This year’s American Music Awards delivered a fantastic spectrum of live performances, ranging from diva-house medleys to thrashing alt-rock rave-ups to gospel tributes to recently passed icons. Star power was on display from established icons and exciting up-and-comers, and one particular comeback performance felt like a new career peak for a still-young breakout artist.
Read on below to see how Billboard ranked the 15 performances on the evening, counting down to our favorite performance of the night.
15. Panic! At the Disco, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Introduced by Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek and beamed in live form Sydney, Australia, Panic! At the Disco dutifully performed their faithful rendition of the Queen classic the biopic is named after. The band was up to the task, certainly, as they have been in performances since even before the cover debuted on the Suicide Squad soundtrack in 2016, but given the cover’s age and the fact that the performance was happening halfway around the world, it didn’t exactly make for the evening’s most exciting or revelatory moment.
14. Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Psycho” / “Better Now”
Wearing silver in the strobe light like Michael Jackson in the “Rock With You” video, Post Malone performed the lushest version of “Psycho” you ever heard — making the song sound like something off Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House series, appropriate given Ty Dolla’s minked-out presence as the song’s guest performer. Newer Post single “Better Now” probably would’ve made more sense as a full performance, given its more full-throttle, full-band energy, but unfortunately it was consigned to more of a coda here. Maybe for the Grammys.
13. Jennifer Lopez, “Limitless”
J.Lo proved to still be at the very peak of her powers with her Video Vanguard medley performance at this year’s VMAs, so there’s no questioning her being given any awards show performance she deems worthy of taking. Her debut performance of the Sia-written empowerment anthem “Limitless” was strong enough, but the song itself doesn’t quite rise above soundtrack-single status, and the clip from Lopez’s upcoming Second Act looked a little uninspired too.
12. Benny Blanco, Halsey & Khalid, “Eastside”
Shout out to any performance that starts with its producer in a tie-dye hoodie sitting at a computer adjusting levels, really. The living-room staging of “Eastside” was certainly clever, giving the song an engaging just-messing-around-with-friends energy to it, helped by the consistently compelling charisma of its two principal performers. The song is still a little middling for performers of their talents, but the three managed to wring maximum charm out of it on the AMAs stage.
11. Mariah Carey, “With You”
Is that all part of the same dress? Apparently not, as about a dozen backup dancers sprouted from the sprawling train of Mariah Carey’s scarlet gown to gyrate around her while the stationary R&B legend belted out her new mid-tempo single “With You.” Inspired staging for a performance that allowed Mariah to concentrate on her vocals while others worked up a sweat on her behalf — though “With You” as a song just isn’t the most dynamic of numbers for an awards show performance.
10. Shawn Mendes x Zedd, “Lost In Japan”
Great to see “Lost in Japan,” one of the highlights from Shawn Mendes’ Billboard 200-topping self-titled album, finally replacing “In My Blood” as the young singer-songwriter’s award show go-to, and even better to bring Zedd in tow to tickle the ivories in support. Sorta ironic that the version performed hews closer to Mendes’ original version than Zedd’s remix currently being promoted, but the DJ seemed to be having enough fun getting lost in the performance’s blue-eyed funk to really mind.
9. Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”
Feels strange that this is the second awards show performance of “Boo’d Up,” a radio hit unavoidable enough that it feels like it’s been part of pop culture for a decade already. Even last night it came somewhat by surprise, following immediately after Shawn Mendes and Zedd, but the song’s bottomless appeal really needs no introduction, and Ella Mai’s sweetly winning performance felt like an appropriate victory lap for the ascendant British R&B star.
8. Dua Lipa, “One Kiss” / “Electricity”
First and foremost, it’s just fun to have a pop diva with two different throwback-house hits (alongside a combined three megaproducers) to perform as an awards show medley. Dua’s vocals verged on the pitchy at times, but the performance’s vibe was appropriately ecstatic, peaking with a dramatic ten-foot trustfall and ending with the singer in the midst of what appeared to be a day-glo rainstorm. Good times.
