Was That an Awards Show or Circus Act? The AMAs Further Redefine the Meaning of Pop
Fast-forward three hours. Etta is off and I’m procrastinating big time, mentally gearing up to watch another useless award show: the American Music Awards.
Perhaps “awards show” is not the correct term to describe the train wreck of November 21’s exemplification of why auto-tune can actually be a good thing. The show, which featured Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, was perhaps the worst music-related awards show I’ve watched in years. Music, like many of the performers’ clothing, seemed completely absent, traded entirely for spectacle. I was awestruck, but for reasons the AMAs hadn’t intended. A music awards show should focus on honoring music. In my opinion, awarding spectacle is about as logical as a fashion show based on the models' personalities.
Pop’s leading ladies were the evening’s most played-with toys — paper dolls, tongue-in-cheek stencils of actual musicians — aside from Justin Bieber who, until Sunday’s “ceremony,” could very well have been grouped in the same category. His voice broke during his lackluster performance, causing online message boards to ignite as tweenage girls everywhere realized his fallibility. Bieber was joined by a gospel choir towards the end of his disastrous performance; his producers tried to make a decisive effort to turn an average pop song into something soulful. It didn’t work. Puberty’s a bitch, Bieber.
Taylor Swift floated down from the ceiling riding a piano and sporting bangs that made her look like the tone-deaf spawn of Gwyneth Paltrow. Katy Perry showed the world, once again, that actual musical talent can be replaced with large breasts and fireworks. Rihanna, in an excruciatingly long performance, invoked an entire jungle theme to accompany a mash-up of three songs off her new album, complete with artistic representations of grass and trees and her own band of drum-playing natives, which seems rather insulting considering she’s from Barbados. Miley Cyrus slurred out a raspy rendition of her song “Love and Forgiveness,” accompanied onstage by candles, a conservative dress that made her look like a curtain, and a live band. We get it, Miley. You wish you were Stevie Nicks.
Each performance exchanged vocal quality and song originality for shock value and ratings. What happened to Etta James, Elvis and Janis Joplin? Raw vocal power and lyrical originality are a dying breed in popular music. Pop — and its consumers — want Katy Perry’s breasts, Taylor Swift’s levitating piano and Rihanna’s fancy jungle set. As the AMAs sadly demonstrated, spectacle within the music industry is most worthy of honor.