American Music Awards 2012: 7 Memorable Moments

AMAS 2012: The Winners
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Sunday's 40th anniversary American Music Awards ceremony might have been the finest AMA show of the 1980s. The 2012 edition seemed packed with nostalgic references to the Reagan Era, from Stevie Wonder showing up to perform "Master Blaster" (in tribute to AMA founder and old-school pop impresario Dick Clark, who died in April), to vintage clips of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, to hooks from Billy Joel and a-ha showing up in the current hits performed, to the parachute-style pants worn by Justin Bieber and others -- a trend that went so far, it even led to an appearance by Mr. Parachute Pants himself, MC Hammer, during the show's final musical number.

With all that nostalgia, it would have been easy to forget that the purpose of the night was to celebrate the biggest hits of 2012. Fortunately, the awards show's hard-working performers (and its harder-working choreographers) were up to the task of creating memorable spectacles around current songs. In fact, they may have tried a little too hard; amid all the lasers, costume changes, and back-up dancers, and pyrotechnics, the music itself sometimes got lost. Still, good or bad, the show gave us numbers that will be hard to forget.

Here, then, are our picks for the most memorable moments of the 2012 American Music Awards.

Kelly Clarkson. The pop-rocker performed a career-spanning medley of her hits while wearing a numbered sign on her torso, an apparent reminder that, 10 years ago, she was just another anonymous auditioner during the inaugural season of American Idol. A decade of career highs and lows later, she made her "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" refrain sound more hard-earned and triumphant than ever.

Ke$ha. She performed her new "Die Young" with a dance routine that seemed to take the title a bit too literally. The back-up dancers all had their faces painted like skulls, and the combination of beads, tribal kettle drums, and ooga-booga moves made them look like extras from Skull Island, about to sacrifice the blonde singer to King Kong.

Taylor Swift. Having survived presenter Eric Stonestreet's attempt to upstage her (where's Kanye West when you need him?), the country-pop princess lived up to her image with a Cinderella-style performance of "I Knew You Were Trouble" In an evening where most of the costumes were strictly black and white (with a hint of red), the lush and colorful number was a standout. (See a video of the performance here.)

Nicki Minaj. "Freedom" was the watchword for the rapper, who delivered a couple of deliciously loopy acceptance speeches, did a little bumping and grinding during her cameo in Bieber's performance of "Beauty and the Beat" (see a video of the performance here) and performed solo and with a choir on her own song "Freedom." In a set that looked like a winter wonderland, Minaj resembled Mrs. Frosty the Snowman (only with pink cotton-candy hair) and created a moment fit for a Christmas card.

Pink. In the evening's most acrobatic and dramatic performance, Pink offered up her motivational anthem "Try" in a weirdly bleak setting that looked like a slum tenement apartment on fire. Inside the spartan, burning room, Pink and a male dancer, both spattered with grime and colorful paint, tossed each other around the room like an abusive, co-dependent couple. The whole thing looked more frightening than inspirational, but it certainly was riveting. (See a video of the performance here.)

Justin Bieber. The Canadian superstar was the American Music Awards' man of the night. Not only did he deliver a passionate medley of "As Long As You Love Me" and "Beauty and the Beat," but he also took home an armload of awards, including the climactic prize, Artist of the Year. Upon hearing his name mentioned for that last award, the compact star dragged his even tinier mom on stage to thank her for her support. It was one of the evening's most poignant moments.

Psy. Or maybe the man of the night was Scooter Braun, the manager who represents three of the evening's biggest stars: Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Psy. The K-pop rapper closed the evening with a dynamic performance of his viral hit "Gangnam Style" that had the celebrities and dignitaries in the audience on their feet doing the video's equestrian-inspired dance. (See a video of the performance here.) The shout-out to Hammer was a nice touch. It played as both genuine homage and winking in-joke. After all, "Gangnam Style" (like the artist behind it) could just turn out to be a novelty, the "U Can't Touch This" of 2012. Still, as Psy and Hammer both seem to know, there are worse ways of being remembered -- such as, not being remembered at all.

What was your favorite moment of the American Music Awards? Your least favorite? Check out some of the highlights and lowlights in the gallery above, and let us know what the hits and misses were for you in the comments below.

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