The 2012 American Music Awards, held live at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night (Nov. 18), were stacked wall-to-wall with winning performances in various popular genres. Who knew Linkin Park and Carly Rae Jepsen could fill the same performance space, and do so in a way that made sense for both artists? Although none of the performances were decidedly lackluster, five sets rose above the rest, and stuck in our brains as the highlights of the 40th annual telecast.
Check out Billboard’s countdown of the five best performances from the AMAs, then tell us if you agree or disagree with our rankings in the comments section below.
Ke$ha’s performance of new single “Die Young” was resoundingly Ke$ha-esque: there were flashing neon lasers, skeleton drummer-dancers, an inexplicable headdress at the beginning and a totally explicable crotch-grab in the middle. With blonde pigtails running across her shoulders and black leather boots hiked up to her knees, Ke$ha was often carried on the shoulders of shirtless men with a look of unabashed joy on her face — a fitting image for a single about shirking tomorrow’s responsibilities for carnal impulses.
4. THE WANTED
The absence of One Direction at the 2012 American Music Awards was glaring at times on Sunday, considering how many nominations the U.K. boy band had scored this year. Yet in the first hour of the telecast, their older counterparts, The Wanted, momentarily quelled 1D hysteria and delivered a performance that felt surprisingly spontaneous. “I Found You,” the glamorous disco-pop single that will likely lead their first U.S. full-length, was presented in all its falsetto-strewn glory, and Nathan even got to showcase his intense vocal solo with veins bulging in his forehead. For mainstream pop fans who wrote off The Wanted after “Glad You Came’s” stateside popularity died down, the AMAs represented a welcome revival to relevancy for the dapper vocal group.
3. TAYLOR SWIFT
Taylor Swift (or “T-Swizzle,” according to Florida Georgia Line) is growing up before our very eyes. The stage details of her AMAs performance, which featured dance maneuvers as elegant as the masquerade ball knickknacks surrounding them, couldn’t mask the stark maturity the 22-year-old conjured with every movement. From the careful high-heel steps toward the audience in the first chorus to the vivacious dress swap mid-song, Swift oozed confidence while singing “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and let the goody-two-shoes image start to fly away. If this is what the upcoming tour supporting “Red” will look like, get ready to soak in never-before-seen shades of Taylor.
Re-creating the “Try” music video onstage was no easy task for P!nk, but she sure made it look easy. Simultaneously singing the heart-tearing single, contorting her body effortlessly alongside her male counterpart and avoiding the flames set to engulf their broken home, the pop star once again demonstrated a knack for understanding what is expected for an awards show performance, and then going five notches above that expectation. The “Try” performance might have been the toughest awards-show set of P!nk’s illustrious career — sure, she’s flown over the audience before at the Grammys and Video Music Awards, but how tired must she have been as she was nailing high notes while getting tossed around the stage with little abandon? Somehow, there was not one slip-up for P!nk — but then again, there never is for the quintessential entertainer.
1. PSY & MC HAMMER
P!nk’s performance was braver and harder to pull off, but PSY’s feverish rendition of “Gangnam Style” accomplished what so few award show performances can: a palpable sense of excitement. The combination of the K-pop star and MC Hammer, who shimmied onstage to mash up “Gangnam” with his 1991 hit “2 Legit 2 Quit,” was a stroke of genius that very few could have seen coming — although PSY’s baggy pants might have been a sly tip-off. Furthermore, “Gangnam Style” and “2 Legit 2 Quit” sounded incredible when paired together, with PSY’s international dance anthem given a stronger backbone by Hammer’s throwback barks. The PSY performance was always going to be a highlight of the 2012 American Music Awards, but upping the ante with MC Hammer made the sort of water-cooler fodder that doesn’t happen often enough.
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