Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake Win Big: The Best Moments of the American Music Awards

Come for the Miley Cyrus, stay for the Lady Gaga and R. Kelly

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ABC/Matt Brown

Katy Perry performs at AMA 2013

Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and more performed at the 2013 American Music Awards on Sunday night. The show was hosted by Pitbull, a.k.a. the guy who was sent to a Wal-Mart in Alaska, who kicked off proceedings by claiming this year was all about the twerk. That said, notable non-twerkers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis led the pack of nominees with six nods, while Taylor Swift and Timberlake followed with five nominations apiece, with fans deciding the winners.

Here are the highlights :

Biggest Fodder For Thinkpieces: It’s unclear who told Katy Perry it was a good idea to open the show in full Memoirs of a Geisha garb, but her appearance wearing a kimono with paper umbrellas, cherry trees and a temple backdrop to sing “Unconditionally” got the ball rolling.

Least Surprising Win: Justin Timberlake took the title for Favorite Pop/Rock Singer from a field that included only Bruno Mars and Robin Thicke. It was the musical equivalent of saying that out of rice cakes, rice and a chocolate ice cream sundae, you prefer the ice cream.

Biggest Squee: When the lights rose on One Direction and Harry Styles tried to sing the opening bars to “Story of My Life” (a.k.a. the 1D song that sounds like Mumford and Sons) the squees of the audience rose and rose until dogs across America started to howl.

Biggest Voice, Smallest Package: Ariana Grande — a.k.a. Mini-Mariah Carey — made her awards show debut with an unexpectedly understated performance of her song “Tattooed Heart” that was pretty darn enjoyable.

Still No Surprises: Rihanna won for Soul/R&B Female. Sorry Ciara and Alicia Keys, but what have you done for fans lately?

Best Joke: Imagine Dragons opened their set by playing “Demons” for two minutes before pulling off the musical equivalent of announcing “JK!” and segueing into “Radioactive,” the single people actually know.

Girl Most Likely To: Sorry Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, but there was no doubt that Taylor Swift would win Favorite Country Album for Red.

Most Unlikely Pairing: Michael Bolton and Akon in a leather “Never Surrender” t-shirt came out to introduce the night’s most competitive category: Hip Hop Album.

Most Surprising Win: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis managed to beat both Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album.

Best Use of a National Platform: Macklemore Marlon Brando’d his moment by using his win to spout a Martin Luther King Jr., quote and draw attention to the killing of Trayvon Martin and the problem of racial profiling.

Best Costume Choice: Pitbull left off his hosting duties long enough to perform his electro-country dance hit “Timber” with Ke$ha. The women on stage were dressed in a vague cowboys-and-Indians theme while Pitbull still wore his granny pantsuit.

Strangest Contenders: The Alternative Rock Album category pitted Imagine Dragons against two folk rock bands (The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons) so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Imagine Dragons won.

Most Biased Presenters? Before Joan Jett and Dave Grohl presented the award for Favorite Alternative Rock Album, Grohl took over the mic to announce, “I hope the band with guitars wins, because you know we need big and loud guitars.” Guessing Grohl isn’t a fan of Mumford and Sons.

Most Inspirational Speech: Marc Antony took home the award for Favorite Latin Album reminding the crowd, “Just because you’re alive, doesn’t mean you’re livin’.”

Most Honest Way To Start A Performance: Justin Timberlake took over the stage by announcing, “This is a song about alcohol” and launching into a whiskey-fueled ditty with his Tennessee Kids backing band.

Best Fan Face-off: Choosing the Favorite Pop/Rock Album pitted One Direction fans vs Justin Timberlake fans vs Taylor Swift fans. Who reigned supreme? One Direction, of course. Their fans are not to be trifled with.

Best Mashup: Florida Georgia Line extended their summer hit “Cruise” well into Thanksgiving turf before segueing right into Nelly‘s “Ride Wit Me.”

Best ABC Crossover: Soon-to-be-Bachelor Juan Pablo presented the award for Favorite New Artist of the Year to Ariana Grande, who wasted all her stage time trying to navigate the stairs in her sky-high heels. She beat out Florida Georgia Line, Imagine Dragons, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Phillip Phillips for the honor.

Most Cognitive Dissonance-Inducing Presenter: Bill Maher part of trio that presented the Icon Award to Rihanna. Read that again: Bill Maher presented the Icon Award to Rihanna. We can only assume that Rihanna is a big fan of Real Time.

Most Jay-Z Moment: “It’s with great honor and incredible pride that I present you with this first-ever AMA icon award.” — Jay-Z to Rihanna via Skype from his couch, because he’s Jay-Z and is allowed to phone it in.

Sweetest Moment: Rihanna’s mom presented the actual award to Riri, telling her little girl how proud she is of her accomplishments.

Best Off-Camera Moment: R. Kelly got to sit between Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga at the awards show. Making us all jealz of Kellz.

All The Awards!: Justin Timberlake was as confused as we were that he won in both Favorite Pop/Rock and Favorite Soul/R&B categories. Guess he’ll just have to get a bigger mantel.

Best Way To Perk Up A Crowd: Get Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to perform “Can’t Hold Us”

Biggest Surprise: It wasn’t surprising that Taylor Swift took home the prize for Favorite Country Artist, but it was nice to see that she finally stopped making her fake surprised “I won?” face.

Most Costume Changes Per Minute: Taking a page from Lady Gaga’s book, J. Lo performed en español while tearing through costumes at a rapid clip.

Best Acceptance Speech: The entirety of Nelly’s speech for his contribution to Florida Georgia Line’s Favorite Single of the Year? “Saint Louis, what up?” 

Best Introduction: Sarah Silverman presented the Favorite Soul/R & B Album award — whose nominees were Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke — by announcing, “I don’t know who will win, but I do know who should find it most ironic if she loses.”

Best Response: As Justin Timberlake accepted the award he turned to Sarah and said, “That’s the first time I’ve been racially profiled by a white woman.”

Band You Needed To Google: A Great Big World who came to fame on The Voice performed their song “Say Something” with Christina Aguilera.

Most Understated Win: In the Electronic Dance Music category, Avicii took the title over Daft Punk, Calvin Harris and Zedd. To celebrate, he walked on stage, said thank you and walked off.

The Best Moment Of the Night: Lady Gaga and R. Kelly performed their hit song, “Do What U Want,” with a backdrop that was supposed to be the White House. R. Kelly played the president, with Gaga as his mistress. They had teased this performance with their rehearsal on Saturday Night Live, but the actual performance was incredible: Lady Gaga played secretary Marilyn Monroe to R. Kelly’s JFK complete with dozens of dancing Marilyns and Kellz in a real life meets Scandal dance number.

Real Talk: Luke Bryan is a great performer, but we all know that he only won Favorite Country Male because Justin Timberlake wasn’t nominated.

Biggest Upset: One Direction took home the award for Best Duo/Band when clearly R. Kelly and Lady Gaga deserved the win.

Most Made For TV Moment: TLC performed “Waterfalls,” but they did not bring a Left Eye hologram with them, instead opting for Lil Mama who played Left Eye in the VH1 biopic.

Most Gif-able Moment: Miley Cyrus appeared on stage with a giant sad-eyed kitten to help her perform “Wrecking Ball.” While Miley teared up during her emotional song, the rest of the world was trying to figure out if Andy Samberg was about to appear on stage to sing “Laser Cats.”

Most Recordbreaking Moment: Taylor Swift won Artist of the Year for the third year in a row, which may be all you need to know about the awards.

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