ALL TO PLAY FOR AT THE AMER­I­CAN MU­SIC AWARDS

More demo­cratic, ac­ces­si­ble and un­pre­dictable than the Gram­mys, the AMAs are grow­ing in stature. Rob Gar­ratt pre­views this year ’s awards

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

Roll up, roll up – the an­nual cir­cus of star­dust and celebrity is now upon us, with awards sea­son of­fi­cially de­clared open this Sun­day, when many of the big­gest names in pop will turn out for the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards (AMAs).

The land­mark 45th edi­tion of the world’s largest fan-vote awards will re­turn to Los An­ge­les’s soul­less-sound­ing Mi­crosoft The­atre on Sun­day night (United States time). Bruno Mars leads the charge with eight nom­i­na­tions at this year’s cer­e­mony, while singer Pink will make her high­est-stakes TV ap­pear­ance of the year, just a week be­fore she closes the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, per­form­ing at du Arena on Novem­ber 26.

The AMAs can be considered the anti-Gram­mys, which is pre­cisely what iconic TV pre­sen­ter Dick Clark in­tended when he founded them in 1973. Much like the Os­cars, the stately Gram­mys are held at the end of the flash­bulb-pop­ping awards sea­son in Fe­bru­ary; hosted at the be­gin­ning of the cy­cle, the brighter, brasher AMAs kick things off in Novem­ber, like the film world’s Gotham Awards and Hol­ly­wood Film Awards.

The cru­cial dif­fer­ence – the se­cre­tive Gram­mys are de­cided by a some­what opaque poll of vot­ing Record­ing Academy mem­bers but the AMAs are based on noth­ing but pub­lic love. Nom­i­nees are de­cided by an in­tri­cate al­go­rithm that bal­ances “key fan in­ter­ac­tions” clocked by Bill­board Mag­a­zine, in­clud­ing al­bum and dig­i­tal song sales, ra­dio air­play, stream­ing, so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity and tour­ing. The mes­sage is: sales count, fans count, egos don’t.

In the United States’ largely frag­mented, FM-led mu­sic scene, this has his­tor­i­cally seen the top awards in­con­gru­ously split be­tween main­stream pop and coun­try mu­sic per­form­ers. six most dec­o­rated acts in the his­tory of the AMAs can be evenly split be­tween glob­ally renowned pop su­per­stars Michael Jack­son (23 wins), Whit­ney Hous­ton (21) and Tay­lor Swift (19); and coun­try icons with only lim­ited global ap­peal, Alabama (21), Kenny Rogers (19) and Garth Brooks (17).

Mean­while de­spite their own de­voted fol­low­ings, the marginally less main­stream gen­res of hip-hop and rock have been largely over­looked – no­table re­cent ex­cep­tions in­clud­ing Ken­drick La­mar and Drake, the lat­ter last year clock­ing a record 13 nom­i­na­tions – while the more tra­di­tional art-forms the Gram­mys dili­gently seek to rep­re­sent, such as jazz, blues and folk, are squarely ig­nored by the AMAs mis­sion for mer­i­toc­racy. And on that mis­sion, these days it is in­evitably pop of all flavours that gets nom­i­nated. So for un­pre­ten­tious mu­sic fans across the world, the AMAs are where it’s at – a level play­ing field which at­tracts the big­gest names to the stage, both to col­lect awards and make big-bud­get live ap­pear­ances.

There is some­thing uniquely egal­i­tar­ian in see­ing the win­ning nom­i­nees, for bet­ter or worse, crowned by noth­ing more than a sim­ple on­line pub­lic poll – vot­ing is still open in the Artist, New Artist and Col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Year cat­e­gories, so get click­ing now – and cru­cially, awards are given for “Favourite” per­form­ers in a cat­e­gory, in­fin­itely more cer­ti­fi­able and rather less hubris­tic than the typ­i­cal “Best…” awards.

Rid­ing off the suc­cess of third al­bum 24K Magic, and its break­out smash sin­gle That’s

What I Like, Bruno Mars has had an undis­put­edly good year – which ar­guably be­gan when his per­for­mance of that LP’s ti­tle track opened the AMAs last year. The eight nom­i­na­tions his hard work was re­paid with, in­clude nods for the key cat­e­gories Artist of the Year, Video of the Year and Favourite Male Artist across the Pop/Rock, Soul/R&B and Adult Con­tem­po­rary cat­e­gories. Here one won­ders if the al­go­rithms could pick a camp and stay with it, to give some­one else a go. In the top Artist of the Year cat­e­gory – won by Ariana Grande last year – Mars faces off against Ed Sheeran, Drake, Ken­drick La­mar and The Chainsmok­ers, each of whom has five nom­i­na­tions apiece, as does The Weeknd. Justin Bieber, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yan­kee each clocked four nods.

