AMAs 2013: One Direction Melts Us, Lady Gaga Kills, And Katy Perry Goes Geisha

Zayn Malik at 2013 AMA Awards

It was four years ago at the American Music Awards that Adam Lambert announced — mostly with his crotch — that he was here for our entertainment. The artists at the 2013 AMAs could claim the same thing, but did they succeed? Results, like the genders of the people Adam grind’d with onstage, were mixed.

Katy Perry, the ubiquitous roarer, opened the show with a geisha-themed take on her new ballad “Unconditonally.” It’s funny to mock Lady Gaga for copying Madonna if only because Gaga’s self-seriousness begs for a sarcastic response, but leave it to Katy Perry to co-opt the look, feel, and senseless cultural appropriation of Madonna’s worst video. Picking a geisha theme simply because you like bright colors, which is exactly what is happening in this performance, is boring. Mystical Far East Traditionz! Oooh! Ahhh! The old, horrifying Burt Bacharach jam “Me Japanese Boy I Love You” comes to mind. The staging was decadent and Katy sounded fine, but the performance felt callous. Katy Perry feels callous. I honestly remember the fun of “Waking Up In Vegas”! She wasn’t always this way!

Justin Timberlake won the Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist award (as well as Favorite Soul/R&B Artist and Album, which presenter Sarah Silverman properly identified as kind of hilarious), but you could’ve guessed that. In fact, you could’ve guessed the majority of the viewer-tweeted winners last night, so let’s count off the biggies now: Taylor Swift won her third Artist of the Year statue (and three other awards last night, making her the most awarded person ever), Ariana Grande clinched Best New Artist, One Direction took home the Favorite Pop Rock/Band and Album awards, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis cleared both rap categories, and Rihanna won the Icon Award. I’ll give it to Ms. Fenty: For a 25-year-old, her track record is staggering. She has as many #1 hits and Grammys as Madonna. This is someone who released her first album in 2005. Not bad at all — and her performance of “Diamonds,” her most recent #1 and a pleasant midtempo track written by the glorious Sia, ranks among her best live showings. Of course, nothing compares to her lip-synced performance of “Vogue” from years ago, but what does?

One Direction seemed to be suffering from audio issues during their performance of “Story of My Life,” a slightly overwrought ballad, but I think we can all agree Liam dealt us the best vocals of the troupe. This is fitting since he’s also the hottest One Direction member and the one who looks best in the Build-A-Bear clothes they have to wear. Unfortunately, the second-hottest member Zayn yanked out his earpiece at least once and was barely audible. I won’t hold it against him this time, but in the future I expect Zayn to be operatic and perfect when he relays the story of his life secretly only to me.

Now, Ariana Grande: I accept that you can sing. I can even deal with the fact that you’re a 20-year-old version of 2009 Mariah. But whyyyyyy with the infantile styling? Why the Jessica McClintock fare? And the hair. Ariana always looks like a pigtailed Chicken McNugget from ’80s McDonald’s commercials. Good time, but not so great taste, Grande.

We can agree that Luke Bryan is studly, even in his new ultra bronze form.

ARTPOP isn’t my favorite album ever, but Lady Gaga remains the grand dame of award telecast showstopping. She gave us a killer, delirious take on “Applause” at the VMAs, and at the AMAs she just slaaaaayed your faaaaaaves with the R. Kelly duet “Do What U Want.” What was her method of supremacy this time? A simple recipe: hot vocals, sensual and tongue-in-cheek chemistry with R. Kelly, and a funny JFK-and-Marilyn conceit. It was just sexy and silly enough, and you could tell she didn’t have to Wiki-search JFK and Marilyn that afternoon.

I have great memories of Jennifer Lopez trying like hell during an AMAs performance of her famous non-single “Louboutins,” and I’m pretty psyched to say she redeemed herself with this tribute to Celia Cruz. The vocals simmered, she hit her steps, and even if her partnering seemed a little stiff in a Leah Remini-on-Dancing With the Stars, the woman jammed well. To answer the titular question of her album LOVE?: Sure! I once saw Jennifer Lopez in person and literally gasped at how gorgeous she was. Like, Helen of Troy levels going on there. Here’s hoping her resumed stint on American Idol works out, because God knows she seemed pretty bored during her last attempt alongside my aunt from Sante Fe, Steven Tyler

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are still half-LMFAO and half-SERIOUS MESSAGE band. Their condition is unchanged.

Imagine Dragons really brought it. Note the stomping and fury and proclaiming. I seem to notice that the audience response was tepid at best, and I can’t say I know why. Surely they weren’t still reeling from the M. Butterfly spectacle of Katy Perry’s performance, were they?

As you (better) know, I am a deep, glitter-choked, brush-my-teeth-with-a-bottle-of-Jack Ke$ha superfan. I don’t get it when people don’t like her. If you criticize Ke$ha for being trashy and knowing it, then you aren’t worthy of being a Madonna fan or a Rolling Stones fan or a Tennessee Williams fan. I applaud Ke$ha’s shtick, and that’s why I was disheartened to see her in this languid performance with AMAs host Pitbull. For one thing, Pitbull sounds like something the Baha Men let out. More importantly, Ke$ha just doesn’t look invested in the performance. She claims to be yelling, “Timber!” but she’s murmuring it. I’m rooting for this girl and her cannibal heart nonetheless. Come back to us, mi$$y.

I can’t believe I’m about to type the following sentence: Christina Aguilera gave us the most restrained performance of the evening. Did you just shoot from your chair into the ceiling? Any other level of shock is unacceptable.

With A Great Big World, Christina crooned “Say Something” and never once drowned out her duet partner with her usual vomit grunts. I might actually re-watch this one. Their voices blended and they seemed to have some intimate chemistry. Holler to the both of them, and an especially big hat-tip to Christina.

But believe it or not, I’d say the best performance of the evening — in a tie with Gaga — was Miley Cyrus’. Let’s not forget: Even Sinead O’Connor knew to point out Miley’s great vocals in one of her 129 open letters. She was right: Miley the Miracle Twerker sounded fantastic here. She imbued “Wrecking Ball” with rage, tenderness, and some good old-fashioned pain too.

Even better than her singing, I loved her bizarre outfit and the creepy screensaver presence of the space-soaring cat behind her. First, the outfit: The girl looks like a cross between a Bratz doll and an American Gladiator. That’s exactly what Miley is: a punky fashionplate with an attitude and a revved-up woman ready for battle. Good for her. But of course, the cat is what really works here. I take it as a response to Miley’s throng of critics that basically wants the singer to remain innocent and desexualized. What better what to deflect that nonsense than with a towering portrait of a kitten weeping gigantic tears? That’s what the naysayers want her to be, after all — an adorably meek plaything. I’m actually agog at how defiant, hilarious, and oddly moving that damn cat is. Props to her. Robin Thicke, don’t you dare copy this.

Also: Justin Timberlake performed a song about alcohol with a band. It was very The John Mayer Trio. Except in vests, of course.

What was your favorite performance of the night? And what was your favorite sad kitty face: Miley’s screensaver kitty or Zayn Malik?