Award shows have always captured my attention. Most guys that I know watch some form of sports for entertainment, but for me, my competitive spirit comes from pop culture. At a young age, I was obsessed with celebrities. What will they wear? Who will win the award? What controversy are they creating with their performance art or fashion? These moments permanently freeze the culture of the time into place. They become a reflection of society and the conversation occurring at the time, especially after the advent of social media. In light of watching the American Music Awards last night, I thought I’d show you all 10 of the most shocking AMA moments of my lifetime.
1. Britney Spears & Justin Timberlake (2001)
Britney Spears is the icon of my ’90s and early 2000s childhood. Oh, and the guy beside her, Justin Timberlake, is a 2000s heartthrob. Together, they were the power couple of the decade. This AMA red carpet snapshot is so seared into the public’s minds that any mention of denim-on-denim will conjure up this image of the two. A search for “Britney Spears denim dress” alone on Google will result in 1.5 million hits. There’s something very camp about their shared look. Other celebrities, such as Katy Perry and Jake Paul, have since imitated this nostalgic design.
2. Taylor Swift (2014)
Taylor Swift showed up to the 2014 American Music Awards ready to sell the general public back its perception of her. As a celebrity, Taylor never got to experience dating out of the public eye and that left her to be unfairly scrutinized. This performance played on all of the tropes the media pushed about her ability to maintain a relationship. Instead of letting the media satirize her, she made satire of herself. This was, frankly, genius because it turned the crazy girlfriend stereotype into a joke everyone was a part of. “Blank Space” at the AMAs was one of the most exciting performances of the entire “1989” era.
3. Ariana Grande (2016)
Ariana Grande is undoubtedly one of the biggest pop stars of the end of the decade. As a result, she is subjected to a higher level of observation. Many noticed at the 2016 AMAs that she appeared to be a much darker complexion than what many are used to seeing her as. This brought up questions of appropriation and many wondered if Ariana was blackfishing in order to sell her image and music. I found this image personally shocking as someone who watched “Victorious” and especially questionable when compared with her images done for Vogue around that time. Socially, we are more invested in having these kinds of conversations, and I believe this moment will remain a part of any future discussion on this subject for years to come. Thread Magazine, in fact, did a piece about this in our February 2019 issue on page 176 below.
If you’re more of a visual person, below is a video discussing the topic:
4. Lady Gaga (2009)
Lady Gaga, the queen of shock value and spectacle, appeared on stage in an electronic skeletal bondage suit paired with matching heels. 2009 was the year of Lady Gaga, and she was inescapable. The bar for pop cultural performance art was raised to a level not seen since artists such as Madonna, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson were in their prime. She started off by performing a highly choreographed version of “Bad Romance” and ended the performance singing on a fire-lit piano covered in broken glass. This is my 3-pointer, this is my scored goal, and this is my Super Bowl.
5. Kesha (2010)
Kesha showed up to the AMAs with a mohawk, studded eyebrows, and wearing a dress made from VHS tape strands. Honestly, need I say more? Although it was not uncommon during this year for the party girl to show up on red carpets in mundane objects and glitter, it was still shocking to see a celebrity pay little mind to the formality of a red carpet. Kesha was never afraid to be the outcast.
6. Katy Perry (2013)
Whenever I know Katy Perry is going to be performing somewhere, I slightly cringe. For the past couple of years Katy has been a huge cultural vulture and overall problematic pop girl. There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation but it’s especially hard to make a case for Katy Perry, especially with a line in her song, “This is How We Do,” that says, “Getting our nails done all Japanesey.” This outfit alone raises questions of appropriation, and many were confused and/or bothered by the corresponding performance.
7. Lady Gaga (2013)
Lady Gaga makes my list for a second time for arriving on the red carpet in a horse made and held up by her team, Haus of Gaga. Although her style is toned down, as she wore a beautiful Versace dress similar to the one she wore in Versace’s campaign that year, her entrance is as grand as can be. These are the moments that I enjoy the most.
8. Adam Lambert (2009)
This is the performance that I truly believe halted Adam Lambert’s career. At the time, Adam had a couple of fairly successful singles. America was willing to accept a glammed up male pop star but unwilling to accept male on male sexual performative music. Adam Lambert made out with not only the male bondage-wrapped dancers but also the females. I believe the nail in the coffin was the simulation of oral sex between him and one of the male dancers. Adam Lambert really didn’t hit the radio in any meaningful way for years after this performance. It was probably one of the most shocking displays ever televised.
9. Selena Gomez (2014)
Selena Gomez seems to have never really gotten over Justin Bieber. The on-again-off-again couple has dated here and there for most of the decade. To this very day she is still releasing music about their relationship. During this particular AMAs performance, she was vulnerable in way we had never seen her. She sang her song, “The Heart Wants What it Wants,” a song obviously about Justin Bieber. It was shocking for me to see her cry on stage and to be that vulnerable in such a public way.
10. Jonas Brothers (2007)
In 2007, like everyone else, I was crushing hard on the Jonas Brothers. I’m sorry Kevin, but I specifically loved Nick and Joe. At the time, “SOS” was a big Disney hit song, and I was excited to see them perform somewhere other than on Disney Channel. This was before I stanned Lady Gaga, so I really had nothing else to look forward to. My heart raced as I watched the glass shatter and reveal all three guys. Then, suddenly, Joe tripped, fell, and cut his hand! However, he didn’t miss a beat and performed through it all. Meanwhile, I was sitting there jealous of all the women grabbing at Joe and thinking about how I’d put my Boy Scout training to use, to wrap up his hand. Can you believe it took me until college to fully realize I was gay? P.S. I like Nick now.