What’d I Say: About the 2010 American Music Awards

Posted November 22, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

The 38th American Music Awards wasn’t all dull and predictable. But the tremors from the show’s earthquake are still being felt, and are causing people, like myself, to question both its presence and credibility

Before I go into any rebukes and start talking about the evening’s big winners, let me begin this write-up with the evening’s biggest loser. The American Music Awards, now in its thirty-eight year, generated its lowest viewing audience in all of its televised history, according to the Hollywood Reporter. A sharp 22 percent decline from last year’s numbers. Maybe it was because they knew Lady Gaga wasn’t going to be there.

While watching the American Music Awards this past Sunday night, I decided to tweet the results and the details of each musical performance. As you already know, Twitter exploded withwise cracks, jokes, laments and any other foul-mouthtorture on the Dick Clark-sponsored award show. It happens with every award show, whether its the Grammys or the Soul Train Music Awards (don’t laugh). But the AMA’s are a different kind of award show, since its winners are selected by a poll of music buyers, instead of a institutionalized body of professionals and card-carrying experts. So the AMAs should be about popularity and what the people want. Right?

Well, that is still debatable, since Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and Rihanna all went home trophy-less as they were out beaten by the Batman & Robin tag-team of Usher and Justin Bieber. Gotta give the boys credit; their singles did make superior leaps throughout much of 2010. But nothing so epic that they were a match with Rihanna’s recent No. 1 takeover (having the most #1’s in the 18-year history of the Pop airplay chart) or Katy Perry’s commanding grasp on pop radio with “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream;” more recent “Fireworks.” As of November 13, the Bieb didn’t have a single song on the Top 100. And Usher only has one single on the Hot 100: “DJ Got Us Falling In Love” now at #6(peaking at #4). Sure the winners of this year’s AMA’s are selected from last year’s products, but it’s amazing to see how Usher and Justin Bieber dominated a whole show of awards based off of music buyers, for albums that have not always dominated their fellow constituents. According to July 2010 numbers, Lady Antebellum had the best-selling album of 2010, so far, selling 2.3 million copies of Need Your Now and didn’t win Best Artist or a Pop award, while Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, selling 1.3 million units (1/2 of LA’s numbers), stole the show. More facts: Sade’s Soldier of Love sold 1.2 million copies, but was bested by Usher, a pop artist who sold only 898,000 with Raymond v. Raymond, for Best R&B artist. For a show that rewards artists from music buyers, things would have been much different if they knew the stats on these albums.

Just take a good close-up of the most recent Billboard/Nielsen SoundScan chart action:

Billboard Hot 100, as of Nov. 13

Ke$ha; We R Who We R; #1
Rihanna; “Only Girl (In the World);” #4; peaked at #3
Trey Songz; “Bottoms Up” #7; peaked at 6
Katy Perry; “Teenage Dream” #8; peaked at #1
Katy Perry; “Firework” #29; peaked at #29
Katy Perry; “California Gurls” #37 peaked at #1
Ke$ha; “Take It Off” #32; peaked at #8
Eminem & Rihanna; “Love The Way You Lie” #15; peaked at #1
Eminem; “No Love” #47; peaked at #23
Rihanna feat. Drake; “What’s My Name” #60; peaked at #60
Trey Songz; “Can’t Be Friends” #45; peaked at #44

Then there’s the #1 hits earlier in 2010 from Ke$ha like “Tik Tok” and “Your Love Is My Drug” that left her unnoticed.

To make a very long story a little bit shorter, the AMA’s don’t necessarily reward the hitmakers. It’s all about popularity; the one wih the crowd-winning approval. It’s pretty much a Peoples’ Choice/Teens’ Choice award show, but with some string-pulling from Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated radio show.

Don’t get mad at that previous statement. This is still Dick Clark’s show, and Seacrest is propped up to be Clark’s successor; proven best by his fill-in appearances on Dick Clark’s Rock “n New Years’ Eve and after presenting the award for Best Artist of the Year.

After the show went off the air, I decided to share the timeline that was posted on Twitter – while adding a few extra “post-it” notes to liven up the festivities.