7. Camila Cabello, “Consequences”
The recently released “Orchestra” version of Camila ballad “Consequences” isn’t quite the Big Ballad that Cabello deserves as a signature number, but made for the breakout pop star’s most elegant TV performance to date at the AMAs. The former Fifth Harmony singer both looked stunning in her black dress and silver sleeves and sounded stunning with her closing vocal runs. The standing ovation she received after, including a beaming Taylor Swift, was all the review the performance needed, though subsequent presenter Amandla Stenberg also gave a memorable evaluation: “Oh my God, that was ethereal.”
6. Ciara feat. Missy Elliott, “Level Up” / “Dose”
One of the most frenetic hits of 2018 somehow even sounded even more pulse-racing in its AMAs performance, Ciara and Missy performing like an LP being played at 45 RPM. A necessary jolt of energy for an award show’s third hour, and impossible not to smile at either the brief dip into Trillville’s crunk classic “Neva Eva,” or the reaction shot of Missy’s “funky white sister” Mary Halsey in the audience.
5. Carrie Underwood, “Spinning Bottles”
A bold choice not to perform either her established lead single and title track to this year’s Cry Pretty album or her more recent single “Love Wins,” instead opting for an emotional performance of the set’s alcoholism-afflicted heartbreak ballad “Spinning Bottles.” Performing on an appropriately rotating stage, Underwood’s always-showstopping vocals carried the emotional performance, making it feel like a lost scene from the recent A Star Is Born remake.
4. Twenty One Pilots, “Jumpsuit”
Less physical than some of the Twenty One Pilots awards show performances of album cycle past, but certainly no less bombastic: You’d probably have to go pretty far back in AMAs history to find the last rock performance this heavy. The duo’s new album Trench has a handful of songs that probably would’ve made safer lead-single choices than “Jumpsuit,” but their with-us-or-against-us performance of it here shows why it was still a good call: If you’re still in on the band from here, great; if not, well, we’ve already given them as big of a platform as they’ll ever need.
3. Gladys Knight, Donnie McClurkins, CeCe Winans, Ledisi & Mary Mary, Aretha Franklin tribute
For an Aretha Franklin tribute at the American Music Awards — a show where Aretha had extensive history as a host, performer, and winner — you’d expect them to go heavy on the hits. But the AMAs took a different tack with their tribute, getting some of the greatest soul and gospel performers from Franklin’s lifetime to deliver renditions of hymns that Aretha had delivered signature interpretations of, including several from her best-selling 1972 live gospel album, Amazing Grace. Not a performance for the casual fans, but the passion and vocal talent on display was absolutely undeniable, and Aretha herself undoubtedly would’ve loved it — though she’d also be furious she couldn’t join in herself.
2. Taylor Swift, “I Did Something Bad”
Pretty big flex to open an award show with your album’s fifth single — if you even decide to officially release it — but as a culmination of a year in which Taylor Swift has been responsible for one of the biggest albums, one of the biggest tours, and one of the biggest voter-registration spikes, it seems well-earned enough. Anyway, her “I Did Something Bad” was appropriately massive, with brilliantly deliberate pacing, a perfect pause-for-effect after her “If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing” lyric, and the best awards show use of a massive snake since Britney Spears in in 2001.
1. Cardi B feat. J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “I Like It”
Featuring a live horn section and both the most glamorous costuming and intricate staging of any televised Cardi B performance to date, “I Like It” at the AMAs was major even before Bad Bunny was wheeled in for his verse in a grocery cart. Reaching near-Cirque du Soleil levels of spectacle — or, dare we say it, near-Beyoncé — by the end of J Balvin’s turn the performance was fully worthy of a pop star with three Hot 100 No. 1s to her name already — and it shows that giving birth to her first child hasn’t slowed down Cardi’s momentum one bit.