The Billboard Music Awards are not the Grammys, which claim to be about the art. They are also not the MTV VMAs, which don't pretend to be about anything but the spectacle. The Billboard Awards are about, as host Ludacris pointed out off the bat, honouring the world's most successful artists because clearly they need the affirmation.
Still, it makes sense since industry magazine Billboard has always been best-known for their song and album charts. But it also means they opened the show with the worst best-selling artist in memory, Pitbull, a "rapper" so bad that not even duet partner Jennifer Lopez's legs can distract us from his bland awfulness.
It also sets the award show up for tweets like this by Toronto roots rockers Elliott BROOD.
Hey music lovers! The Billboard music awards are tonight. Also to all you foodies, chicken nuggets are on sale at McDonalds— Elliott BROOD (@ElliottBROOD) May 19, 2014
It didn't get much better when Shania Twain handed out best rock album to Imagine Dragons, a massive selling, critically maligned group who embody quantity over quality. Or when Florida Georgia Line, who later won for their Nelly collab "Cruise," performed their abysmal country-hop tune "This Is How We Roll." Or when Katy Perry skyped in a performance of her least-interesting single "Birthday."
But it's way too easy to pick on pop music.
As cynically creepy as the Michael Jackson hologram was, the Timbaland-produced posthumous track it performed, "Slave to the Rhythm," was a reminder that pop music can indeed be transcendently powerful -- so much so that a 3D computer simulation of MJ singing a throwaway track should have made many of the winners and performers embarrassed.
Jackson's "duet" partner Justin Timberlake -- who won top male artist and top artist, thanking "everyone on the earth except Donald Sterling" -- is more evidence of pop's power.
As is best new artist winner Lorde, who not only pointed that her best rock song winning "Royals" was written when she was fifteen but that she's now SEVENTEEN-AND-A-HALF, which is one of the most adorable boasts ever uttered at an award show. Then she put on an Amish outfit and delivered a devastating performance of "Tennis Court."
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Elsewhere in the three-hour broadcast, Ricky Martin kicked out a new Latin jam with welcome enthusiasm, newcomers Iggy Azalea and Arianne Grande mashed up their hits into a charming mix of cheerleader rap and throwback R&B, while John Legend held it down for the grown-ups with a medley of "All of Me" and "You & I" and Robin Thicke tried to woo his estranged wife with new tune "Get Her Back." Oh, and ageless Jennifer Lopez earned an Icon Award.
The performance highlight, however, was Miley Cyrus, who won top streaming artist and stole the awards show as is her wont, despite performing via satellite while on tour. This time, rather than shocking with twerks or amusing with a space kitten, Miley delivered a beautiful "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" alongside Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne with both of them wearing insanely d-lysergic outfits.
And so while much popular music may be terrible, some of it is amazing, too. Just maybe next time we only need a one-hour award show so we can stick to the good stuff.