  • At #AMA2010: Rihanna opens show with 6-minute medley ft. “What’s My Name” and “Only Girl (In the World)”
  • At #AMA2010: Usher wins Favorite R&B/Soul Album, Black Eyed Peas wins Favorite Band, Duo or Group.
  • At #AMA2010: Enrique Iglesias performs new single and “I Like It” with Pitbull. With drumline band. Vocals were a bit…disappointing.
  • At #AMA2010: Miley Cyrus performs ballad “Forgiveness and Love.”
  • At #AMA2010: P Diddy hits the stage with new creation Diddy – Dirty Money. Is it close to time for retirement
  • At #AMA2010: Kid Rock belts acoustic ballad “In Times Like These.” Moving, emotional performance.
  • At #AMA2010: Shakira beats Enrique Iglesias for Favorite Latin. New album Sale El Sol went to #1 in all of Latin America.
  • At #AMA2010: Black Eyed Peas performs new single “The Time (Dirty Bit).” With laser show, box-wearing background dancers.
  • At #AMA2010: Katy Perry struts the stage in red dress and high heels on pyrotechnic performance of “Fireworks.”
  • At #AMA2010: Rihanna wins Favorite Soul/R&B Female. Beating out Alicia Keys, Sade.
  • At #AMA2010: Williow Smith introduces Justin Bieber to stage, as her “big brother.”
  • At #AMA2010: Justin Bieber sings power ballad “Close My Eyes…;” opens on piano, voice cracks. Rebounds with gospel choir finish.
  • At #AMA2010: Bon Jovi cranks up hits (“You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life) with new single (“What Do You Got”) in medley.
  • At #AMA2010: Brad Paisley wins Favorite Country Male.
  • At #AMA2010: Justin Bieber takes home T-Mobile Breakthrough Artist Award. Beating Mike Posner, Travie McCoy and Lady Antebellum.
  • At #AMA2010: P!nk’s high-energy performance of “Raise Your Glass” steals the show, so far. Balloons, confetti, loads of dancers…P!nk’s performance reflects the spirit of disco; one nation under a synth-disco groove. Adding to that: While dressed in ’80’s Madonna gear, she worked the stage with infectious dance moves. Great job for a pregnant P!nk.
  • At #AMA2010: Ne-Yo performs medley of songs (including “Champagne Life”) from new album Libra Scale. Includes snippets from music videos.
  • At #AMA2010: [A curl-less] Taylor Swift performs “Back to December” and sneaks in OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” Reveals stronger vocals and confidence.
  • On Facebook, I was asked what I’d thought about Swift’s performance in detail. I had this to say:
    “Overall, she was better. You can tell she’s gotten some vocal coaching since her last live performance on the Grammys. Other than her tough moments on the OneRepublic “Apologize” nod, she’s growing in the grace of a budding Carrie Underwood. Give her some more time. Love the song (“Back to December”).”
  • At #AMA2010: Justin Bieber wins Favorite Pop/Rock Male.
  • At #AMA2010: Christina Aguilera reveals strip tease performance on new single “Burlesque”
  • At #AMA2010: Lady Antebellum walks away with Favorite Country Band/Duo/Group; beating Zac Brown Band and Rascal Flatts.
  • At #AMA2010: Usher performs dance-pop hits (“DJ Got Us Falling In Love”) in David Guetta-style. Looks stiff, gruffy. C’mon, Usher.
  • In response to Usher’s performance, it is important to realize that the fast, quick action from Usher has been replaced with a boot-wearing, stiffer version. He jabs the air more and his moves are timed slower than before. Of course, he’s now 33, a father of two and a former husband. Maybe all of that has slowed him down some. But since he has built a name for himself as an across-the-board entertainer, his stage presentation felt lackluster compared to the work during his 8701-Confessions era.
  • At #AMA2010: Muse wins Favorite Alternative Rock; beating Vampire Weekend and Phoenix.
  • At #AMA2010: Train sings “Marry Me” and jumps into energetic “Hey, Soul Sister.” Lead Pat Monahan reveals glitter pant. Crowd on their feet.
  • Twitter lit up about Patrick Monahan’s glittery pants. One person joked about it saying. “Give Lady Gaga back her pants.” But the AMA’s is all about glitter and glitz, and Monahan came dressed for the party. Still, no one could ignore the brilliance of his high register and his bubbly personality on the big stage.
  • At #AMA2010: Michael Buble wins Favorite Adult Contemporary.
  • At #AMA2010: Ke$ha takes stage with lasers on confetti-drenched performance of “We R Who We R.” Message inscribed on guitar: “Don’t hate.” Then Ke$ha breaks guitar on stage in rock ‘n roll style. Rebel punkattitude with trash-pop beats. It works.
  • At #AMA2010: Justin Bieber, during award acceptance speech: “I want to thank Michael Jackson. Without him, none of us would be here.”
  • At #AMA2010: Usher wins Favorite Soul R&B Male Award; beating Trey Songz and Chris Brown. Thanks fellow nominees during speech. Usher, during award acceptance speech: “I’ve been doing this for 18 years…R&B forever.”
  • At #AMA2010: Santana releases guitar magic on “Take Me To the River.” Crowd wowed as if they were at @Bonnaroo.
  • At #AMA2010: Ryan Seacrest subs for Dick Clark to present Artist of the Year. Justin Beiber wins; beating Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga.
  • At #AMA2010: New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys closes show with medley of hits together. Early promotion for 2011 summer tour.
  • At #AMA2010: #NKOTBSB perform “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Step By Step,” “Larger Than Life” and “I Want It That Way.”
  • At #AMA2010: Justin Bieber calls his musical mentor, Usher, to share in Artist of the Year victory.
  • No one actually thought that the Bieb would eclipse the other nominees (Lady Gaga, Eminem, Katy Perry, Ke$ha); or even dominate the lead of the evening’s victories. Although his My World 2.0 album was one of the top ten best-selling albums of the year, his best-selling singles “Baby,” “Somebody to Love” and “One Time” have never claimed the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The other nominees for Best Artist scored a number of #1 hits for both 2009 and 2010. Maybe the voting body of the AMAs focused a bit more on album sales rather than radio figures, but it’s obvious that Bieber, like Taylor Swift, has a strong fan base and they are extremely dedicated to their success. As good as Rihanna, Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are in the pop world, they still are ladies living in a man’s world.
  • For those griping over the performances, bold to criticize all the synth-driven Eurodiscoand the underperformed vocals of our stars, while also bashing the “hideous” outfits, I wanted to leave a word of caution: it’s important that we learn how vast and how big pop culture really is. Most viewers who watches these amalgam-designed shows featuring a long list of musical genres and styles are only familiar with their own musical style. Yes, the music they play on their neighborhood radio station. If you don’t listen to rock, you’re were going to hate Bon Jovi and Santana’s performances. If you hate dance/electronica, you were going to puke over Ke$ha or the Black Eyed Peas’ performance. If you hate country pop, you were going to cringe over Taylor Swift or Kid Rock’s acoustic performance. All things considered: get exposed to a world of music, not a hometown of familiarity. Rock stars don’t party like church folk, so get used to it.

