It was an evening of memorable performances at this year’s American Music Awards on Sunday night (Nov. 19) — duets, debuts, tributes, mashups, medleys, and so much more.
It was such a wide range of performances that we received over the course of three hours that it’s almost impossible to measure them against one another — yet we pushed forward and found a way to try. Here are Billboard‘s rankings of the 17 performances at the 2017 American Music Awards.
Hailee Steinfeld & Alesso feat. Watt & Florida Georgia Line, “Let Me Go”
Striking staging, and a lot of combined star power. But despite its slow creep up the Billboard Hot 100, at some point all involved may have to acknowledge that “Let Me Go” isn’t really a song worthy of their quadruple-billing.
Macklemore feat. Skylar Grey, “Glorious”
Macklemore’s never looked quite so clean-cut as he does here in his peach suit, and kudos to Skylar Grey for doing SNL and the AMAs on back-to-back nights. Otherwise, not a performance that’ll change anyone’s opinion about artist or song tremendously.
Christina Aguilera, Bodyguard Medley (“I Will Always Love You” / “I Have Nothing” / “Run To You” / “I’m Every Woman”)
Aguilera’s 25th anniversary tribute to Whitney Houston‘s legendary work on the Bodyguard soundtrack got off to a rocky start, with her “I Will Always Love You.” She gained her footing as the four-song medley went on, however, with her “Run to You” landing beautifully and her “I’m Every Woman” striking the right celebratory note, as she exclaimed between title utterances: “We love you Whitney! The greatest! My idol!“
Nick Jonas, “Find You”
Certainly a highly steamy performance, both literally and figuratively. The vocal is maybe a little too brooding for Nick to really shine, but the song actually translated very well to the award-show stage. Here’s hoping the performance gives “Find You” the momentum it needs to start finding its way to pop radio.
Niall Horan, “Slow Hands”
Hard to mess up “Slow Hands,” and Niall Horan certainly did the smoldering single justice, although it was occasionally hard to focus on the performance with the distractingly Pharrell-sized hat he was wearing. Gotta love the man miming his own backing “WHOO”s, though.
Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”
The song that’s becoming the veritable anthem of this late-year award-show season, Shawn Mendes delivered another assured performance of his latest top 10 hit, with the same hard-rock climax that he delivered a week ago at the EMAs. Mendes still brought the energy, though, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else’s getting sick of the song: Jamie Foxx’s daughter knew the words, and so did most of the rest of the crowd.
Lady Gaga, “The Cure”
Wearing a full body suit with exponentially more frills than a Rick James outfit, Gaga started her stripped-down version of 2017 single “The Cure” at the piano, before the song exploded into its full EDM glory after the first chorus. Would’ve been interesting to hear the whole thing as a dramatic ballad, perhaps, but the performance was still a highly explosive one, earning the rows of sparks that were shot off at its finale.
Kelly Clarkson, “Miss Independent” & “Love So Soft”
Kelly Clarkson did her thing with a performance of latest single “Love So Soft.” She looked and sounded the true diva on the soul-pop single, hitting some of the biggest notes of the night. Somewhat confusing with all of the Idol talk throughout the show that she chose to pair the performance with a flashback to early single “Miss Independent” and not inaugural Idol-winning song “A Moment Like This,” though.
P!nk & Kelly Clarkson, “Everybody Hurts”
Two personalities as big as P!nk and Kelly Clarkson need a little more room to work. But the performance was undeniably powerful, the two pop-rock veterans’ massive voices blending beautifully. And at this point, any high-profile performance that tries to draw a modern-day hymn from the pop-rock era and doesn’t use “Hallelujah” gets automatic points for creativity.
Demi Lovato, “Sorry Not Sorry”
Not a world away from the similar “Sorry” performance Demi Lovato did at the EMAs a week earlier, but felt no less life-affirming the second time around. The anti-Internet-hate lead-in felt well-intentioned but a little tacked on, especially because no montage or spoken-word intro could ever be as powerful as Demi’s own towering voice and stage presence. BTS were certainly vibing to it in the audience.
Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
“No computers up here, just live instruments,” read a message behind Portugal. The Man at the start of their “Feel It Still” performance. Good for you guys, I guess? Sanctimoniousness aside, it was a nice victory lap performance for the band behind the surprise hit of 2017, with a good live momentum and a fun feeling of, well, something somewhat legitimately alternative.
Khalid & Imagine Dragons, “Young, Dumb & Broke” / “Thunder”
One awkward hybrid collab per award show seems pretty reasonable, especially since Khalid’s and Imagine Dragons’ effort mashed up pretty well as alt-leaning mid-tempo pop jams with decent melodic overlap, and two extremely game performers in Khalid and Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. The “kids” in the back wearing animal masks and drumming at their desks was maybe a little more Pink Floyd than necessary, but the performance was still one of the most enjoyably energized of the evening.
Say this for BTS — the energy is impressive, and legitimate. It’s been so long since we’ve had a new English-language boy band take the stage where choreography and performance was really the priority, you forget how powerful the electricity can be when one takes the stage who does. (Reaction shots of numerous fans crying in the audience also helps with that.) “I need a moment to recover from that performance — that was incredible,” Jared Leto commented after it was done, and it made sense he would.
Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay”
The complete reinvention that Gaga hinted at with her “Cure” performance but didn’t quite commit to, Alessia Cara and Zedd cut back their EDM pop banger to just piano, strings and vocals. For a song that radio seemed determined to suck the life out of for most of 2017, the performance breathed new life into “Stay,” while proving the chops of both Cara (on vocals) and Zedd (on piano) for anyone who’d never bothered to find out about their talents before.
Diana Ross, Medley (“I’m Coming Out” / “Take Me Higher” / “Ease on Down the Road” / “Best Years of My Life” / “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”)
Looking regal as ever, Diana Ross also sounded fairly fantastic performing a medley of some of her signature solo numbers — even opting for a couple lesser-known ones to casual fans (including 1995’s “Take Me Higher”), showing just what an astounding range of past hits she has to choose from. At age 73, with grandkids in tow on stage, it’s a little absurd it took her this long to receive such an honor from the AMAs (as pointed out by no less an authority than Barack and Michelle Obama, in a pre-filmed tribute video), but at least she proved on stage that it’s far from too late.
Selena Gomez & Marshmello, “Wolves”
Selena’s building herself an impressive AMAs legacy the last few years, adding to it this year with an intense performance of Marshmello collab “Wolves” that actually gives the relatively lightweight production a newfound heft and intrigue. Shouts to Marshmello on drums and a less-anonymous but much-needed guitarist for added texture, though the star here was still unquestionably Selena, investing in the performance like a theatrical piece, making it unexpectedly inscrutable.
P!nk, “Beautiful Trauma”
Hard to judge a Pink performance like this fairly, since you’re too busy trying to collect your jaw from the floor over how she’s doing it at all to really give the vocal performance a fair and objective analysis. But really, even though it’s easy to say that when you perform an aerial ballet from 1,000 feet up, you get Night’s Best Performance honors no matter how you sound, what makes Pink such a special performance is that no matter the setting, it’s still about the vocals first, and her guttural “Beautiful Trauma” performance would’ve been just as spellbinding from the ground. (Well, not just as, but… you know.) Time will tell where it ranks alongside her other all-time great award-show performances, but she’s undoubtedly on her way to being in the discussion for the all-time greats in that respect, regardless.