The American Music Awards are not your average awards show. The awards are entirely fan-voted, which puts the power in the listeners’ hands ensuring that the most popular artist or song wins, and as host model Gigi Hadid noted, “There’s no electoral college tonight.”
In addition to showing who fans love the most, the show also featured performances by Niall Horan, Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar, James Bay, Fifth Harmony, Lady Gaga, Green Day, DJ Khaled, John Legend, Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes, Twenty One Pilots, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber (sort of), special duets from The Chainsmokers and Halsey, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. Plus, Robert Downey, Jr., stopped by the show to give Sting the honor of the American Music Award of Merit.
The show was hosted Hadid, whose boyfriend Zayn Malik was nominated for best new artist, and former Saturday Night Live star and master impressionist Jay Pharoah, who did so many impressions it was like Donald Trump, Kanye West and Drake were all co-hosting the show, too.
Here are the best and worst moments of the 2016 American Music Awards:
The ’90s Are Back: Everything old is new again and the AMAs were in full ’90s nostalgia mode. Hadid noted that “Jenny McCarthy is here,” and Pharoah added: “Green Day is performing, and a White guy is President. It’s the ’90s all over again!”
The Best Time Gigi Hadid Went Political: Hadid not only joked about the ongoing beef between Drake and Meek Mill, but she also went sharply (and surprisingly) political, not only delivering an electoral college zinger, but turning out a decent Melania Trump impression. After pulling what she considered to be a Trump face and saying: “I love my husband, President Barack Obama, and our children Sacha and Malia,” an apparant reference to the fact that Trump’s Republican Convention speech may have been cribbed from one of Michelle Obama’s.
Best Bruno Mars Compliment: Bruno Mars opened the show with a performance of “24K Magic” dressed like an extra from The Sopranos in athletic gear, pristine Nikes and a gold chain. At the end of the performance, Pharoah offered up his best Donald Trump performance to compliment the singer. “I love Bruno Mars,” said Pharoah as Trump. “I don’t know what color he is so I can’t deport him.” He continued the impression, earning belly laughs from the audience by saying, as Trump, “I’m going to funk this country up bigly.”
The Worst Technical Difficulties: Over the course of the award ceremony, the show’s video displays kept preempting the announcers. When Hidden Figures stars Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer tried to announce that Twenty One Pilots won the Favorite Duo or Group—Pop/Rock award, the band’s picture was plastered on the video displays before the announcers could get their words out. Same when Miss America and Florida Georgia Line tried to announce that Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign won best collaboration for “Work From Home”. The band’s photo went up before the winner was named and the crowd just sat confused. This doesn’t happen at the VMAs!
The Best Time That Niall Horan Serenaded 10,000 Girls Simultaneously: The former One Directioner delivered a stripped down set with just an acoustic guitar and a bare bones backing band for his rendition of “This Town”. While Horan is new to a solo career, he is a wizened pro and managed to make it feel like he was singing directly to each and every teen girl in the world.
Fifth Harmony Dropped By: Fifth Harmony dropped in to the AMAs, literally. They descended from the ceiling to perform their hit “That’s My Girl” while the crowd roared and danced along.
Drake’s Best Throwback: Drake competed against himself in the Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album category, so it wasn’t a surprise that he managed to win his first award. When he took the stage, he used his time to announce that he and Vampire Diaries star and award presenter Nina Dobrev used to be on Degrassi Junior High together.
Speaking of the ’90s: Hadid and Pharoah warned us that the ’90s were in the house, and sure enough Blink-182’s drummer Travis Barker made a surprise appearance on stage alongside The Chainsmokers who performed their hit “Closer” with Halsey. Also referencing the ’90s was James Bay’s fedora.
The Crowd Pleasers: One of the best parts of the AMAs is watching favorite artists geek out to performances by their favorite artists. Whether it’s watching Fifth Harmony dance to Shawn Mendes’ medley of “Treat you better” and “Mercy”, Lady Gaga busting a move to Bruno Mars, The Chainsmokers singing every word to Twenty One Pilots, Twenty One Pilots headbanging to Green Day, or Drake singing along to The Weeknd.
