In addition to accepting the honor, Swift took the stage for a performance that celebrated the biggest hits of her 13-year career.
Prior to Swift’s performance, Carole King introduced a video that highlighted Swift’s professional accomplishments, her transition from being a country artist to becoming pop artist, her support of fellow musicians and her relationship with her fans.
Swift opened her performance by singing “The Man.” Dressed in a white top that featured the names of her seven studio albums in black block lettering, Swift was joined by young girls who danced with her. Fans on Twitter noted that Swift’s outfit resembled a prison uniform, while the names of her old albums were written in prison font.
The singer soon changed into a sparkly gold ensemble to sing “Love Story.”
The performance took a darker turn when Swift sang “I Knew You Were Trouble” as shirtless dancers joined her in performing the 2012 hit.
The dancers changed outfits to accompany Swift in a performance of her hit “Blank Space.” In the choreographed number, Swift sang about her “long list of ex-lovers.”
Swift stuck to songs from her 1989 album to give a colorful performance of the album’s debut single “Shake It Off.” Camila Cabello and Halsey joined Swift in performing the number. While Cabello opened for Swift during her Reputation tour and sang the number with her during the tour, Halsey has been an outspoken supporter of Swift.
The performance slowed down as Swift sang her latest single, “Lover.” Swift sat at the piano to perform the love song as professional dancers Craig Hall and Misty Copeland performed next to her.
Following the performance, Swift thanked Cabello, Halsey, Hall, Copeland and the other performers who joined her onstage. “That performance was even more fun than I hoped it would be,” she said.
Swift then addressed King and admitted she grew up as a fan thanks to her parents listening to King. “They would listen to Tapestry and all your other records in high school and they took those records with them, packed them up in boxes and took them to college with them,” she told King. “Then when they met and they got their own house, they took those records with them there and then when they had my brother and I, they played those records for us.”
“I just remembered that when I fell in love with music, it was right around the time I realized how marvelous it was that artists could transcend so many different phases and changes in peoples lives,” she said. “You taught me that that’s a possibility.”
She added that every artist in the room wants “to create something that will last.”
“The fact that this is an award that celebrates a decade of hard work and of art and of fun and memories, all that matters to me is the memories that I’ve had with you guys, with you the fans, over the years,” Swift said. “We’ve had fun, incredible, exhilarating, extraordinary times together and may it continue.”
“Thank you for being the reason why I am on this stage. From the very first day of my career until tonight,” she concluded. “I love you with all of my heart. Thank you for everything.”
Earlier in the night, Swift’s 2019 album Lover won favorite album-pop/rock.
After she thanked her fans during the acceptance speech, Swift gave special shout-outs to her collaborators on the album including Jack Antonoff, St. Vincent, Brendon Urie and Joel Little.
“This album really felt like a new beginning and also I really love my record label Universal Republic. Monte Lipman, Lucian Grainge, thank you for being so generous to me and allowing me to make whatever music I want to make. As a songwriter, it’s so thrilling to me that I get to keep doing that,” she said.
Swift later won artist of the year. “The last year of my life has had some of the most amazing times and also some of the hardest things I’ve gone through in my life. Not a lot of them are things that haven’t been public,” Swift began during her third acceptance speech of the night.
“I wanted to thank you so much for being the thing that has been a constant in my life. This industry’s really weird where, like, sometimes people who do what we do feel like, as I’m sure some of you feel like this, too, with your lives,” she continued. “You feel like your stock is either up or down and people either like you or they don’t.”
“The people who hang in there for you are the ones that you will never forget,” she added.
Shania Twain later paid tribute to Swift by singing a snippet of “Shake It Off” during her performance.
Leading up to the ceremony, Swift took to social media to explain that she was unable to perform her old hits during the awards show. In an open letter to Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta and music manager Scooter Braun, whose Ithaca Holdings purchased Big Machine and Swift’s masters in June for more than $300 million, the global superstar claimed the men were prohibiting her from performing her old hits because it would constitute a rerecording of her songs, which she isn’t legally allowed to do until November 2020. Swift called out Borchetta and Braun for implying she should “be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”
Big Machine caved Monday and announced it had “agreed to grant all licenses of their artists’ performances.”
Prior to the 2019 ceremony, Michael Jackson held the record for most AMAs with 24 wins. Swift has won more AMAs than any other artist this decade, while she has also earned the most AMAs of any female artist in history. She officially beat Jackson’s record when she won artist of the year, favorite album-pop/rock, favorite female artist-pop/rock, favorite artist-adult contemporary and favorite music video for “You Need to Calm Down.”
The 2019 American Music Awards took place at The Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and was broadcast on ABC. Ciara hosted the ceremony.
Dick Clark Productions, which produces the American Music Awards, is a division of Valence Media, which owns The Hollywood Reporter.