Like most music awards shows, the Billboard Music Awards are so not about the statuettes that are doled out. The show — which aired live last night on ABC from the MGM Grand Hotel, with hosts, Modern Family stars Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell — is typically more about everything but the awards: performances, tributes, collaborations, and other sundry craziness.
Hell, even the fashion — hello to Miley Cyrus’ barely-there suit jacket — is more important than the prizes! And that was no different this year. Just a handful of the 46 awards were actually given out during the show (LMFAO dominated), which was jolted to life with performances from Katy Perry, Cee Lo Green, and Linkin Park; tributes to Robin Gibb, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, and Stevie Wonder; a collaboration between Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys; and a heartfelt speech by Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown.
Here are 20 essential takeaways from the evening:
1. LMFAO always do the same schtick. And seriously, they’ve done it everywhere — on nearly every morning show, late-night talk show, awards show. And we’ve seen it all before, right down to Redfoo and SkyBlu dropping their pants at the end. Okay, so maybe the break-dancing zebra was new. Why did Billboard have them open? Likely, because they were simply available. (That same availability also probably contributed to them winning so many awards, honestly.)
2. Burrell and Bowen are really funny. Their chemistry isn’t just a scripted-television thing! These two have great chemistry live, even if it was a little bit cheesy at moments.
They were smart to address the immediate elephant in the room right from the get-go: Why the hell were the hosting a music awards show? Well, because they’re on Modern Family, which is on the same network as the Billboard Music Awards. But they elaborated. “Who better to host than America’s whitest pretend couple?” Burrell said. Added Bowen: “We are extremely white and extremely suburban.” Smart to be so self deprecating. And Bowen’s comment about the audience was killer, too. “At least tonight we have the kind of audience we really love,” she said. “Ten thousand grown-up drunk people!” The various skits — especially those that found them dressed as rappers, and then country singers — proved to be amusing, as well.
3. No one can ramble like Justin Bieber. Yeah, he performed his current hit “Boyfriend” in a very 1999 pop-music style that harkened to the boy-band days. But most weirdly notable was when he won the Billboard Music Award for Social Artist of the Year and literally gave the longest, most boring speech ever. First, he attempted to say something about how everyone had watched him grow up — this is very much his public narrative right now, how he’s so mature and all, à la Justin Timberlake post boy band — and then he told the crowd: “The internet is where I got my start.” Yes, and on the internet you were performing. Stick to that, please — no more speeches.
4. Lisa Marie Presley is starting to sound like Cher. She showed up to present the Spotlight Award to Katy Perry, who had five of her singles from Teenage Dream go to No. 1. Impressive. But what was more impressive was how deep and low Lisa Marie’s voice has gotten.
5. Katy Perry’s grandma rules. The cameras kept cutting to the old lady in the audience while Katy was giving her speech, and she couldn’t have been more adorable or loveable in her 91-year-old-awesomeness. “I can’t wait to go and do shots with you after this!” Katy told her granny from the stage, for all to hear. Where’s our invite?
6. Kelly Clarkson looks amazing. She’s slimmed down, most likely for her new ABC show, Duets. (More ABC synergy!) And she looked like a new woman, red dress and all. (It’s also worth noting that Carrie Underwood wore a very similar red dress to Clarkson’s while performing — wonder if there was any fuss between the American Idol winners about that.)
7. The Wanted boys are cute. The gaggle of gays I was sitting and watching with each managed to find one of the five appealing. Maybe the group’s tagline should be, “Five guys — you’ll like at least one of them!” Also, their performance couldn’t have been a better promotional spot for Ibiza if the party-obsessed island had paid for it. Totally fun.
8. Miley wanted to make a statement — and she did. It’s no secret that Miley Cyrus is obsessed with making a splash — remember those scandalous photos she took for Vanity Fair back in 2008? Last night, with that hair and tuxedo top — not to mention her obvious leanness — she was looking to get tongues wagging. And with the writing of this blog post — and I’m sure commentary on Twitter — she succeeded. People are talking.
9. Brandy exists! Did you know that? No, but really, it was good to see her — and we here at EW are hoping for good things with her forthcoming album.
