7:55 p.m.: It's time for the Billboard Music Awards. When I was West Coast Bureau Chief at Billboard, the BMAs were one of my favorite events. Back then, they were in December and they were based on the year-end Soundscan/BDS numbers. Two years ago, after a four-year hiatus, the BMAs were resurrected for May sweeps, so now they are awarded based on the top sellers between that well-recognized March-to-March period. In other words, ABC gave Billboard the slot and Billboard had to come up with awards that somehow made sense. Of course, they aren't the only awards that don't follow a calendar year: the Grammys cover October to September.
Among the performers on tonight's show are Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Pitbull with Christina Aguilera (and with Jennifer Lopez), Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Prince. Here we go, into the breach...
8 p.m.: The evening opens with Bruno Mars performing on what looks like a "Soul Train" set from the '70s, full of disco balls. Performing the retro-sounding "Treasure," Mars and his band are all dressed in similar red suits and have the same dance moves. It's delicious. He ends with a bit of the medley of "Locked Out of Heaven." I say this every time I write about Mars, he is a stone-cold star.
8:06: Tracy Morgan is hosting. He comes out behind a shroud of scantily-clad Vegas show girls because that's never been done before...yawn. I won't be doing this all night, but when I was at Billboard, I'd say the best hosts were Kathy Griffin, who was hilarious, and Bernie Mac, may he rest in peace. Morgan gets through his monologue with some tired jokes, such as how you don't want to date Taylor Swift because she'll write a song about you, but he lands his joke about Mr. Vegas, Wayne Newton being his long-lost father.
8:09: Shania Twain, who has a residency at Caesars Palace in Vegas, presents top rap artist to Nicki Minaj, who has on a beautiful red dress. She first exclaims that she didn't expect this. I will say that when I was aware of how the awards were handled, the winners really didn't know in advance. They knew they were finalists, but that was it (although given that the awards are based on SoundScan and BDS data, in some cases, it's not too hard to figure out who will win). Minaj gives a restrained, fairly generic thank you speech with no mention of Mariah Carey at all...
8:17: That's some fine lipsyncing by Selena Gomez on "Come and Get It," her first top 10 hit. I've seen her do a variation of this performance about four times now with different costumes and slightly different motifs, but it's all been pretty much the same. She looks beautiful, but this is nothing more than a girls revue performed to an extremely mediocre song that sounds like a Rihanna cast-off.
8:21: The Band Perry, or Kimberly Perry and her two back-up brothers, are performing "Better Dig Two," the first single off their current album, "Pioneer." I wonder why they're doing that instead of current single, "Done." Now the three siblings are banging on drums in front of them. I've seen Blue Man Group do the exact same thing, but they do it with lots and lots of groovy-colored paint splashing everywhere. But they don't have to sing while they're doing it. Advantage: The Band Perry.
8:30: Carly Rae Jepsen introduces Icona Pop who are performing their hit "I Love It." Two thoughts: Jepsen has sadly become a one-hit wonder. There's still, of course, time for that to change, but it makes me a little sad that she hadn't had more success. Second thought: "I Love It" took a tremendously long time to catch on at top 40-- after tunneling through countless commercial placements. So far, all of the performances have been uptempo, which is a smart move. Oh my, we're going straight from synthetic (albeit catchy) Icona Pop to Psy. Psy and Tracy Morgan are having a dance off and Morgan is calling Psy fat, which I wouldn't say. But they use it as a way to segue into Chris Brown's performance of "Fine China." Based on some of the clams he's hitting, he is definitely singing live when he's singing, although most of the singing is taped. At least he's not even pretending to be singing when he's not. My God, the man can dance. Working off the China motif, he goes into a ninja routine (I googled, yes, ninjas are Japanese, but apparently some of the moves originated in China-- entertaining AND informative... ) Orianthi comes on and adds some guitar shredding. Michael Jackson had tagged her as the guitarist for the "This Is It," so maybe she'll now sign on with Brown since he so badly wants to be Jackson.
8:40: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are performing "Thrift Song," which I'm still loving, probably because of the horns and Wanz's poppin' tags. They may be lip syncing, but it's a very entertaining performance.This was pre-taped at Tryst at the Wynn.
8:54: Huh? Why is Tracy Morgan giving a shout out to Michael Jackson and wearing a silver MJ jacket. TI thought he was going to give a shout out to the new Cirque du Soleil show , "Immortal," that's coming to Mandalay Bay, but no, it's just some random thing. Now Kid Rock, who seems inebriated, comes out and lambasts the folks who are lip synching. He presents Top Rap Song to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for "Thrift Shop." They accept from The Wynn, so maybe their performance wasn't pre-taped.
