Whoever first said, “The show must go on,” couldn’t possibly have understood what they were inflicting on us. For one thing: The 2020 American Music Awards, which aired live Sunday night from a mostly empty Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The audience, as it were, was confined to socially distanced pods in the venue’s balcony. “We invited them in small groups from the same families,” host Taraji P. Henson explained. “They are all socially distanced, wearing masks, covid tested. Yes, we are very responsible, and like everyone else here, just happy to be out of the house.” I don’t know, a walk around the block does a lot more for my mood than a half-assed awards show, but maybe that’s just me.
The orchestra section contained a bunch of cut-outs of celebrities, with whom Henson riffed at one point (???). There’s nothing like watching someone have a conversation with cardboard to make you wonder what you’re doing with your night, and what other people are doing with theirs, and perhaps what we think we’re trying to accomplish at this point, as a culture.
There were winners. You can read the list for yourself, if you like. Taylor Swift was named Artist of the Year and said in her prerecorded speech that she didn’t attend the ceremony because she’s so busy re-recording her songs as a result of her masters being sold (first to Scooter Braun and then a private equity firm). At a time of great economic peril, it’s so nice to hear that Taylor Swift is doing everything she can to add to her mountain of cash. At least someone is thriving! :)
Then there were the performances. There sure were. Many of them took place in the Microsoft Theater. Most of them were virtually lifeless, perhaps suggesting what a difference a crowd can make. Performers had no energy from which to feed. Nelly sleepwalked his way through a medley of his early hits in a performance commemorating the 20th anniversary of his debut, Country Grammar.
Bebe Rexha and Doja Cat performed in a set that looked like it was left over from the ‘70s show Land of the Lost. It all had very watching-theater-on-PBS vibes.
Lil Baby’s “Emotionally Scarred” was teased as “a song we all need right now.” The song’s refrain contains the bars: “I know I wasn’t there for you, at least I said I’m sorry/You know what it was, I told you that I was heartless/I’m emotionally scarred, that ain’t even your fault/But don’t listen to them haters tryna fill your ears with salt.” The words “PROTECT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH” appeared above Lil Baby during the closing of his performance. K.
Incidentally “PROTECT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH” is a really good idea. And yet, I stayed tuned to the American Music Awards in its entirety. I should have listened to Lil Baby.
Accepting the trophy for Latin Female, Becky G felt the need to explain why those watching might recognize her. Okay, Troy McClure.
Megan Fox introduced her boyfriend Machine Gun Kelly’s performance. She seemed so dispassionate. Megan, if you have love on your side and you aren’t excited for this, why in the world should we be?
BTS were styled like Michael Jackson circa HIStory. Like, every single one of them.
Finally, a special shout out to Dua Lipa, who, bless her, seems like a nice person (I guess—actually I have no idea if she’s “nice” or not), and who makes nice pop music people enjoy, and who, apparently, thinks she should be dancing? The choreography in her satellite performance of “Levitating” was so rudimentary as to evoke Mariah Carey in “Honey.”
Lipa’s dancing perfectly summed up this year’s American Music Awards: shabby and half-hearted but resolved to just do something. Both the performance and the show in general made me think, “You really don’t have to be doing this.” But they did it anyway. Toward the end of Lipa’s performance, she was hoisted into the air, a rather literal interpretation of the lyrics of “Levitating.” You could see the strings attached to her back.