10. Natasha Bedingfield needs to make a real comeback. That tribute she did to Donna Summer was pretty — and so is she, in so many ways. “If we can remember her through her music, this will never really be the ‘Last Dance.'” Now, if those production folks hadn’t cut off her performance of the song…
11. Taylor Swift is still doing her whole “It’s me?” surprised thing. And this time, it came after nabbing an award — Woman of the Year — that was awarded by New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel, so it made the whole act that much more cute-overload. Also, Swift’s hair looked weirdly gray.
12. Usher can still perform like no other. Granted, the whole mish-mash of a Victorian tuxedo, ninja backup folks, and dance dueling was kind of weird. But generally, his time on the stage was entertaining.
13. Carly Rae Jepsen is adorable. No, a 26-year-old should not be singing a song that sounds like something Miley Cyrus would have put out when she was about 14. But who cares! Carly — with her general look being all about bangs — rocked the stage and didn’t put on one ounce of pretense. She was singing a silly little ditty that, no joke, the whole world loves — and the crowd was throwing beach balls during it. Perfect! Also, is it possible that she’s sort of the brunette version of Taylor Swift? Marinate on that for a bit.
14. Katy Perry debuted a new song, “Wide Awake.” And it’s good! It’s on her re-release of Teenage Dream, but this was the first time that Perry sang it live. Yes, she had her usual issues with live performance, but the visual eleganza of it all was fun to watch. (I would watch Katy Perry sing the phone book, it’s true.) You also gotta give the girl props for dedicating herself to a theme: “Wide Awake” is not only about being on “cloud nine,” Perry was also floating around on clouds during the (somewhat P!nk-inspired?) performance, which nodded to the overall theme of her entire candy-coated, puffy-cloud-filled Teenage Dream.
15. Whitney Houston apparently saved Whoopi Goldberg’s life. It’s likely an enhanced story for the purpose of entertainment, but Whoop Goldberg appeared on stage to introduce the tribute to Whitney Houston and told a story of how Whitney had saved her life once, after the singer’s security guards were getting rough with the talk show host. Goldberg said Whitney came to her rescue and told her guards, “Stop! That’s Whoopi! Put her down. ‘Cause she will cut you.”
16. Jordin Sparks and John Legend need to get together more often. Their tribute to Whitney was nothing short of fantastic. Legend played the piano and sang “Greatest Love of All,” while Jordin Sparks — who plays Houston’s daughter in the upcoming musical-drama remake Sparkle — bravely belted “I Will Always Love You,” in a totally Whitney rendition that would have made the singer happy. And, Sparks looked fierce doing it. The trifecta of American Idol winners were ruling the stage last night.
17. Bobbi Kristina Brown is a sweet kid. She’s been through the ringer this year, to say the least. But she pulled it together to give a gracious speech while accepting the Millennium Award for her departed mother. “I just wanna say…,” she said, trailing off. “I just really wanna say thank you to everyone who supported us through it all, not just from when it was good, but when it was bad, too. Just everything. Thank you so much for showing us that much love because she deserved it. She did. I’m just blessed to have been in such an incredible woman’s life. There will never be another one, ever.”
18. Cee Lo Green might have put on the best performance of the night. It was typically Cee Lo-weird, but it was also stunning, largely because it included that amazing, one-legged dancer from Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour. To top it off, Cee Lo took the reigns on an Adam Yauch tribute, singing the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).” Bowen hilariously added after the performance: “I love that tribute to Adam Yauch. I love Carrie Underwood singing along. Damn, that was beautiful.”
19. Nelly Furtado is confusing. Love, love, love her, but wow: What was happening with that performance of “Big Hoops”? It seems like the title of the song was taken very literally in some regards — there were hula hoops all over the place — but then there was a sort of Native American theme happening, along with Furtado’s gold-chain look, along with people on stilts. Oh, and Furtado was wearing big, nerdy glasses! (Which I love, but did she steal them from Zooey?) I guess this is all what Gavin DeGraw was referring to when he introduced her and called her “truly eclectic.”
20. Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder’s collaboration was genius. As if it wouldn’t have been. “I’m here tonight to say, thank you, Stevie,” Keys said during her introduction of Wonder, who took home the Icon Award. “Thank you for bringing our world so much wonder. Thank you for bringing us so much joy. Thank you for bringing us all so much soul. Yes!” The pair then sang a medley of his hits together, including “Higher Ground” and “Overjoyed.” Plus: Wonder got Keys to do a stripped-down version of “Empire State of Mind,” which was rough at first and then brought down the house. The whole thing was not a bad way to cap off a long — but entertaining — “awards” show.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky