Commentary: Lacking a Strong Rock Presence, This Year's AMAs Felt Like a Repeat

Will.I.Am
Will.I.Am
 Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Fireworks, pyro, candles, all other manner of combustible materials, plus cool lasers and lots of balloons … The 19 performances on this year’s American Music Awards had all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect from a fan-voted extravaganza that has more to do with product release dates than actual musical merit. OK, most of those acts deserved to be up on that stage -- four-time winner Justin Bieber, for one, big-seller Taylor Swift, for another, and certainly queen of the ball Rihanna and Pink, who celebrates two major life milestones this month: pregnancy and a greatest hits package, but do we really need another Bon Jovi medley in our lives? 

Indeed, it could easily have been the band’s 10th year attending the pre-Thanksgiving event, which may explain why Richie Sambora looked so at home while roaming the grounds at the Nokia Theater with his daughter on his arm. The AMAs have become a yearly tradition for the guitarist much like turkey and stuffing is for the rest of America, and this year was no different. And therein lies the problem: No matter what state-of-the-art stage gimmicks the AMAs employs to best present an artist’s latest single, it feels like a repeat, which may explain the show’s less-than-stellar ratings Sunday night -- with little help from Bieber fever.

Then again, for all those jaded awards show attendees and viewers -- and there were plenty on both fronts Sunday night -- you occasionally meet that one group of wide-eyed first timers roaming around backstage clutching their trophies for dear lives with an ear-to-ear grin that couldn’t have looked any prouder. They didn’t perform at this year’s AMAs, but being there meant something to them. Why else would they fly 9,000 miles from their native England? The band was Muse. Their award: best alternative rock artist.

“We've never been here before,” frontman Matt Bellamy told THR. “It's a very prestigious event, so to come here and win is great.” So why no slot for a rock band known for their riveting live performances which use visuals both minimalistic and monstrous? “Our bass player had his fifth baby, so he couldn't be here,” Bellamy explained. “He has one baby every album and this one, Buster Wolstenholme, came literally a couple weeks ago so we weren’t available to play." Perhaps that’s what was missing from the AMAs: more bands. After all, aside from the Jovi, Kid Rock stuck with a ballad and the few performers to give near-equal weight to the instruments rather than the track were the teens: Bieber and Miley Cyrus. How did that happen, rock 'n' roll?

Still, Muse is a good reminder of what’s amazing about being in a band and also how tricky it can be to maintain the chemistry of what was essentially a moment in time: a breakthrough album or a world tour. Equally challenging? Navigating each other’s emotions, ambitions, art and sense of personal space. Black Eyed Peas will.i.am, whose group won for favorite pop-rock Band, put it best when he told a room full of reporters and fellow BEP members Fergie, apl.de.ap and Taboo: “I don’t think we look at this as a group, we look at this as a family. If this was a group, we would have broken a long time ago. Families stay together and support each other … I love you guys from the bottom of my heart.”  And if you’re wondering about the Lego hat, Will said it’s meant to symbolize “the building blocks of life” and how he’s “always thinking about connecting things.” The designer? “Viva La Lego,” he laughed. “It’s a guy from Italy, he’s the fashion Lego dude.” 

After mingling with the likes of Taylor Swift, Michael Buble and Brad Paisley, the Peas crew, which included Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, headed to a private room in nearby Katsuya for a post-show celebration, where they watched both the Lakers game and their own AMA performance with great interest. The feast was followed by an appearance at the Rolling Stone party, marking the soft opening of their new club and restaurant at the Hollywood and Highland complex. 

In fact, though Ne-Yo hosted his own party at the Avalon, attended by the likes of Diddy and Kelly Rowland, Rolling Stone was the place to be as folks from all walks of celebrity life descended on the space. In one corner, Katy Perry and husband Russell Brand held court with pals like Jamie Foxx and songwriter Bonnie McKee. A few tables over, Jersey Shore’s Mike The Situation Sorrentino was laying back on a rare night off. “I was so glad to be a part of it and not really be working or presenting,” he said. “I just got to see everyone and enjoy the performances of the night, like Rihanna and Diddy.” American Idol winner David Cook also made a brief appearance, taking a time-out from his demanding recording schedule.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner invited select attendees -- like Kid Rock, the members of Bon Jovi and Jackson Browne -- to a private room for a more civilized hang, but to his credit, Wenner wandered too, checking in on his guests for what turned out to be a special night -- for somebody. 

Additional reporting by Cortney Wills.

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