Taylor Swift took home five awards, including Artist of the Year, at the 37th American Music Awards on Sunday night (November 22), but the evening was truly dominated by a series of memorable performances from some of the biggest names in the business. During the three-hour live show at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Eminem, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, Shakira, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Lopez, Green Day and Adam Lambert all took the stage.
Beating out the likes of Michael Jackson, Gaga and Eminem for Artist of the Year, Swift accepted her award via video link-up from London, where she was in the middle of a late-night rehearsal. "Music has never been openly about competition and to even be mentioned in a category with Michael Jackson, who will be missed and loved forever, is an unimaginable honor," she said.
Michael Jackson won in the Favorite Male Artist Soul/R&B and Favorite Male Artist Pop/Rock categories among his four wins for the night. Wearing a single sparkling glove, his brother Jermaine accepted each award, stressing that his late brother's message was just as important as his music. "The message that Michael had will live on forever," he said. "He saw good in everyone and he wanted everyone to do good. He always started with love."
One of the more eye-popping performances of the night belonged to Lady Gaga. Starting off with her newest single, "Bad Romance," the singer matched a flesh-colored bodysuit with flashing white accessories that mimicked a rib cage and some sort of arty antlers, which she soon ditched to let her blond locks free. She then picked up her mic stand and smashed open a glass enclosure housing a piano. She climbed up, sat down and played "Speechless" while flames enveloped the wooden instrument and she smashed empty liquor bottles against the keys.
Rihanna began "Wait Your Turn," the second single off her album Rated R,strapped to a rotating metal frame that turned her upside down. Unstrapped by some helpful dancers, the white-body-suited singer sauntered across the stage, showing off some spiky shoulder pads in the process.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys were on hand on the West Coast to present current BillboardHot 100 topper "Empire State of Mind." Keys began with a little ode to the iconic song, "New York, New York," as Jay stood by her piano in a white tux. By the end, both stars were standing together as the crowd waved their hands in the air. Keys returned to the stage later for a solo performance of "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart." Even later, Jay got another turn as well when he won Favorite Male Artist, Rap/Hip-Hop.
Well into the show's third hour, Eminem and 50 Cent arrived for bleep-heavy versions of "Crack a Bottle" and "Forever." The Black Eyed Peas put on a laser light-assisted medley of songs including "Meet Me Halfway" and "Boom Boom Pow." Will.I.Am sported a futuristic outfit and strapped a huge white keytar to his body. Half an hour before, the band beat out Kings of Leon and Nickelback for Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo or Group, a category in which they also triumphed in 2005.
Swift's other AMA wins included Favorite Female Country Artist (over Reba McEntire and Underwood) and Favorite Female Artist Pop/Rock (beating out Lady Gaga and Beyoncé). Introducing the latter award, Aerosmith's Perry complimented the nominees chart-topping hits, saying, "That's as high as you can get."
"Wanna bet?" deadpanned fellow presenter Snoop Dogg.
Dolled up in a short gold outfit, Underwood sang "Cowboy Casanova" as dancers vamped around her and the country star stood on an illuminated platform. Shakira came out with a fierce stomping routine to accompany "Give It Up To Me," a rendition that had her dancers sashaying through the aisles and graphics of the trendiest military march imaginable on screens behind the singer. Just minutes before, Daughtry played "Life After You," a slow-burning single off the band'sBillboard chart-topping second album, Leave This Town. Green Day contributed one of the night's hardest rocking performances with "21 Guns," tempered by liberal use of acoustic guitar and piano solos.
Jennifer Lopez enlisted a boxing ring announcer for her new song "Louboutins," complete with actual boxing ring, championship belt and dancers dressed as fighters. Earlier, accompanied by a small contingent of string instruments, an elegant Kelly Clarkson sang a stripped-down version of "Already Gone" that built in intensity as her band kicked in and the "American Idol" winner stood in a black velvet and crystal-adorned gown. A couple commercial breaks later, Mary J. Blige performed "I Am."
Whitney Houston was honored with the International Artist of the Year award, joining only six other winners — such as Michael Jackson — in the history of the AMAs. The diva then took the stage in a floor-length white dress to sing a powerful version of "I Didn't Know My Own Strength."
Janet Jackson kicked off the evening with a nearly eight-minute medley, bounding across the stage with choreographed moves alongside backup dancers to snippets of "Control," "Miss You Much," "If," "Together Again" and her new single, "Make Me."
"American Idol" star Adam Lambert closed the show with provocative — to put it mildly — version of his single, "For Your Entertainment," in which he danced within an enormous picture frame and showed off the vocal dexterity that made him a star on the TV talent show earlier in the year.
Presenters included Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, Kate Hudson (who seemed to be worried her silver dress would lead to a wardrobe malfunction), Nicole Kidman, Kristen Bell, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Kris Allen, Ne-Yo, Perez Hilton, Drake, Kid Cudi, Samuel L. Jackson, Leona Lewis, Seth Greene and Ryan Seacrest.