For­mer One Di­rec­tion mem­ber Niall Horan seems a shooin for New Artist of the Year – which was won by ex-band­mate Zayn Ma­lik in 2016 – hav­ing pre­vi­ously clocked seven wins as a mem­ber of 1D. He squares up against James Arthur, Post Malone, Ju­lia Michaels and Rae Srem­murd for the cov­eted gong.

The one con­firmed win­ner – with no vote re­quired – is Diana Ross who, at the age of 73, will per­form live be­fore pick­ing up the AMA Life­time Achieve­ment award. She fol­lows pre­vi­ous il­lus­tri­ous awardees Michael Jack­son, Johnny Cash, Whit­ney Hous­ton, Janet Jack­son and Ella Fitzger­ald.

Look­ing then to the stage, the cer­e­mony’s or­gan­is­ers re­cently con­firmed the jam­packed line-up of per­form­ers. Top­ping the pro­mo­tional buzz is su­per­star Pink’s fifth AMAs ap­pear­ance, which ap­par­ently prom­ises to “el­e­vate her com­mit­ment to per­for­mance art with a fear­less, one-of-akind mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence”, pre­sent­ing the ti­tle track of her chart-top­ping new record

Beau­ti­ful Trauma. We’ll have to tune in to de­ci­pher ex­actly what that means, but here’s hop­ing she brings the same fear­less com­mit­ment to el­e­va­tion to Abu Dhabi a week later.

Else­where Christina Aguil­era will pay trib­ute to Whit­ney Hous­ton with a special one-off per­for­mance of mu­sic from

The Body­guard, mark­ing the movie’s 25th an­niver­sary. Other A-list names con­firmed in­clude Se­lena Gomez, per­form­ing her track Wolves, as well as BTS, Kelly Clark­son and Demi Lo­vato. Ex­pected on­stage col­lab­o­ra­tions in­clude Imag­ine Dragons and Khalid, while Alessia Cara is tipped to pair up with Zedd. But it is the bits be­tween the mu­sic that re­main likely to gen­er­ate the hottest head­lines. De­spite their some­what light­weight rep­u­ta­tion, the AMAs are at­tract­ing ever more note, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing last year’s po­lit­i­cally charged cer­e­mony – which took place days af­ter the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent. Es­chew­ing the kind of me­dia-friendly shtick view­ers might be used to, sev­eral artists made pointed remarks which, in the process, shone a brighter crit­i­cal light on the AMAs.

Flout­ing their fad­ing punk cre­den­tials, Green Day cheek­ily called out Trump, in­sert­ing the in­tro of MDC’s Born to

Die into their per­for­mance – com­plete with the chant “No war, no KKK, no fas­cist USA”. Mean­while su­per­model Chrissy Teigen made an ex­ple­tive-laden elec­tion ref­er­ence, while in­tro­duc­ing her husband John Leg­end to the stage, and co-host Jay Pharoah of­fered up some pointed Trump im­per­son­ations.

Event­ful turns in des­per­ate times, per­haps, and it seems im­prob­a­ble the AMAs will grab the zeit­geist in quite the same way this year. But as a mer­i­to­cratic snap­shot of where the Amer­i­can mu­sic in­dus­try – and there­fore much of the world’s air­waves – are at right now, it doesn’t get fairer than this an­nual celebrity strut. Bring on the star­dust.

The AMAs take place on Sun­day at 8pm EST (Mon­day, 5am UAE time). You can vote for Artist of the Year be­fore 9am (UAE time) on Fri­day, and for New Artist of the Year and Col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Year un­til one-hour into the cer­e­mony, be­fore 6am (UAE time) on Mon­day, at www. thea­mas.com/vote.

Pink will per­form the clos­ing night of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s Yasalam Af­ter-Race Con­certs, at du Arena, Yas Is­land, on Novem­ber 26. En­try is for race-day ticket hold­ers only; for pack­ages, go to www. yas­mari­nacir­cuit.com

An al­go­rithm se­lec­tor sends the mes­sage that sales count, fans count, but egos don’t

Getty

Pink will per­form at the AMAs, a week be­fore her head­line spot at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix fi­nal af­ter­race con­cert

Getty

From girl-group The Supremes to her suc­cess as a solo artist, Diana Ross’s mu­sic spans six decades, a con­tri­bu­tion that will be ac­knowl­edged with an AMA Life­time Achieve­ment Award

Kai Z Feng; Getty

Bruno Mars, left, has eight AMA nom­i­na­tions, while for­mer One Di­rec­tion star Niall Horan is a favourite for New Artist of the Year

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