In the midst of what is an increasingly crowded and tame awards show environment across the board, the 2015 American Music Awards managed to serve up a handful of surprises, some planned and some seemingly off-the-cuff. But the night’s top award, artist of the year, wasn’t one of them, as One Direction walked away with the honor for the second year in a row.
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Jennifer Lopez opened the show dancing to a medley of some of the year’s top hits, much to the bemusement of Nicki Minaj and The Weeknd. Nicki swept the rap/hip-hop categories for favorite album and favorite artist, calling The Pinkprint the “hardest album I’ve ever had to do, write [and] perform every night” while reserving special praise for Fetty Wap and her “baby” Meek Mill. And One Direction won favorite pop/rock duo or group for the third straight year, leveraging the group’s rabid fan base to ride towards another award.
But the surprises started after Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth — two of the biggest breakout stars of the past 16 months — ended their duet on Puth’s “Marvin Gaye” with a kiss that quickly extended into a full-on make out (a rep confirmed the two are just friends). Anna Kendrick ran away with the best award acceptance speech, thanking her collaborators for helping her “hide the bodies.” Sam Hunt then won new artist of the year in a surprise victory over Tove Lo, Fetty Wap, Walk the Moon and The Weeknd.
Outside of those moments, several performances stuck out for their individuality: Demi Lovato was commanding hitting the stage for her latest single “Confident” with a performance that deservedly earned a standing ovation from the crowd; Ariana Grande — who also won favorite female pop/rock artist — kicked off with a lounge singer intro before going full-band cabaret for her performance of “Focus,” complete with her usual vocal acrobatics; The Weeknd literally fired up the stage while effortlessly transitioning in and out of his falsetto during “The Hills”; and Macklemore debuted a sobering new track with Leon Bridges, called “Kevin,” that addressed the perils and pitfalls of prescription drug abuse in a performance that caught the audience off guard in its tone but rung true in its execution.
Special mention should be made to Jared Leto’s moving speech about the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, followed by Celine Dion‘s stirring rendition of Edith Piaf’s “Hymne a L’Amour” in French in front of a backdrop of Parisian landmarks.
Yet while One Direction took home the American Music Awards’ top honor, the grand finale of this year’s show was handed to Justin Bieber, whose three-song medley — an acoustic version of “What Do You Mean?,” a Skrillex and Diplo-enhanced “Where Are U Now” and a rain-soaked “Sorry” — ended the evening on a high note. Something tells us that after the first-week sales of his new album Purpose came in higher than those of One Direction’s Made In the A.M. on the Billboard 200 this week, Bieber will be happy with how things turned out.