9:02: Don't you think Jabbawockeez dance crew when you think Taylor Swift? Well, you might not, but she does. They, and a league of other dancers, join her on a fun-filled "22." As usual, she hits some notes that sound a little flat, but it's a lively performance that starts in her dressing room and runs through the backstage of the arena. Tracy Morgan comes back, still in his MJ jacket, to make a bad joke about how the show is so hot by the time it ends, Elvis Presley, TuPac and Notorious B.I.G. will have come back to life.
9:09: Kacey Musgraves is performing her country top-10 hit, "Merry-Go-Round." This needed more of a set-up than Florida Georgia Line since about 98% of the people watching have never heard of her. It's a very restrained, low-key performance, which means people could hear the words, including one of my favorite lines from this year, "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay/Brother's hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down. Her album, "Same Trailer, Different Park" is one of my favorites so far this album, but this reeks of her label saying they wanted her on the show if Billboard was going to get some other big names.
9:15: Will.I.Am is presenting Madonna with the top touring artist. Oh, Madge, she's a BDSM Jackie O from the top up with her fur coat and sunglasses and chain lock around her neck, and hooker from the waist down since she forgot to wear pants and is in a garter and thigh highs. She's giving a very boring speech thanking the folks who put her tour together, including the music director and set designers. Oh, yeah, she just remembered to thank her four children, two of them who worked on the show. Go child labor! She finally gets around to thanking her fan. "Without you, I wouldn't have a show to do and a show girl needs her fans. Thank you for supporting me for three decades." I don't even know what to say. Madonna had a chance to give a really heartfelt speech about her fans and about being able to have this amazing career for 3 decades. A chance to actually show some emotion. Most disappointing performance of the night. What's the matter with her (m)DNA? Thighs: 10, Heart: 0.
9: 25: Justin Bieber wants to take us home in his baggy black leather pants... they're so loose, there's room for all of us in there. I am not in the Bieber-Hater club, but what a wretched song and performance. Did he sing a word of that? The global graphics were cool, but does he think he's a reject from "The Matrix" or something? He climbs into a pod at the end. Time for the mothership to beam him back to Canada.
9:33: Taylor Swift's "Red" wins Top Billboard 200 album, again, thanks to the timetable of the awards. She runs through her laundry list, but comes back thanks her fans and calls their support "magical." Madonna could learn from Swift. A classy looking Ke$ha (I know, I know, that sounds like a oxymoron) introduces Pitbull and Christina Aguilera, who are performing "Feel This Moment." Aguilera, who can really, really sing, is lipsyncing for some reason along to some super-enhanced vocals, but it doesn't matter, because all the press will talk about is how great she looks now that she's dropped some weight. And she does. I'm a sucker for this song and for a lot of Pitbull songs. Maybe in this case, it's the interpolation of the melody from A-ha's "Take On Me," but in general, he's just good time dance pop that isn't meant to be anything more than that. They're supposed to be joined by a special guest. And it's A-ha's Morten Harket, who looks great! He's also lipsyncing and no one over 30 will know who he is, but it's a nice little homage.
9:42: When did Miley Cyrus become, as Morgan calls her, is one of the biggest stars on the planet? Really? Maybe one of the biggest tabloid sensations. She's supposed to perform her new single tonight. We'll see. Now she's presenting top male artist, which goes to Justin Bieber. He redeems that performance by thanking his fans, the Beleibers. However, the camera is much more concerned with how his once and possibly current girlfriend Selena Gomez is reacting...which is not much. All I can think of is how sad I feel for Mally, the monkey he abandoned in Germany.
9:47: Miguel's performing "Adorn." His Grammy performance was one of the highlights of the Grammys and, like Bruno Mars, I think he's a really strong new talent, but there's something off about this performance... or is it just me? He and his band don't seem to by in sync, but at least he's singing.
9:52: We've got a little more than an hour left and the show has been very fast paced. Like most award shows, the awards are a complete afterthought and most aren't being given out on TV. I really hate how much people are lipsyncing. I wonder when it became totally acceptable to do that on a live TV show, even when you're not dancing around? I have to think that Kid Rock's comment about it was ad libbed because there's no way that someone would have written that in... guess he won't be back. Hell, I think he should host next time.
9:56 I could cry with relief. Ed Sheeran is actually singing live. He's singing "Lego House," but if I close my eyes and ignore the accent, I swear I hear Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car." Is it just me?
