Nov 20, 2019
The American Music Awards Are Your Heart Of Darkness, Los Angeles
I’m watching the American Music Awards. I hate them. They are a celebration of basically two things: 1) money, and 2) gorgeous people in Los Angeles. And these two things are anathema to art. Even bad art. But tonight I am tired and feel nothing, so I’m watching the awards, just to remember what hate feels like for a couple hours. I am alone and there is no one to judge me for passively injecting myself with pain and coffee’s on the stove, so here goes nothing.
Katy Perry opens the show. I know nothing about her. She has too much money, she’s too gorgeous, and she’s altogether too much a Los Angeles homeowner. All I really know about Katy Perry is that clip of her performing under her given name in Pomona, awkwardly clutching an acoustic guitar and talking about her Christian walk. What an insight into youth and confusion that is. But here she is now, playing this loud thing.
My dog is very old. He was born toward the tail end of the Clinton administration. This dog can barely hear, and even so he whimpers and tucks his head between his legs at this song. I shrug at him, hoping he knows what that means. Damn it, this song sure looks expensive.
The show is at the Nokia Theater in that L.A. Live abomination. I was there entirely by accident during the “Twilight” premiere once, and was disgusted at the whole complex. Once you get past the prop restaurants, it is mostly monolithic car advertisements – the most cultureless monument to gentrification I’ve ever seen in that town, surrounded on all sides by sadness.
Pitbull is presenting. Sounds like he’s doing a fake voice. That’s tedious. I won’t be listening to him talk in the future. He’s trying to introduce a dance of some kind and he giddily implies the dance is so sexy that we can’t even see it. I find this difficult to believe. I wonder what he’s like off camera. Is he always surrounded by an entourage, vaguely thinking he’s in a constant state of partying everywhere he goes forever? Does he need pills to sleep on the airplane? What kind?
Taylor Swift is ubiquitous at award shows and it takes her about 6 minutes to show up at this one. She’s introducing the best male vocal pop/rock award. I’ve never heard any of the songs in this category because I’m not in high school and I’m not a music critic. They look like clips from cell phone commercials, the kind of white noise playing in perpetuity at the Target iPod dock aisle. That’s fine. I like Target. Mine recently added a grocery section.
Timberlake wins this category. He delivers an acceptance speech consisting entirely of the word “twitter,” over and over, in slightly different intonations. I suspect he’s still finishing this speech in a hotel room somewhere, rocking back and forth in a chair. “Twitter,” he’ll breathlessly mutter before becoming comatose.
One Direction is up now. I know who they are because they’re always trending on twitter no matter who you follow or what part of the world you live in. One of them sounds kinda like Bruce Springsteen if he’d never even once pretended to work on a car for the “I’m On Fire” video. There should be a Clarence Clemons sax solo on this, just to punctuate the manicured perfectionism. I keep hoping to catch one of the boys in soft focus messing up his lip syncing. None of them do. What pros.
After this, an artist comes up whose name I do not recognize and I drift for awhile. Time for best country album. I saw Billy Joe Shaver at some punk rock bar shortly after he shot that guy in Waco. I got drunk and said “Bob Dylan doesn’t have dirt on you!” and got quoted in the LA Times for it. Best concert I ever saw. Anyway, none of this is country music so let’s move on.
Michael Bolton and Akon are introducing best hip-hop album. I have no idea why Michael Bolton is here. I heard he was in a metal band once. He has a good voice. He should play a bad guy in a cartoon western who wants to tear down a general store to drill for oil before being shot to death by a precocious mouse.
Alternative artist. Dave Grohl and Joan Jett are presenting. Grohl is a class act as he says “I hope the winner has loud guitars!” which is clearly I’m-on-TV code for “please God not Mumford & Sons, I thought they were on hiatus or something oh God why.”
A blink and a sip of coffee and here’s Heidi Klum, introducing Justin Timberlake, for his 78th consecutive appearance at tonight’s show. I wonder if L.A. is fun when you’re rich. What’s the exact dollar figure per year that makes the 405 worth driving on?
Best pop/rock album now. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. No amount of press credentials would have gotten me inside the Nokia tonight, just because of how I carry myself. But anybody in America is allowed to watch this whole show. That’s strange. I feel like I’m looking through the window at a high school prom and just burning through a pack of Marlboro Reds while I do it. Something about what I’m doing just feels illicit.
Bill Maher is presenting. That’s obviously fantastic. He has the way of killing the energy in a room that’s just a blast to see at a music awards show for teenagers. I like seeing how much one presenter can drag down a whole show. He’s telling a joke that’s not a joke now. Something about “The 2010s. That’s this decade, if you lost track.” How many retweets you think that’d get if you posted it? Correct. Zero. You could be Ricky Gervais and still get zero retweets on that joke.
Time passes and I’m a bit older and they’re saying how many albums Rihanna has sold now, just to remind you that this is not a celebration of the pop music for the teenagers, but a celebration of anachronistic American capitalism, sponsored by Kohl’s. After a few cuts, Bill Maher is still there, allowed somehow to say words with a live mic. That’s bizarre and alienating. Do I even enjoy how alienating this is? (Yes.)
Time for the male soul/r&b award, which is presented by somebody with one of those fake cell phones you see at Wal-Mart to give you an idea how it feels in your hand. Lester Chambers got attacked at a show this year after dedicating a song to Trayvon Martin. Here’s the Chambers Brothers doing “Wade In The Water.”
Somebody’s doing another cell phone commercial song. My dog has now demanded to be let outside, so I oblige him. Hey, Sarah Silverman. Cool. I’m surprised, slightly, at how little I hate this. There are too many competing stimuli to feel anything but the gradual onset of a panic attack. The attack of color and noise proves too much to hate any one thing. It’s too big, too loud. The gorgeous people in Los Angeles have bested me.
Kendrick Lamar is singing now. Let’s pretend it ended immediately after he played. Let’s never speak of Miley Cyrus. My dog is circling the door and it’s cold outside.
[Photo by PR Photos]