Grande wins big
The iHeartRadio Music Awards show is many people’s favorite awards show of the year, by virtue of lasting only two hours. If it’s not music’s biggest night, it’s music’s shortest, which counts for a lot. But Thursday night’s telecast, broadcast live on Fox from LA’s Microsoft Theater, had even more going for it than that – like Kacey Musgraves hiring Chris Martin as her pianist, Alicia Keys employing 8-year-old son Egypt as her pianist, and Garth Brooks harmonizing with a superfan in high places, actor Chris Pratt.
One of the big draws of the night, Taylor Swift, wasn’t performing. But Swift has been a rare enough attendee at awards shows in recent years – after having famously been every cameraman’s favorite reaction shot – that landing the pop superstar to accept her award for tour of the year was a bit of a coup for the iHearts.
“I think one of the most wonderful things about the way this whole tour turned out,” said Swift, “is that for the entire six months leading up to the tour, every headline I read about it was that this is going to be a massive failure – this is going to be a flop tour. Which really did wonders for my self-esteem … to hear people say that I was going to be playing to nearly empty stadiums.” It was mentioned more than once that her “Reputation” stadium tour was actually the highest grossing US tour ever, with Swift thanking fans who came out “in perfect weather or if you came to one of our many rainy shows that we had. I want to say thank you if you just watched the show on Netflix on your couch in your home.”
Ariana Grande was not on hand to accept her award for artist of the year; presenter Pharrell Williams explained that his production client was tied up preparing for the launch of her tour two nights hence. But she did provide a short taped performance of her next single, “Needy”, seated in what looked like it might be the tour’s rehearsal space, accompanied by a string quartet, two keyboardists, a click track and no one on the nearby drum kit. She also sent in a quickie acceptance speech in which she vowed, “I’m going to sleep with this tonight.”
Also not on hand but eliciting screams anyway with their filmed speeches were BTS, who won for fan army of the year, and Cardi B, hip-hop winner of the year, who flicked the trophy with her tongue.
Musgraves was enjoying a moment where, maybe for the first time ever on an awards show, she was the hottest, most au currant live performer of the night, thanks to having just won the top album of the year prize at the Grammys just a little over a month prior. As she did on that other telecast, Musgraves performed her latest single, “Rainbow”, but this time with a bit more blatant set design – she sat perched atop a giant rainbow – and with a surprise celebrity accompanist in the form of Coldplay’s frontman.
Musgraves’ introduction declared that “Rainbow” is “getting heavy airplay on iHeart stations everywhere,” which might still count as prophecy more than something already fulfilled for the just-released single. But the tune has actually been making headway against country radio’s female drought since being sent to radio simultaneous with her Grammys triumph. In a backstage interview for the telecast, after being reminded that the “Golden Hour” is coming up on its first anniversary, Musgraves said, “It has been out there for a while, but having radio jump on board means the world to me.”
Alicia Keys pulled off the sweetest moment of the night by bringing out Egypt to join her on dual piano, and eventually take over entirely, as an example of how to “Raise a Man”, a.k.a. the new single she was performing (along with a crowd-pleasing snippet of “You Don’t Know My Name”). In accepting the innovator award, she also gave a shout-out to her 4-year-old son, Genesis, who was sitting a couple of seats down from Swift in the audience, saying “I think (he) is maybe trying to take Taylor out later tonight. He’s working on it. I’m not sure how it’s gonna go, but it looks pretty good right now.”
For all the celebration of women that nearly dominated the night, there was a major bro-love moment when Pratt introduced Brooks, who was receiving an artist of the decade award. “The dude had the soundtrack to my life,” said Pratt. “I bought every one of his albums and had them all memorized by the next day.” He didn’t quite get a chance to prove how deep his lyrical knowledge goes, because when Brooks pulled him back out to sing on his medley’s closer, it was on “Friends in Low Places”, a song known to nearly every country and non-country fan on the planet. The actor looked like he’d won the lottery nonetheless as he shouted “OASIS” louder than any karaoke singer ever.
John Legend looked to be more going after the 2019 zeitgeist with his performance of a socially conscious new single, “Preach”, accompanied by a dozen choir-member/dancers. The Backstreet Boys brought the nostalgia back with a Microsoft-sized sing-along of “I Want It That Way”.
n Song of the Year: “The Middle” – Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey
*Artist of the Year: Ariana Grande
*Female Artist of the Year: Ariana Grande
*Male Artist of the Year: Drake
*Best Duo/Group of the Year: 5 Seconds Of Summer
*Best Collaboration: “Finesse (Remix)” – Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B
*Pop Album of the Year: Sweetener – Ariana Grande
*Best New Pop Artist: Marshmello
*Rock Song of the Year: “Safari Song” – Greta Van Fleet
*Rock Artist of the Year: Three Days Grace
*Rock Album of the Year: Trench – twenty one pilots
*Country Song of the Year: “Meant To Be” – Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line
*Country Artist of the Year: Luke Combs
*Country Album of the Year: Rearview Town – Jason Aldean
*Best New Country Artist: Jordan Davis
*Dance Song of the Year: “The Middle” – Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey
*Dance Artist of the Year: Marshmello
*Dance Album of the Year: Sick Boy – The Chainsmokers
*Hip-Hop Song of the Year: “… Plan” – Drake (RTRS)
By Chris Willman