10:00: The third hour opens with Pitbull and "global superstar," Jennifer Lopez performing "Live It Up." Like Madonna, Lopez forgot her pants. In truth, I am in awe of their bodies, but that doesn't mean their outfits look great. "Live It Up" is much less catchy than Pitbull's number with Aguilera and I can't enjoy it because I'm too afraid Lopez's heel is going to get caught on the grate. Wow. We just got a full Lopez crotch shot. She is very well groomed. The gifs of that slide will start in 3...2...1. Is that Lopez screaming "Put me down!" at the end?
10:07: Billboard, I hope you feel good about totally just selling out with this horrible O.D.I.V (One Day In Vegas) spot with Sky Blu that's part of the programming. I hope the tourism board paid you buckets. I know sponsorship and placement within shows has become acceptable, but they will never seems unclunky to me. Rest easy, Madonna... you're off the hook with your acceptance speech. There's a new low.
10:12: David Guetta wins top EDM artist. The award was co-presented by Kelly Rowland. If you aren't familiar with his and Rowland's song "When Love Takes Over" from a few years ago, as soon as the show is over, go listen. It's fantastic. I also still love "Without You" featuring Usher. He gives a very sweet acceptance speech about how he thought Billboard was crazy when they put him on the cover a few years ago, heralding EDM as the next big thing.
10:14: Bieber and his baggy leather pants are back to perform "That Power" with will.i.am. I know this is absolutely nothing new, but I'm so bored with performances that double at aerobics routines. A real song, as Ed Sheeran showed earlier, doesn't need that and great dance moves can't redeem a boring song.
10: 24: David Guetta, Akon and Ne-Yo are performing "Play Hard." Guetta, who probably makes hundreds of thousands of dollars per appearance now, has the easiest job in the world. He gets to hang out in the DJ booth, spin, and play with hair or raise his hand as an emphasis point every now and then and/or clap. No wonder he can't get that grin off his face. Props that his green headphones match the green laser. What's it say when the EDM guys are among the few not lipsyncing?
10: 28: Did Tracy Morgan just call Cee-Lo his favorite poop stain? Anyway, Cee-Lo and a lucky winner, who's much more poised than Morgan, is presenting the fan-voted Milestone Award. It's supposedly for innovation, but it's just a popularity contest. Swift is forced to look happy for him as he stands there holding the award with his sunglasses on, looking like a douchebag. Seriously, unless you have pink eye, take off the damn sunglasses inside. "I'm 19 years old, I think I'm doing a pretty good job," Bieber says, before he starts talking about his "craft" and being taken "seriously" and not all the other "bull." My hat is off to you, Billboard... tonight I have experienced two things I never thought I would: Taylor Swift performing with Jabbawockeez and Beiber using the word "craft" in a sentence to express his career.
10:38: Taylor Swift wins artist of the year. Sounding perfectly rational she's talking about how her music covers an"extreme emotional spectrum.. Those are the crazy emotions and I want to thank you for making it the soundtrack to your crazy emotions. You are the longest and best relationship I ever had." Aah... Are you listening Madonna?
10: 44: Nicki Minaj is now giving Lil Wayne a lap dance as they perform "High School." Now she's shaking her booty in the camera. Between that and the shot of Jennifer Lopez's lady business, I'm good... I feel very safe in saying that they don't deserve to be taken seriously. I'm all for women (and men) expressing their sexuality, but Jesus, when did flashing your crotch or shaking your ass become some indicator of your talent?
10:49: Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, wearing the outfits they sport in their "Q.U.E.E.N." video, are introducing Prince, who's won the Icon Award. They can say all they want about Prince, but I really want to ask them how they feel about Nicki Minaj's performance. I think it's safe to say that we'll never see these two wonderfully talented women giving someone a lap dance on stage.
10: 52: I guarantee you with every dollar I have in my bank account, Prince made them put the line about his being a champion for performers' rights in this taped piece.
10:53: Prince, with a full afro, is doing a slow-down, funkified "Let's Go Crazy." I bet he's never lipsynced in his life.He's got what looks like an all-female band. Here's a thought: he and Jack White should take their all-girl bands out on the road together. Or he and Beyonce. I would pay lots of money for that. Now he's gone into ferocious version of a relatively new song, "FixUrLifeUp," before he goes back into "Let's Go Crazy" with some incredibly shredding, Hendrix-style. Game, set, match. Prince, thank you for getting the taste of Nicki Minaj out of my mouth. For the kids watching, go pull out every single one of your parents' Prince CDs and listen to them over and over and over again so you actually understand what real music is.
11:02: So the BMAs started very strong with a great performance by Bruno Mars and ended with a strong, electrifying performance by Prince. There were certainly some good moments inbetween, but not enough. My favorite performances were Mars, Prince, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Ed Sheeran and Pitbull/Christina Aguilera. Tracy Morgan was a dud of a host (even though I know it's a really thankless job).
What did you think?