LOS ANGELES — Country-pop star Taylor Swift scored big at the American Music Awards on Sunday, taking home four wins including the night’s top prize for artist of the year, as some of pop music’s biggest names came together for the fan-voted awards ceremony.
Swift, 23, beat out Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to win artist of the year for the third time, the most times an artist has won the category. She also won favorite female pop/rock artist, female country artist and country album for her 2012 record “Red,” which featured songs about love and heartbreak.
“This validates that if you voted for this, that we are heartbroken in the same way and we fall in love the same way and we’re happy in the same way, and if you listen to this, we’re on the same page … we’re pretty much in it together,” Swift said breathlessly as she accepted the final award.
Timberlake, 32, who returned to the musical spotlight this year after a five-year hiatus with “The 20/20 Experience,” was nominated in five categories and won three, including favorite male pop/rock artist. The singer performed “Drink You Away” with his Tennessee Kids band on stage.
Newcomer hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who led the nominees on Sunday with six nods and came away with two wins including best rap/hip-hop artist, used their acceptance speech to address a social issue.
“I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids who die every year due to racial profiling … it’s time we look out for the youth and fight racism and the laws that protect it,” Macklemore said. Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead in Florida in 2012. A jury this year cleared the shooter, George Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, of second-degree murder.
The American Music Awards nominees and winners are chosen by the public, who vote online and via Twitter, and the awards are given out during a live three-hour ceremony held at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles and broadcast on ABC.
British boy band One Direction, whose fans were lined up outside the red carpet to get a glimpse of them, beat Swift and Timberlake for the best pop/rock album for “Take Me Home” and also won favorite pop/rock group. Other winners included Luke Bryan for favorite male country artist, Swedish DJ Avicii as favorite electronic dance music artist, and singer Marc Anthony for favorite Latin artist.
Rihanna, Cyrus, Gaga lead performers
R&B singer Rihanna, 25, was given the first ever Icon accolade at the American Music Awards, introduced by political satirist Bill Maher as “the voice of the 21st Century.”
After performing her single “Diamonds,” Rihanna, dressed in a plunging black dress, was given the Icon award by her mother Monica Fenty, who praised the singer in an emotional speech.
“I know the journey and your career has not always been an easy one but tonight I applaud and admire you for being so strong and so positive and so humble and so focused. It’s amazing how you always manage to take the good from your experiences,” Fenty said.
Rihanna, who has sold 50 million albums across the world and is the best-selling digital artist in history, also picked up the favorite female soul/R&B award.
Some of pop music’s biggest names performed at the ceremony, including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera. Notably absent was last year’s big winner Justin Bieber, who failed to score any nominations this year.
Perry kicked off the show with a performance of the single “Unconditionally” from her album “Prism” on an elaborate geisha-themed stage.
Lady Gaga and R. Kelly came together for a presidential-themed performance, with the singer playing secretary to Kelly’s president, who was sat in an Oval Office-styled set. Known for her over-the-top fashion, Gaga, who arrived at the awards dressed in a silver sequined bodysuit on top of a giant costume white horse operated by two men, sang “Do What U Want” from her latest album “ARTPOP” with the rapper.
Singer Cyrus, who just turned 21 over the weekend, performed her latest ballad “Wrecking Ball” scantily dressed in a feline-themed outfit, and raised some smiles with a kitten on a big screen behind her mouthing the words to her song.
Jennifer Lopez pulled out all the stops for a tribute to Cuban salsa performer Celia Cruz with a sizzling Spanish-language performance, shedding a sequined flamenco dress to reveal a purple flapper bodysuit as she danced across the stage.
Other performances came from rockers Imagine Dragons, reunited 90s R&B girl group TLC, host Pitbull with singer Ke$ha, and newcomer 20-year-old pop singer Ariana Grande, who showcased her vast vocal range with her Motown-inspired single “Tattooed Heart.” Grande won coveted new artist of the year.