You gotta give it up to the American Music Awards. We’ve seen a lot of award shows this year, but the 2016 AMAs were an extremely eventful broadcast, filled with political moments, candid acceptance speeches and knockout performances. From the debut of Drake‘s Apple ad to Green Day‘s attack on Trump to incredible performances from The Weeknd, Twenty One Pilots and more, the highlights far outweighed the low points… but there were a couple of those, too.
Below, here’s our 13 best and three worst moments of the 2016 AMAs.
Fifth Harmony brought the stylish post-apocalyptic vibes to the AMAs with a set that brought to mind Mad Max melded with a New York City back alley. “That’s My Girl,” whose honking horns recall “Worth It,” is an immediately likable R&B dance banger, and the group’s complicated choreography was ridiculously on point.
Drake Referencing Degrassi in His First-Ever AMA Win Acceptance Speech
Introduced in part by Nina Dobrev, Drake noted that the former Vampire Diaries star also appeared on Degrassi: The Next Generation back in the day. May the Degrassi solidarity never die.?
“Treat You Better” and “Mercy” aren’t exactly hard-rocking songs, but Mendes attacked both of them with as much energy as Travis Barker banging away on his drum kit during “Closer.” Sensitive boys with guitars are everywhere these days, but Mendes truly stands apart from the pack by virtue of being a committed live performer — and that occasional up-all-night husk in his voice really pushes his live performances to the next level.
Walking through a futuristic corridor that looked like it was imported from Superman’s home planet of Krypton, the Weeknd sang the hell out of “Starboy,” nailing the falsetto and the sensual, mysterious vibe of the song.
Halsey completely owned the stage — and the camera — while belting her heartfelt part of the Chainsmokers’ “Closer.” And Travis Barker, whose group Blink-182 is referenced in the lyrics, made an appearance toward the tail-end of the song to bash away on the drums, bringing some impressive muscle to the otherwise low-key Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
Drake Returns Taylor Swift’s Apple Ad Favor
After Taylor hit the treadmill (literally) while rapping Drake and Future’s “Jumpman,” Drake returned the favor by singing along to Taylor’s “Bad Blood” for a new Apple ad, which made its debut during the AMAs and featured Drizzy and an iron-pumping session gone wrong.
Twenty One Pilots
Melding rock, rap and reggae, Twenty One Pilots are inventive in the studio, but they really shine onstage. The duo are a dynamic live force, and their one-two punch of “Heathens” and “Stressed Out” was proof that a live band can not only be relevant on stage at a 2016 awards show, but that it can also be one of the highlight performances.
Even if her vocals hadn’t been fantastic, Gaga’s performance would have stood out by virtue of the stunning visual setup. Sitting barefoot on a stool in a studded leather Western-styled jacket, Gaga sang beneath an expansive starry sky in a grassy field glowing with fireflies. But visuals aside, Gaga’s voice was in full-throated attack mode, making “Million Reasons” sound like a new classic in her catalog.
Idina Menzel referenced president-elect Trump’s panic attack over the Mike Pence/Hamilton incident onstage: “Us unsafe, scary theater people won’t be invited to the inauguration. I love you Hamilton!”
Nicki Minaj & Ariana Grande
Grande’s vocals were flawless during the jungle-themed “Side to Side,” and when Nicki Minaj took the stage, she was so damn confident she didn’t even stand up for most of her performance. Seated on a wicker throne, Minaj flipped her legs in the air and delivered her verse in ultimate DGAF mode. Queen Nicki forever.
While others referenced Trump at the 2016 AMAs, Green Day really went for the jugular by chanting “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” during their performance of “Bang Bang.” Time will tell if the fascism warnings are justified, but Trump’s endorsement by the KKK — and his Twitter silence about the rise in racist attacks since his election, even while he finds time to tweet about Hamilton and SNL — are facts that Americans are struggling with these days.
So even if you disagree with Green Day getting political at the AMAs, you can’t claim they’re factually incorrect — there hasn’t been a major American politician so beloved by white supremacists since the pro-segregation George Wallace.
“I had everything and I was absolutely broken inside,” Selena Gomez admitted during her candid acceptance speech at the 2016 AMAs. “I’m not trying to get validation nor do I need it anymore,” she said, but added as a means to inspire others similarly struggling, “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” In a night boasting emotionally honest moments, Gomez’s speech was the most moving.
Ariana Grande’s Grandma
The look on her face when Ariana won artist of the year at the 2016 AMAs was priceless.
Jay Pharoah’s Donald Trump impersonation was passable, but Gigi Hadid’s Melania Trump impression was…less so. Jay and Gigi singing about the various performers just didn’t make a ton of sense, and about halfway through it, you were left wondering when it was going to be over.
AMAs Cutting Off 5H’s Acceptance Speech
Sure, 5H could have doled out their thank-yous faster. But still, when you bring up five people on stage, you gotta give them all a chance to actually say a few words before you cue the “get off” music.
Maroon 5 & Kendrick Lamar
When K.Dot and Imagine Dragons took the stage together at the 2014 Grammys, it was a collaboration that shouldn’t have worked that absolutely killed. When Kendrick and Maroon 5 closed the 2016 AMAs together, it was a collaboration that shouldn’t have worked… and absolutely did not work. Maroon 5’s sleepy song was an odd closer for the show, and Lamar was onstage for all of 20 seconds. For as enjoyable as the entire night was, it did go out with a whimper, not a bang.