American Music Awards: Most memorable moments in its 46-year history
A walk down memorable-moment lane
Let’s be honest: There’s a lot more to award shows than just the awards. Any time Hollywood’s biggest stars are all under one roof, there are bound to be some surprises, and this seems to be especially true of its musicians. As you gear up for next Tuesday’s American Music Awards, hosted by Tracee Ellis Ross, EW rounded up some of the event’s wildest moments throughout its 46-year history.
"We are the World" (1986)
In 1985, Harry Belafonte brought the most successful artists of the era together to produce “We are the World,” an inspirational anthem written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The proceeds of the song’s sales — more than $60 million — benefitted humanitarian efforts in Africa. A year later, the same group of nearly 40 artists took the stage at the 1986 AMAs and captivated audiences worldwide as they once again sang the uplifting song.
Garth Brooks rejects Artist of the Year (1996)
Artist of the Year is the most coveted honor at the AMAs, and most artists are more than happy to accept it. Twenty-two years ago, however, singer-songwriter Garth Brooks made a professional sacrifice and rejected the award out of respect to his fellow musicians. After his name was announced, Brooks ascended to the stage with a solemn expression, and calmly took a stand. “So you’ll know right off the bat, I cannot agree with this,” he said, holding the iconic crystal pyramid before leaving it on the podium and walking away.
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake (2001)
Britney and Justin were the power couple of our early 2000s dreams, and the matching, all-denim sets they debuted on the 2001 AMA red carpet can only be described as the stuff of legends. It even inspired Katy Perry and Riff Raff to pay homage to the pair at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Timberlake may have left his boy band days in the past, but the memory of this bold fashion statement will never die.
Kanye West (2004)
These days, everyone is familiar with Kanye West’s controversies at awards shows. Way back in 2004, however, he had the first of this now-famous public outbursts when he stormed out of the auditorium after losing New Breakthrough Artist (now called Best New Artist) to country singer Gretchen Wilson. “I was definitely robbed,” West later told the Associated Press. “I was the best new artist this year.”
Adam Lambert (2009)
Audiences were shocked when singer-songwriter Adam Lambert kissed and simulated oral sex with a back-up dancer during a performance of his song “For Your Entertainment.” On top of that, his set included scantily-clad dancers on poles and on the ground, and much of the Twitterverse called the S&M themes excessive. Lambert got a ton of backlash for the extremely sexual demonstration, but he argued that it was a double standard, as female artists have had risqué performances for years.
Katy Perry (2013)
The “I Kissed a Girl” singer performed her song “Unconditionally” at the 2013 AMAs while dressed as a geisha of sorts, sparking controversy and outrage at what many viewers perceived as cultural appropriation. High-profile media outlets, including The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal, covered the tone-deaf costume, using Perry as a jumping-off point for conversations about racial sensitivity.
Lady Gaga (2013)
The 2013 AMAs also saw Lady Gaga’s red carpet arrival on a “mechanical” horse (it was actually operated by two people hidden underneath the fake animal) in an homage to the moment actress Bianca Jagger supposedly strode into New York nightclub Studio 54 on a real, white horse. Granted, this isn’t the most memorable of Gaga’s red carpet appearances, but, boy, does she know how to make an entrance.
Selena Gomez (2014)
Toward the tail-end of her relationship (well, the first round) with Justin Bieber, popstar Selena Gomez stood alone on stage at the 2014 AMAs and gave a powerful performance of her song “The Heart Wants What It Wants.” She was visibly shaken up while she sang, and she even took a deep breath and mouthed the words, “Thank you, Jesus,” during a chorus.
Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth (2015)
Some AMA performances are great, some are flops, but this one just made everyone cringe. Three years ago, pop singers Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth gave a rendition of their song “Marvin Gaye,” and ended their time on stage with a full-on make-out. It was very aggressive and obviously staged, making social media blow up with reactions to the awkward moment.
At last year’s AMAs, P!nk took her performance to a level most other artists never would: She belted her power ballad, “Beautiful Trauma,” as she dangled from the side of the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The death-defying stunt was risky, for sure, but it made for one of the most impressive performances the AMAs — or any awards show — has ever seen. If P!nk was terrified (and we wouldn’t blame her!), she definitely didn’t show it.