For its 50th anniversary, the American Music Awards showcased generations of talent, from first-time nominee and performer GloRilla to timeless icon Stevie Wonder.
Between Carrie Underwood flying high and Pink taking us to the roller disco, Sunday’s show offered plenty of visual snap. Some artists, such as Lil Baby, opted for a more low-key performance, while Imagine Dragons showcased their arena-polished bombast.
Highlights during the three-hour telecast included a sweet Pink tribute to Olivia Newton-John and the Wonder/Charlie Puth homage to Icon Award winner Lionel Richie, whose ripe catalog of solo work and Commodores songs gave the two a workout.
Here’s a ranking of the 2022 AMAs performances, from worst to best.
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11. Bebe Rexha, ‘I’m Good (Blue)’
Performing her electro-dance collaboration with David Guetta for the first time on American television, Bebe Rexha opted for a futuristic motif. Wearing a metallic, bust-baring jumpsuit, Rexha bounced amid a smoky blue stage that pulsed with strobe lights. The pair’s reworking of the 1998 Eiffel 65 hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” glistens, and Rexha continued to shimmer as she was raised on a hydraulic platform to belt the song’s final notes high above her circle of dancers clad in hats that looked like a space-age Mickey Mouse.
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10. Imagine Dragons, ‘Bones’ and ‘Enemy’ with JID
Dancers aren’t necessarily expected during an Imagine Dragons performance, but frontman Dan Reynolds thrives when surrounded by more playmates in his sandbox. The sculpted singer – we know he is, thanks to his abs-bearing open-front shirt – engaged the crowd by leaning down low into their faces with his dancer friends during “Bones.” For “Enemy,” fire engulfed the stage as an introduction for JID, who zipped through his rap portion of the rocker before he, Reynolds and the dance team collapsed in a heap at song’s end.
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9. GloRilla and Cardi B, ‘Tomorrow 2’
Memphis rapper GloRilla kicked off her performance seated on a lighted motorcycle before heading across the stage to meet Cardi B, her “Tomorrow 2” partner, for a heavily bleeped lyrical tradeoff. The pair loped through their fall hit – clad in bright yellow (GloRilla) and blue (Cardi B) – looking loose as they swayed across the stage. Rear ends were shaken, goofy dance moves undertaken and a burst of pyro put the exclamation point on their duet.
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8. Lil Baby, ‘In a Minute’ and ‘California Breeze’
The Atlanta rapper opted for a chill vibe for two of his hits from his third album, “It’s Only Me.” An ocean of dry ice coated the stage as Lil Baby strolled through while unfurling the slow-burning “In a Minute.” During his thoughtful performance, he sat at the end of the stage, looking directly at the audience/camera as he shared his rapid-flow stories (at least what could be discerned in between bleeps).
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7. Carrie Underwood, ‘Crazy Angels’
Doing her best Pink tribute, Carrie Underwood hung upside down above the crowd in a circular apparatus that zipped her to the stage. Underwood has been going airborne on her current tour, so she looked comfortable dropping to the stage in bare feet and a pink, white and black catsuit as she sang the country-rock number. An enthusiastic fan of Guns N’ Roses, Underwood teased her tresses into hair metal mode and even infused her vigorous performance with some Axl Rose swivel moves.
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6. Anitta and Missy Elliott, ‘Envolver’ and ‘Lobby’
The sexy Anitta prowled the stage, slinky and seductive as she pumped her pelvis against the floor for “Envolver,” singing in Spanish as two eager male suitors followed her swinging hips. The Brazilian star spun offstage on a luggage cart to allow Missy Elliott to make an always-welcome entrance for “Lobby,” the pair’s hit summer collaboration. In her funky glasses, sparkly suit and silver sneakers, Elliott looked ageless as she glided down one lane of the stage, unfurling her liquid rhymes before meeting Anitta at center stage for a hug and smiles.
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5. Dove Cameron, ‘Boyfriend’
Focusing on sensuality, Dove Cameron, in a red bustier and black jacket, slinked her way through the libidinous finger-snapper. The bisexual singer and actress encircled the object of her lust, a female dancer who returned Cameron’s flirtations, kissing her hand and caressing her face. The song, a mixture of pop seduction and Broadway bombast, received its ideal visual complement.
4. Stevie Wonder and Charlie Puth, ‘Three Times a Lady,’ ‘Easy,’ ‘All Night Long,’ Say You, Say Me,’ ‘Jesus Is Love,’ ‘We Are the World’
AMAs Icon Award recipient Lionel Richie possesses a bottomless catalog, so mining it for a condensed medley is an unenviable task.
But Richie pal Stevie Wonder and pop wunderkind Charlie Puth attempted to engage in a “Lionel Richie tennis match of copyrighted material,” as Puth called it, allowing for plenty of snippets. With pianos facing each other, Wonder and Puth swapped Richie and Commodores classics, including “Three Times a Lady” (Wonder), “Easy” (Puth), “Jesus Is Love” (Wonder) and “Say You, Say Me” (Puth).
Musically rich but vocally scattershot – Wonder frequently veered off key and Puth’s high notes should best be avoided – the presentation nonetheless charmed with its casualness.
Wonder also reminded the crowd that “We Are the World,” which Richie co-wrote, was birthed after the 1985 AMAs, which led to the natural segue into the anthem with contributions from Ari Lennox, Smokey Robinson, Melissa Etheridge, Yola and others. Richie hopped onto the stage to hug and backslap his tribute chorus, his graciousness apparent and heartfelt.
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3. Pink, ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’
Pink is a very different type of singer than Olivia Newton-John. Pink is all husky muscularity and Newton-John was a honeyed songbird. But Pink’s tribute to the late singer and actress worked beautifully. The gorgeous ballad of heartache from the “Grease” soundtrack remains timeless, and Pink’s expressiveness while singing made clear her admiration for Newton-John. Hand on chest, hitting every big note with passion and ending in a lovely vocal climb, Pink, wearing a pale gown, enchanted as photos of Newton-John in her feathered-hair beauty looked on from the video screens.
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2. Yola, ‘Break the Bough’
The English soul/rock/R&B powerhouse secured the crowd’s attention from the first blast of horns and the sound of her potent voice. Slapping a tambourine against her leg as she walked the stage runways, Yola’s enthusiasm was contagious. The combination of lighted palm trees and a “Miami Vice” color scheme infused the scene with a carefree ambiance, but Yola’s voice resounded with authority.
1. Pink, ‘Never Gonna Not Dance Again’
Choosing Ms. “Get The Party Started” to open the 2022 American Music Awards proved a canny decision. Once you get past the double-negative grammar in Pink’s new song, it’s easy to relish this fizzy pop cocktail. A pre-taped bit showed Pink, in her cotton candy-colored jacket, roller skating outside in darkened Los Angeles before inevitably “arriving” inside the Microsoft Theater to continue the song. Pink’s disco-tastic staging – enhanced with fuchsia and purple neon, a pack of skating dancers and some pops of pyro – painted a colorful backdrop to match the song’s carefree vibe. Relatable as always, Pink showed her humanity by stopping for a couple of seconds to catch her breath.
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