check out Puth’s take on the makeout sesh here.
5. One Direction, “Perfect”
After their third consecutive win for best pop/rock duo at the 2015 AMAs, One Direction played their Made in the A.M. highlight “Perfect.” It’s easy to say, but honestly, they sounded perfect while singing the romantic ballad — and Harry’s yellow rose on his suit was an added bonus.
4. Celine Dion, “Hymne a L’Amour”
As a tribute to the many lives lost, and countless lives affected, in the recent Paris attacks, the AMAs brought out Celine Dion to sing a chanson popularized by French vocal legend Edith Piaf. Dion sang “Hymne a L’Amour,” giving the decades-old song new life with her powerhouse vocals while a montage of Paris landmarks and makeshift memorials outside Le Bataclan played on the screen behind her.
3. Alanis Morissette & Demi Lovato, “You Oughta Know”
Alanis’ “You Oughta Know” got a 20th anniversary tribute at the 2015 AMAs when Demi Lovato and Alanis herself teamed up to duet on the immortal kiss-off track. Demi sounded great spitting out lines about Mr. Duplicity, and obvious, Alanis knows what she’s doing with this one. One of the night’s highlights.
2. Justin Bieber, “What Do You Mean/Where Are U Now/Sorry”
A medley of Bieber’s three smash hits from Purpose (so far) closed the AMAs, and man, did he kill it. His voice sounded great on the acoustic “What Do You Mean,” his dance moves were energetic and on-point with “Where Are U Now” and the rain-drenched “Sorry” finale was JB’s most memorable Purpose performance yet. Seriously, Justin was soaked to the bone by the time it was done — it was practically an artistic baptism on live TV.
1. Ariana Grande, “Focus”
Classic Hollywood glam through the lens of Madonna seemed to be the go-to vibe of the night, and Ariana Grande exemplified that like no one else at the 2015 AMAs. After a restrained, sensuous start, Grande stripped off her long while gloves and kicked it into high gear. By the time “Focus” finished, it was clear Grande has delivered the evening’s strongest set, both vocally and visually.