Four of the most talented artists in mainstream music made major statements at Sunday’s American Music Awards ceremony. Rather than simply settling for trophies or “song promo,” they seized the opportunity to showcase their artistry, elevate their prestige and strengthen their fan connection.
Taylor Swift: The latest chapter in Swift’s rift with Big Machine boss Scott Borchetta and buying consortium leader Scooter Braun – this time, concerning Swift’s note that the label was preventing her from singing her old hits at the ceremony – became the leading conversation topic ahead of Sunday’s show. The masses wanted to know how Swift would respond.
The answer: by focusing on the powerful honesty of her music – and the unbreakable connection with her fans.
As part of her Artist of the Decade acceptance, Swift performed a retrospective containing hits like “Love Story,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off.” The compelling medley simultaneously showcased Swift’s unique songwriting vision and reminded fans of the important role her music has played in millions of lives. Those realities – proof of her artistry and fan connection – are invulnerable to any legal dispute about music ownership.
Swift made more explicit overtures to the masters situation – she, notably, thanked her new label home for supporting her vision; she also commenced her medley by performing “The Man” while wearing a shirt containing her Big Machine album names – but her overall AMAs tone was not one of hostility. It was a celebration of her music and a tribute to her fans, family and creative partners, whose support she credits with her icon-level of success.
The fact that she performed well and won key honors like Pop/Rock Album, Artist of the Year and Artist of the Decade, further solidified the AMAs as a defining night for the immensely accomplished artist.
Billie Eilish: One of the year’s biggest breakouts enjoyed an incredibly memorable night at the AMAs. She won key awards – and delivered endearing acceptance speeches – for Alternative Artist and New Artist. She also delivered a high-energy, high-charisma rendition of “all the good girls to go hell.” Featuring the stunning visuals and trick photography for which she is becoming known, Billie Eilish provided context (and justification) for the hype. She is for real.
Camila Cabello: Responsible for some of the best televised performances of the past few years, Camila Cabello knows how to bring her recordings to life. She is an undeniably talented, immensely passionate performer.
Supportive of that assessment, Sunday’s AMAs ceremony essentially positioned her as a “go-to” live performer in today’s mainstream music market. In addition to performing her global smash “Señorita” with Shawn Mendes, Cabello delivered a visually (and vocally) spectacular rendition of her new song “Living Proof.” Easily one of the night’s standout performances, “Living Proof” illustrated the precise, creative, lofty way Cabello approaches her music. She does not record songs; she shares emotion and stories.
Later, she and Halsey accompanied Taylor Swift to perform “Shake It Off” during the Artist of the Year montage.
By making the most of three separate performances, Cabello cemented her standing as a live music powerhouse. An additional moment in the spotlight – a win for best collaboration – provided another profile boost.
Halsey: After winning Favorite Pop/Rock Song for “Without Me,” Halsey delivered the night’s best acceptance speech. Taking a thinly veiled shot at the Grammys (at which “Without Me” is one of the year’s biggest snubs), Halsey expressed the disillusionment with chasing trophies. As a fan-voted award, the AMAs restore some wonder to the process.
Later, Halsey showcased her unique flair for stunning, complex performances. Her rendition of “Graveyard” included intimate one-on-one choreography with a dance partner, stunning work on, around and below a table, and plenty of paint.
Combined with the aforementioned “Shake It Off” performance, these special moments showcased the unwavering value and meaning Halsey ascribes to her art. She is not one to compromise, pull punches or otherwise let anything get in the way of her vision.