Last night’s American Music Awards was such a train wreck of unfulfilled expectations that you could hardly blame one for thinking that the Obama administration, not Dick Clark Productions, must have been responsible for it.
I say that (only partly) because I’m not exactly sure that Dick Clark is even still alive. But when dead people who released no music this year win 5 awards (Michael Jackson), being alive was kinda beside the point at this spectacle.
So, for the most part, was singing live.
Things got off to an ominous start when Paula Abdul welcomed the audience into a dead microphone.
Then out came Janet Jackson who is apparently so grief stricken over Michael’s death that she was inspired/used it as an opportunity to revive her decade long moribund career by dropping 20 pounds and a new greatest hits CD so she could lip synch and show off dance moves so dated that they’re in clear danger of being eligible for a revival.
Later in the show Jeniffer Lopez took pretty much the same route considering her career has been on life support since “Waiting for Tonight,” which in 1999 turned out to be the anthem for ushering in the new Millennium. Last night she sang about leaving an uncooperative lover as she puts on impossibly expensive and vertiginous red soled killer heels (Louboutins). Only problem: she fell flat on her fabled asset while attempting her Katie Holmes-like dance moves and this morning she’s suffering from a bruised ego (if not also a hip).
The highly cloying Taylor Swift who won 4 awards last night was on hand only via satelite from London where she was rehearsing for a concert at Wembley Arena. Keeping her off stage was perhaps the smartest move the producers could have made, considering she undeservedly (again) won the evening’s biggest award. Now the smartest thing she should do is call Debbie Gibson for career advice. And swiftly, as she’s at about minute 13 on her fame trajectory.
In the battle of the country divas, Keith Urban won handily over Carrie Underwood because he’s prettier and he showed more cleavage. But he also fared better because he didn’t scream his trite lyrics and his performance didn’t look as if someone had shaken a snow globe so that the awkward moving Ms Underwood could appear as if she was engaging/engaged in some sort of dance number.
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And herein lies the problem with much of last night’s telecast. Most of the performers were overreaching for visual images instead of connecting to an audience– as if the overwrought visuals could possibly make up for poorly written songs, the inability to carry a tune or just sheer lack of stage presence.
That’s what music videos are for.
The performers who acquitted themselves with any dignity were the ones who actually sang. By that I mean live and into their working microphones, most notably Kelly Clarkson, Jay Z with Alicia Keys and Whitney Houston.
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Coincidentally these were the 3 performances which brought down the house before the kitchy and already overexposed Adam Lambert failed and, let’s be very clear, failed miserably to blow the roof off the place, as had been hyped.
Ms Clarkson got a much deserved standing ovation for her performance of “Already Gone,” a song essentially about knowing when to cut your losses. And boy does she. She came, she sang, she conquered. How a singer this good and this smart wasn’t the big winner last night is beyond me. Although she didn’t sound as perfectly heartbreaking as she did on VH1 Divas 2009 , she performed early enough in the show that by the time Jay Z came on to imperially command the room with “Empire State of Mind,” an ode to New York City as much as to his own undeniable artistic empire, she had already set the standard for the evening.
And by the time Whitney Houston came out in a glorious Kaufman Franco white gown, with beatific white stage lighting and a bad wig, it was a good thing Ms Clarkson was already gone. There’s just no denying that Ms Houston has irreparably damaged her voice with years and years of drug abuse but last night in a gut wrenching confessional that lasted a few fleeting minutes she managed to use the detritus to her advantage in “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” a song about hard won lessons from your own resurrection.
That performance, at once delusional and pathetic but emotionally raw and brutally honest, brought to mind both Billie Holiday and Marianne Faithfull, women with drug ravaged voices which remain powerfully alive because they wear their heart on their sleeve and not because they wear us down with visual pyrotechnics.