While the fan-voted American Music Awards have long been criticized for ignoring older artists, interestingly, some of the standout performers of Sunday’s 2019 ceremony were industry veterans — including the Green Day, Toni Braxton, and the dynamite country queen who closed the show in spectacular style, Shania Twain. Below are the highs and (thankfully/surprising few) lows of this year’s ceremony at Los Angeles’s Microsoft Theater — from 70-year-old Ozzy Osbourne to 17-year-old Billie Eilish.
HIGH: Shania Twain does impress us much
Twenty-three years after earning her first AMAs trophy, Twain proved she’s relevant as ever by starting her buzzy performance with an unplugged medley of songs by this year’s nominees: Post Malone's "Rockstar," twenty one pilots' "Stressed Out," Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," and Drake's "God's Plan." She even rapped a little bit... and did not embarrass herself in the least. But then the six-time AMAs winner, whose new Vegas residency kicks off Dec. 6, ditched her acoustic guitar and got down to business with an electric, leopard-print medley of her own mega-hits — including "You're Still the One," "Any Man of Mine," "That Don't Impress Me Much,” and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” And man, the men and women in the audience sure were feeling this. Post Malone was adorably singing along the entire time, as was Artist of the Decade winner Taylor Swift, who even ran onstage to embrace Twain after the blockbuster number.
LOW: Selena Gomez loses her way
The last time the beleaguered pop star performed on television, at the 2017 AMAs, it was a disaster. Gomez’s return to the AMAs, and to live TV in general, was publicized as her big comeback, so much so that she opened the show doing her latest two singles. But this turned out be another a rough performance. During “Lose You to Love Me,” Gomez seemingly struggled to hear herself, and even though things picked up a bit when she underwent a flashy wardrobe reveal and sang the more upbeat “Look at Me Now” in a glittering bodysuit, she never really got her groove back. Twitter was unkind, but reports spread online that Gomez had just experienced an anxiety attack and a lupus flareup and that doctors had actually advised her to cancel her AMA appearance — so kudos to her for soldiering on. It’s just a shame this was not the triumph it was hyped to be.
HIGH: Ciara delivers the goodies
After Selena’s false start, the soul superstar and 2019 AMAs host one-two-stepped into the spotlight and got the show back on track — with a fabulous performance of her new empowerment anthem “Melanin,” joined by her feisty friend Lala Anthony. Music make you lose control, indeed.
HIGH: Halsey is bad at loving the Grammys
As Halsey — who was shockingly shut out of the Grammy nominations a few days ago — picked up her pointy Lucite trophy for Best Pop/Rock Song, she confessed that she used to think music awards “were supposed to be some kind of validation for the soul-crushing and heartache-inducing work that they put into writing a song and bringing it to life… but the truth is, I’m older now. … Most of these awards aren’t what they seem.” It sounded like Halsey was about to pull a Fiona Apple-at-the-VMAs and denounce all awards shows, but then she praised the AMAS — “the world’s largest fan-voted awards show. I am thankful to the fans, because they’re the one who really give a s*** about music.” Twitter loved Halsey’s apparent Grammy shade, and Swift (whose Lover was snubbed for an Album of the Year Grammy nod) later praised Halsey, saying, “The speech of the night goes to Halsey. Winner of the whole evening for that speech.”
HIGH: Billie loves Billie
As Best New Artist winner Billie Eilish introduced one of the best performances of the entire night — by veteran punk-pop trio Green Day, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their breakthrough album Dookie — she declared, “Growing up, there was no band more important to me or my brother [producer Finneas O’Connell].” Eilish could later be spotted in the audience totally fangirling over ageless Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong (with whom she recently teamed for a joint Rolling Stone feature), and she wasn’t the only youngster in crowd going absolutely crazy for “Basket Case.” Green Day didn’t even need to mash up their performance with a bit of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” to seem relevant to the kids. Their groovy, garage-y new single “Father of All” was a rawkin’ revelation, and Post Malone actually seemed more excited during Green Day’s performance than he did when he won Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album just a couple minutes later.
LOW: Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s duet is a VMAs rerun
When the real-life couple performed their smoldering summer smash “Señorita” three months ago at the MTV Video Music Awards, they burned up the screen. But their AMAs rendition of the same song was… well, exactly the same. So this time, instead of sizzling, they fizzled.
HIGH: Ozzy Osbourne brings the fire
When seven-time nominee Post Malone debuted his single “Take What You Want” two months ago, many clueless young Post fans thought Osbourne was some unknown elderly rocker getting his first big break. But those kids will definitely know who Ozzy is now, after the metal legend joined Post and rapper Travis Scott on a flames-engulfed AMAs stage for a red-hot rendition of the career-boosting comeback track.
HIGH: Billie Eilish gets heated about climate change
Like Ozzy, the environmentally conscious alt-pop superstar also performed on a fiery stage. But her flaming T-shirt sent a real red-alert message: “NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET.”
HIGH: Lizzo is good as hell
The last time we saw Lizzo on a major awards show, in August, she performed in a front of a giant, jiggling derriere balloon at the VMAs. This week, perhaps foreshadowing what’s to come at next year’s Grammys (where Lizzo leads the pack with eight nominations), she elegantly belted her old-soul ballad “Jerome” in a frothy fuchsia gown. It was positively Grammy-worthy.
HIGH: Toni Braxton re-breaks our hearts
Twenty-five years after winning her Best New Artist Award, the 52-year-old soul star returned, wearing a white mermaid gown reminiscent of her 1994 couture, and she stunned. We couldn’t breathe again, for a moment.
HIGH: Kesha’s party don’t stop
“Welcome to our Sunday service,” proclaimed the sassy pop chameleon, as she and New Orleans’s Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, took the AMAs to a very funky church with the ebullient, booty-shaking “Raising Hell.” And the party Animal raised even more hell with her old-school, Jack Daniel’s-swilling club banger, “Tik Tok.” After her rough few years, it was nice to see Ke$ha, with a dollar sign, having fun again. Can we get an amen?
HIGH: Play Misty for Swift
Taylor Swift was nearly upstaged during her Artist of the Decade medley by Misty Copeland, the acclaimed ballerina and first black woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater's 75-year history. Copeland performed an exquisite routine with Craig Hall as Swift accompanied them on piano, and we couldn’t calm down after witnessing it.
LOW: The AMAS say, “Thank u, next” to Ariana Grande
The pop diva was nominated in six categories, but she went home empty-handed. Well, she didn’t exactly “go home,” since she did not attend this year’s AMAs ceremony in the first place — which may have something to do with her shutout. Grande will likely fare better at the 2020 Grammys, where she’ll be up for five awards (and will likely show up).