There was no Adele, no Beyoncé and no Harry Styles.
But there was the Ticketmaster-crashing Taylor Swift at the 50th American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night. Although she didn’t perform — even with a smash new album, “Midnights,” that is just one month old — the 32-year-old “Shake It Off” superstar was rewarded for her presence with the night’s biggest haul: Six awards, including Artist of the Year. That takes her record number of AMAs to a fab 40.
“I love you guys for making this a possibility for me,” said Swift, as she accepted the award for Favorite Pop Album for “Red (Taylor’s Version),” her re-recorded LP that was really more 2012 than 2022.
Aside from the T-Swizzle sweep, here are some other highlights — and lowlights — of this year’s AMAs.
Best: Pink opens the show
Pink always makes everything better, and as by far the biggest female pop performer of the night, she deservedly opened the show with her new single “Never Gonna Not Dance Again,” which got the party started in fun, infectious fashion as she roller-skated into the Microsoft Arena. Showing no signs of settling into mom pop at 43, Pink definitely got this party started.
Worst: Wayne Brady’s musical numbers
After his opening monologue — which was already so-so to begin with — host Brady launched into a gimmicky bleepfest that got old real quick. For good measure, he even shamelessly plugged his appearance on Monday’s “Dancing with the Stars” finale. And surely there must have been other available performers who would have been better than seeing Brady do yet another number later in the show.
Best: Dove Cameron’s pro-queer speech
Accepting New Year Artist of the Year in the first award presented of the night, 26-year-old queer singer took the moment to celebrate the LGBTQ community while addressing the tragic shootings at Club Q in Colorado Springs.
“I wanna start by saying that every award that I ever win will always first and foremost be dedicated to the queer community at large,” she said after accepting the award from actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, a longtime LGBTQ advocate. “You guys have carved out a special space for me to be myself and to write music about it, and I’ve never felt safer or more loved and more supported, and I hope I can give you some semblance of that same feeling in my music. On the heels of the tragedy that happened at Club Q in Colorado Springs, I want to remind everyone how important queer visibility is and how important our community is.”
Worst: Bebe Rexha and David Guetta
One of the biggest knocks against the AMAS is when artists hit the stage performing songs that are either too new for anyone to know or too irrelevant compared to the music that really mattered in any given years. Such was the case with Rexha, a B-lister at best, performing “I’m Good” in a dominatrix-style getup alongside an army of male dancers in black latex pants and muscle shirts. But it was more like “I’m Meh.”
Best: Anitta — and Missy Elliott!
While Rexha was trying way too hard, Brazilian star was effortlessly sexy in a black catsuit, humping the stage while a male dancer held her microphone. Bringing some South American heat to the American Music Awards, the Favorite Female Latin Artist winner performed a medley of “Envolver” and “Lobby,” with none other than Elliott showing up to get her freak on with Anitta.
Best: Jimmie Allen honors Loretta Lynn
Before introducing Carrie Underwood, breakout country star Allen — one of the African-American artists turning up the diversity in the genre — came strumming out with his acoustic guitar to do a bit of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in sweet remembrance of the late, great Lynn. It was a touching tribute that flipped both the gender and the race traditionally associated with the classic. And you get the feeling that Lynn was looking down with a smile on her face.
Worst: Carrie Underwood’s aerial flop
Although Underwood brought some much-needed star power to the festivities, she seemed way out of her element trying to steal Pink’s acrobatic Cirque du Soleil act wearing a multicolored leotard. Performing the rock-edged “Crazy Angels” from her “Denim & Rhinestones” album, it felt like production overkill for a singer who just needs to stand there and belt like the vocal beast she is.
Worst: The Olivia Newton-John tribute
Singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” in honor of the beloved late “Grease” star, Pink’s second performance of the night wasn’t bad — she sounded fine — but it was still a disappointment. It just wasn’t the perfect song for her — nor was that feathery gown the perfect dress — and a medley featuring other songs and other singers would have done more justice to Newton-John.
Best: The Lionel Richie tribute
The tribute to Richie that closed the show was far more fitting, providing the emotional and musical highlights of the night. First there was ageless Motown legend Smokey Robinson introducing Richie, bringing the kind of class and classic pedigree that was missing for most of the show. Then Richie — also newly inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — stepped up to give a very earnest speech as he accepted the Icon Award, encouraging young artists to strive to inspire future generations.
But the best was saved for last when Stevie Wonder(!) and Charlie Puth performed a joyful medley of Richie’s hits— from “Three Times a Lady” and “Easy (Like Sunday Morning)” to “Brick House” and “All Night Long (All Night).” It all ended with a star-studded “We Are the World” that made it feel like 1985 all over again.