Speaking of other worries about the AMA’s credibility is its unfair definition of the genres. Rihanna wins in the R&B/Soul categories, but her singles have been ignored by black radio and have dominated the higher tiers of the pop charts, so why is she winning an award in a category that doesn’t necessarily support her? Sade, on the other hand, has the best-selling R&B album of 2010, according to Billboard numbers. Certainly Sade’s fan base is more regal, reserved and aren’t as glitzy as Rihanna or Alicia Keys, so the music-buying public may have forgotten about Sade’s accomplishments while casting their votes, but the iffy stigma encircling the AMA’s purpose continues to blossom as genre characterizations and genre-bending escalate in the pop world.

While watching the AMA’s this time around, I noticed that the categories created a disadvantage for black artists by easily lumping them into R&B/soul categories when their musical style, like Rihanna and the Black Eyed Peas, are far from R&B and soul music. Eminem, a white artist with a strong hip-hop sound, rock appeal, a best-selling record (Recovery) and three hit singles this year, was quickly lumped into Hip-hop/R&B categories, while it’s obvious that Top 40 pop radio was only loyal to him. His best-song of 2010, “Love The Way You Lie,” stayed at #1 for weeks on the Hot 100, but only peaked at #7 on R&B. It’s as if the AMA’s wanted the audience to think that if you’re black, you’re R&B and if you’re white, you’re pop, unless you’re Eminem. What a disadvantage…for everybody. We all know that if you have a song on the Top 100, in particular Rihanna and Black Eyed Peas – who have had more than four hit singles in the last couple of years, you’re certified to be called a pop artist. Clearly, the AMA’s need to start re-tooling their nomination process and how they select their winners.


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What’d I Say is a new public opinion series focusing on recent events featuring commentary from our team of skillfull writers and guest bloggers. The opinions expressed at this forum are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the parent company HiFi Magazine.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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