Best Announcers: When Olivia Munn and Silicon Valley’s T.J. Miller came out to announce the Best Country Song, they made their announcement with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. They drew out the announcement, babbling about stilted dialogue and striking awkward poses before eventually announcing that Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” was the winner. Nice to have someone remind viewers that award shows are not to be taken too seriously.
Best Appearance By Wicker: When Ariana Grande cut to Nicki Minaj during her performance of their hit “Side to Side”, Nicki was sitting on a wicker Peacock chair. She then delivered her entire rapid-fire verse while seated on her wicker throne, because a queen doesn’t need to stand for anyone.
Best Taylor Swift Appearance: Earlier this year, Taylor Swift face-planted on a treadmill while listening to Drake and Future for an Apple Music ad. After Jay Pharoah attempted to recreate Taylor Swift’s less-than-suave moves on the AMAs, Apple Music debuted a new ad starring Drake bench pressing to Swift’s “Bad Blood”:
Best Confession: Teyana Taylor tried and failed to read the teleprompter feeding her lines while announcing the New Artist of the Year. After aggressively squinting didn’t work, she simply shrugged and told the audience, “I wear glasses,” and announced the winner. (It was Zayn, by the way).
Best Bleeping: Chrissy Tiegen took the stage to introduce her husband John Legend and his performance of “Love Me Now”, but she couldn’t introduce the ode to the love song without explaining why the world needed a love song so very badly right now. That lead to an extensive bleeping, as anyone who follows Tiegen’s Twitter feed could have guessed.
Best Skype Session: Justin Bieber couldn’t make it to the AMAs this year, so instead hooked up a glorified Skype call from his concert in Bologna, Italy to perform his song “Let Me Love You.” American audience got to watch young Italian girls succumb to Bieber Fever and sob in the crowd.
The Kids Are Alright: If you were worried about young people today, fear not: They gave Best Soundtrack honors to Prince for Purple Rain. The honor was accepted by Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson, who wept and held the trophy aloft telling Prince they would keep his award at Paisley Park.
Best Political Punchline: Idina Menzel asked noted Donald Trump nemesis Mark Cuban what he was looking forward to and he smiled and said, “Not being invited to the inauguration.” Menzel agreed, saying that as an “unsafe, scary theater” person, she would not be welcomed there and then shouted, “I love you Hamilton!” Then they gave Florida Georgia Line the prize for best Country Duo or Group.
Best Kanye West Rants: While West couldn’t make the show, Pharoah revived the impression that he honed on SNL to deliver a few of West’s bon mots in his stead. “I invented McDonald’s!” said Pharoah. “I am Gargamel, the rest of you are Smurfs! Slay Gaga, yassssss!”
Most Political Performance: Green Day may have written American Idiot for George W. Bush, but they are far from finished with their political music. During their performance of “Bang Bang” on the AMAs, they added a fiery verse of “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!” — one of the chants heard at anti-Trump protests around the U.S. — on repeat.
Best Throwback: Sting delivered a medley that took older fans down memory lane and introduced younger ones (like Selena Gomez) to his back catalogue with songs like “I’ll Be Watching You” and “Message in a Bottle”.
Best Reason to Check Snapchat: While most people have switched to Instagram Stories, DJ Khaled is still making his Major Key announcements on Snapchat. After he hyped Nicki Minaj, Future, August Alsina, and Rick Ross, his Snapchat update will undoubtedly make it worthwhile to re-download the app.
Most Honest Moment: Selena Gomez used her win for Favorite Female Artist to remind people (and her Instagram followers) to seek out help if they are in trouble. “If you are broken you don’t have to stay broken,” she said, apparently directly to Lady Gaga’s soul. The second most honest moment was when the drummer from Twenty One Pilots said he was so nervous he might throw up while accepting an award.
The Biggest Award of the Night: The smallest artist won the biggest award when Ariane Grande picked up the Artist Of The Year honor.
Best Finale: Throughout the night, the announcers hyped the grand finale — featuring a collaboration between Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar — as “epic.” It was actually not particularly memorable, and was just a fairly straightforward rendition of their song “Don’t Wanna Know.” However after three hours of an awards show any finale is the Best Finale Ever.