This year’s American Music Awards was a little different. Coming off the year that was 2020 and the hiccup that has been 2021, the annual awards ceremony needed to find a way to get creative. People are looking to music to help heal and recollect their thoughts after so much uncertainty and loss, and the AMAs performances this year reflected the need among the people of the world. This year, the performances brought together some unusual co-performers and bridged generational gaps, helping to heal divides. 

An AMAs for the Ages

AMAs

What made this year’s performances so unusual? Namely, the acts. This year’s AMAs saw performers return to the stage who were big in the ’80’s and ’90’s and who have existed in relatively obscurity since then. There were superstar ’80’s boy bands, ’90’s Latin diva queens, and 2021’s hottest K-Pop band to boot.

This year’s three-hour awards ceremony included performances from some artists who were in person, some who were remote, and an interesting blend of on stage costars. While some acts were hectic and fell short of what their organizers intended, others were top tier and wowed audiences. Let’s take a look at exactly what made this year’s performances so unique and exciting. 

Best Performances

AMAs

Every performance last night was remarkable, but not all in a good way. So let’s get the bad out of the way first.

  • BTS and Coldplay: It sounds like a dream, and in the recording studio this K-pop superstar group and ’90’s alt group may create magic, but on stage it was crowded and hectic. BTS fans nearly drowned out the performance – something they may be used to but Coldplay’s lead singer Chris Martin looked a little taken aback by. 
  • New Edition and New Kids: Generation X collectively lost their minds as the oft-rival boy band superstars of the ’80’s took the stage together for a monumental team-up. Leading up to the AMAs, the marketing team cleverly advertised their performance as a battle of the bands, stirring up a decades-old rivalry that left fans breathless with excitement. But when New Edition and New Kids on the Block took the stage, what they delivered was less battle and more brilliance. Some of their biggest hits were shared and it’s clear these stars may be older – but not too old to make the audience swoon. Of course, it turns out that the two star bands are staging a tour in 2022 and this was the perfect place to show how they could create magic together.
  • Silk Sonic, the brainchild duo consisting of superstar crooner Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, took the stage to strut their stuff. Both performers have a retro, silky style and it was on fully display as they showed the worth of their collaboration.
  • Jennifer Lopez performed a single from her upcoming film, “Marry Me.” It was a classic, elegant, orchestra-backed JLo whose honey smooth vocals delighted fans. 
  • Olivia Rodrigo went sweet and simple for her first AMAs performance. The star took the stage with an acoustic guitar and a simple summery dress, letting her vocals and her all-female backup band speak for themselves. 
  • Carrie Underwood and James Aldean didn’t show up in person but streamed their performance from Nashville, and what a performance it was. Aldean played piano and Underwood belted it out; both showcasing their strengths. 
  • Other performers included Bad Bunny, Chloe, Tyler, The Creator, Mickey Guyton, Zoe Wees, Giveon and more. 

There was something for viewers of all ages and the interesting mash-ups of New Edition and NKOTB along with BTS and Coldplay showed the AMAs are hoping to be a healing force in 2021. 

Big Winners

AMAs

Although the AMAs could certainly stand alone as a concert, there’s more to it of course. Cardi B was a charming and delightful host, and this year’s winners showed a diverse and talented group. Here are some of the most noteworthy wins of the night:

  • Artist of the Year: Or should it say, “artists”? BTS won this category, beating Ariana Grande, Drake, The Weeknd and more.
  • New Artist of the Year: No surprise here, it’s Olivia Rodrigo.
  • Collaboration of the Year: Doja Cat ft. SZA, “Kiss Me More.”
  • Favorite Trending Song: Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Body” took this category which was a bit of a surprise because it was up against ear-worm hits like “Buss it” and “Driver’s license.”
  • Favorite Music Video: Everyone can say it with us, Lil Nas X‘s “Montero: Call Me by Your Name,” had to take this category. While the Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” was a serious contender, Montero has consistently been on everyone’s watch list since it launched, so this one is no surprise.
  • Favorite Male Pop Artist: Ed Sheeran took this category and maybe it was the world’s mea culpa for the hate this ginger crooner receives online. But up against stars like The Weeknd and Lil Nas X, this one is definitely an upset in our book.
  • Favorite Female Pop Artist: Arguably, Taylor Swift’s heyday was 10 years ago, but it’s no surprise with her recent acclaim that she took this spot. The pop princess recently re-released her “Red” album, politely eviscerating Jake Gyllenhaal in song form. 
  • Favorite Male Hip-Hop Artist: Drake won this category, easily.
  • Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist: Megan Thee Stallion. 

In a fascinating look into analytics, data analysis site Viberate predicted the winners using a number of metrics focused on online popularity, and they were pretty close. They accurately predicted BTS and Olivia Rodrigo but missed male pop artist, predicting Justin Bieber would win. The interactions between fans and the online content of their favorites can often predict the way an awards ceremony will go; after all, they aren’t going to give an award to someone who’s not getting play time.  

Other noteworthy winners include Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Cardi B and more. And The Weeknd did finally get his due as Favorite Male R&B Artist. It was an eclectic list of winners and performers and made for a fun night, reminiscent of pre-pandemic ceremonies. Although some things were clearly post-pandemic, it was good to see some old rivals share the stage and have every generation feel heard and seen.