American Music Awards 2011: Short on Thrills

Illustration for article titled American Music Awards 2011: Short on Thrills

Perhaps the fact that the person with the most nominations couldn't be bothered to show up for the 39th annual American Music Awards foreshadowed that this show wouldn't make entertainment history. OK, Adele, who led with nods in four categories, had a good excuse: She was at home recovering from throat surgery. But, still, she kind of made us wish we were somewhere eating Jell-O and catching up on Sunday political talk shows instead of tuned in to ABC Sunday night.


Occupying the yawn-inducing space between impressive and disastrous, the production, airing live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, was enough to cure any music fan's insomnia.

Sure, if you were really into one of the hugely popular artists, there were plenty of good-enough performances for you (Mary J. Blige singing her heart out in an all-white number and remembering the late Heavy D, Chris Brown crooning "All Back" and "Say It With Me") and a couple that actually made us perk up a little (Ludacris and Enrique Iglesias pairing up for the TV-friendly "Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)," Drake doing "Headlines" with every inch of skin covered in black) but we can't think of a single moment people will be buzzing about around the water cooler today. Even little Jaden Smith in the audience looked seriously underwhelmed-but-trying-to-be-polite in a way we didn't know kids his age were capable of.


By the midpoint of the show, when Lil John, hyping for Pitbull in a sweater vest, screamed, "Can we get a little crazy in here?" we sincerely hoped the answer was yes. But no such luck. If you missed the show, switched over to The Real Housewives of Atlanta during one of the more boring segments or dozed off halfway through, here's what you missed:

The host's best moment was … oh, wait, cancel that — there was no host, so there weren't even mini-standup comedy breaks or outfit changes to keep hope for entertainment alive during the three-hour event.

Everyone loves a good awards-show wardrobe malfunction or a truly outrageous and unexpected outfit. But the awards came up short here, too. The closest we got was when Nicki Minaj, who beat out Kanye West and Lil Wayne for Favorite Rap/Hip Hop Artist, proved unable to walk in the shoes she wore with her billowing green skirt, and practically had to be carried on to the stage (that's the most convincing argument for "I had no idea I was going to win" we've ever seen). By the time she was called back up for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album, she'd done a quick footwear switch and could almost get from point A to point B by herself. Almost.

Every show has a most memorable performance. Well, most shows have a most memorable performance. This one opened up with pink-haired Minaj popping out of a speaker tower to perform/lip-synch renditions of "Turn Me On" and "Super Bass," accompanied by David Guetta — a display that reminded us that she should probably stick to rapping instead of singing. But no, that's not the act people will be looking for on YouTube today. Instead, out of all the performances, they're more likely to be pulling up the unscripted, awkward-slash-cute moment in which the camera caught Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez rapping along with her from the audience. Swift, who won Favorite Country Female Artist and Artist of the Year, didn't miss a beat — she might just have an award in a different category in her future.


The best commercial during the show, unfortunately, wasn't actually a commercial, but rather J. Lo's performance of "Dance With Your Papi" with a Pitbull interlude. In case you hadn't seen enough of her and that teeny-tiny Fiat 500 during your regular television viewing hours, there was one onstage during the performance (or, some would say, striptease), in a moment of shameless branding.

And that brings us to the biggest "oops" moment. Is it wrong that we got really excited when J. Lo appeared to flounder and maybe even start to cry at the beginning of her "Papi" performance, just because it meant something worth talking about was happening? It turned out to be a fake-out that was all part of the act. We could practically hear Twitter sighing with disappointment. She ended up taking home the award for Latin Music (which she accepted in a dress that was more cutout than fabric, after practically sprinting onto the stage and proving that she could definitely teach Minaj a few lessons on how to get around in heels!).


We'd love to tell you there was a most controversial speech but sorry to disappoint: Just when you thought Minaj might take a dig at Lil' Kim, she decided to get super-gracious when accepting her award for Favorite Rap/Hip-hop Album, fake-cry for a minute and then thank "all female rap artists, past present and future." Very nice of her. Also very boring.

Winners Beyoncé and Rihanna, like Adele, had the right idea, skipping the event and giving their acceptance speeches via satellite. The introduction for Beyoncé's speech for Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist suggested that she couldn't be there because she was "expecting," but her remarks made clear that she was perfectly capable of travel and was simply in New York doing something more important (and probably more entertaining).


Despite Lionel Richie and Vanessa Lachey's assertions toward the end of the show that the party was "about to get started" and that there were "a lot of surprises," we're not sure there were any — unless you were totally shocked by Taylor Swift winning Best Country Album or Favorite Album going to Adele, in which case you probably don't have Internet access and aren't reading this. 

Anyone who was still awake at that point was treated to a lively performance by LMFAO, complete with some sort of break-dance, running-man action from Justin Bieber, and a very unsexy strip-down revealing lots of smiley faces on crotches. It looks like the audience was bribed with free 3-D glasses to get on their feet during this final "party."


And that wrapped it up. We solemnly promise never to take for granted the entertainment factor offered by the VHI Hip Hop Honors again. If you happen to have DVR'd the show, we recommend you hold on tight to the three hours you'll never get back and skip to the complete list of winners, available here.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is a contributing editor at The Root.

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