SwaggerJacks and Cowboy Hats, Hits, Misses, and Hot Messes: AMAs 2009

Pop Culture, Soundtrek

AMA night: the poor man’s Grammy night. It is fitting that Taylor Swift George Bushed the show, seeing as the recurring thought through my head between 8-11pm last night and 2000-2008 was “alright, let’s just get this over with.”

The theme of last night’s show was apparently “SwaggerJack” (from the VMAs to the CMAs, from BEP to Gloriana, and everywhere in between) – that or “country fried wtf” (read: Reba “Who Let the Gingers In” McEntire). Either way, every so often – in the midst of the cacophony of clownery that was the American Music Awards – there were a few moments that mattered; so let’s scan the sea of SwaggerJacks and momentarily memorable moments that mattered for a minute.

Janet Jackson: Technically great performance – nice set list, decent choreography, diversified look back at a noteworthy career. What was lacking was the “everything else” factor. Janet’s opening was an on-point introduction to the awards show that would pale tragically in comparison to the VMAs, relive the god-awful question mark that was the CMAs, and be a style-and-substanceless shell of Americana. Janet had a fire during the VMAs – a spark, a catalyst – that was undeniable; and that spark fueled the pop spectacle that followed. The AMAs was structured to be a great show, like Janet’s technically great opener, but where the VMAs were controlled chaos, the AMAs were just controlled.

SwaggerJack #1: Reba McEntire – Reba McEntire got more airtime (90% of which was her sitting, staring, staring, sitting) during the AMAs than she got during the entirety of her sitcom: too much. Apparently I didn’t get the memo saying that Reba replaced Hov as the new president of Island Def Jam, but the AMAs must have seeing as they cut to her during every Rap/Hip-Hop/R&B/completely-unrelated-genre performance – multiple times. If ABC is any indicator of who to look for when in need of approval/guidance, I’ll be consulting Reba on how I should feel about healthcare reform.

Paula Abdul: preemptively silenced – first noted 5 second delay, 5 seconds before someone even thinks about talking.

Rascal Flatts: No idea who these people were, but I did get in a running stance after seeing the cowboy hats, cowboy boots, flannel shirts and hearing the southern drawl – reflex.

SwaggerJack #2: Random guys dressed in Kanye VMA attire (all black everything, jackboots, motorcycle jackets, layers times twelve because even though it’s L.A. it’s also November so bundle up) (read: Pete Wentz).

SwaggerJack #3: Black Eyed Peas – BEP’s introduction (Greatest Hip-Hop Group of All Time – wait imma let you finish) was more hyperbolic than “Mission Accomplished,” and their performance was more audacious than Sarah Palin on Oprah. They played a bit of their stuff, but wanted people to stay tuned and tvs off mute, so they threw in Tiesto and Nirvana samples – hm. Will.I.Am looked like Chuck Berry stuck in the 80s idea of the future (read: Devo).

SwaggerJack #4: The greatest of all time, T Swift herself. T Swift George Bushed the night (having a core fanbase that votes in a manner superceding logic, to the dismay of the non-voting-because-we-assume-common-sense-to-be-more-common-than-it-is viewing-because-we-want-to-see-what-Middle-America-is base). In the whirlwind of confusion/surprise/acting lessons, Swift forgot to thank the man who made this all possible: Kanye “I Made You More Famous Than Chuck Taylor” West. Needless to say, Swift’s siege began by getting more votes than Beyonce and Lady GaGa in the Best Female Pop/Rock Artist (and so dubbed the trophy the “I Didn’t Want Your Stupid Award Anyway” statuette). I didn’t get a chance to see Swift’s acceptance speech, I was busy watching Video Phone: like 5 million other people. No worries, I knew it wouldn’t be Swift’s last of the night.

Empire State of Mind: Great song, when the album dropped in September; still a great anthem in L.A. 2 months and 20 million times later (I can do hyperbole too). Cut of the performance: shot of Whitney vibin’.

SwaggerJack #5: Perez Hilton – Take Jay-Z’s tuxedo blazer, GaGa’s hair dye, a bump-it commercial, a touch of BEP’s manager’s fist, and you’ve got this bundle of not-quite-sure-what-but-positive-it’s-not-fun. The AMAs felt it necessary to get a glimpse of how Perez feels about Empire State of Mind – and again, and then twelve times more. Perez must feed off of the camera because every subsequent shot had him wilin out a bit more: we all love the song, but even Lil’ Mama had to tell Perez to tone it down.

Green Day: it’s probably possible for a band to look like they care less about anything – like winning, again – but, I felt pain just watching the show, must’ve been brutal to be there.

Rihanna: At the fault of AMA stage production, the performance suffered off the bat because the props (circulating X-shaped human rack included) seemed like shrunken miniature versions of what they were supposed to be – no me gusta. Breezy did a number on her, but it is what it is. I could see where she was going with the performance but for the AMAs to tout it as this massive comeback was a bit… hyperbolic. Oh yeah, she shot lasers from her shoulders.

Carrie Underwood: sang something.

Lady GaGa: you already know. First off: yes, no other attendee introduced GaGa because no matter how oblivious ABC/The AMAs are, even they know you can’t have peers introduce someone who’s peerless. Yes, she went hard like Brooklyn (the only cutaway of the performance was after she concluded, when they shot to Jay-Z standing, applauding, and giving the nod of approval – Reba, still no word). Yes, she brought out the monsters – and the beast within. Yes, she displayed her uncanny knack for making “The Twist” werq – in an Eastern European industrial electronic goth sort of way. Yes, she busted a glass cube with a microphone pole to play the flaming piano within along with gas-mask donning violinists in separate glass cubes while rhythmically bashing vodka bottles against the keys. Yes, she was GaGa; yes, it was grand. Even still though, there was an odd sterility to the performance – it didn’t resonate like “Paparazzi” at the VMAS, not at the fault of GaGa but rather the control of the show; even with a full stage, GaGa’s performance felt a bit constrained, and an empty-clean like the vodka bottles decking out the piano. Granted she didn’t win, she didn’t want to be your friend; she just wants your love and bad romance, with that performance: mission accomplished. Swagger: Unjackable; et tu Swift?

Cudi, Jeremih, Jimmy: took the show about as seriously as I did – noted.

Mary J. Blige: took ’em to church – per usual. Perez Hilton’s swaggerjackin’ ways were back full force for this performance (ghetto pass applications must be due soon, preemptive protection against future punches to the face)

Gloriana: T Swift’s sheisty swaggerjack. Apparently the country group is her opening act, which I guess puts them on the same plane as Cudi and GaGa – nah. Regardless of rationale, Gloriana took home the Breakthrough Award brought to you by T-Mobile (the other nominees are on AT&T). Btw, if you have to introduce yourself with an elevator speech during your acceptance speech (and even still, people have no idea who you are): you haven’t broken through.

Jennifer Lopez – Going with the boxing motif, finally seeing the fruits of Chris Brown’s community service, wasn’t aware he was involved with stage production . Mispronouncing Louboutin, rather pronouncing it how they do on “the block.” I appreciate the underlying themes here about consumerism during a recession: when we choose to build our careers and lives on labels, we’re bound to fall on such a weak foundation – poignant…

Whitney: Glad she’s back. Solid performance. I miss her old pipes, but there’s still only one Whitney. She got the “International Award of Excellence” … from the AMAs (your local government would like to present you with their global award of excellence) – hm.

Alicia Keys: She went solo to perform her new single “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart.” Heavy on the choreography for a Keys show, but it worked. Enjoyed her golden-chain-linked cardigan, she must’ve caught that sale at Old Navy too. Word was that Lil’ Mama was planning an impromptu duet – again – but luckily, Keys’ male dancers double as bodyguards – or mercenaries.

Eminem: still has that cold Detroit flow. I do wish they enlisted Travis to work his magic on the Forever beat: (another) AMA fail.

SwaggerJack #6: Timbaland – he swaggerjacks himself, he samples himself… badly. This particular night though, he took what non-existent swagger Twilight had, his thighs felt it necessary to swaggerjack thunder, while the back of his neck preferred to swaggerjack a pack of hot dogs. The cameraman made it a point to get a shot of Keri Hilson: reassured at her decision to pass on said performance.

Hov: won “Best Rap Artist:” noted.

SwaggerJack #4 back for more: T Swift got more votes for Artist of the Year than Michael Jackson – not saying won, not saying she beat anyone, just saying she had her fans click on her name with more frequency than they did MJ. I did manage to catch this acceptance speech, and she sounded about as guilty as a graverobber – oh, wait.

Adam Lambert: I like this one. He makes me smile – a Cheshire smile, but still. Lambert’s performance was very “I couldn’t get this together in time for the VMAs, so take it or leave it ABC.” It was gratuitous, it was entertaining, it was dark, it was hypersexual – but it wasn’t that great. The song was meh, the technical strength was lacking, and yes it lacked that “oomph;” but this is America people and no one really cares as long as it pops – like Adam did to the collective American Idol base’s leather-chains-and-boy-on-boy-games cherry: noted.

The AMAs are like the Fox News of music award shows: a weird, skewed cross-sectional look at how the other half thinks, listens, perceives art/culture/politics/music. The difference is this other half isn’t on the greener side of the pasture, it’s the other half that sets up lawn chairs to hunt on that greener pasture. If nothing else the AMAs aimed to settle the score with the VMAs (they had Taylor: we have Taylor – via sattelite, but still; they had GaGa perform: we can do fire and booze, just no blood – that’s weird; they opened with Janet: touche, and we’ll do you one more, enter Jermajesty; they had Empire State of Mind: we can do that too plus provide security, and we’ve got Reba) – fight the good fight and win one for the gipper. So, on this isolated night that was a dim blip on a radar screen, the pseudo-Americana pop stars shined. I don’t get it, but I mean more power to you if you do. What more should I expect from a Dick – Clark – Production, though.

Alright, back to life, back to reality.

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