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Pret-a-Pop Comes to the Shrine : Pop music: The American Music Awards were hilarious-- at least in a way that movie director Robert Altman would surely appreciate.

February 01, 1995|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Attention: Robert Altman.

Now that you've made wickedly satirical movies about the foils and foibles of the movie and fashion worlds, why not turn your cameras to another glorious source of vanity and greed: pop music?

The good news is you can gather all the research you need by just getting a tape of the 22nd annual American Music Awards ceremony, which was held Monday at the Shrine Auditorium.

It was hilarious--at least in a way that you'll appreciate.

The funniest thing about the nationally televised ritual is that you have dozens of pop millionaires doing their best to convince us that these awards really matter.

Though the competition is based on a popularity poll of 20,000 "record buyers" rather than an industry vote a la the Oscars and Grammys, the winners typically leap to their feet, hug the person next to them, saunter moist-eyed to the podium to give thanks.

In a move of providential mercy, acceptance speeches are limited to 45 seconds--just time enough to thank God, the record company, radio programmers and, of course, all the fans in the balcony.

Michael Bolton had the routine down pat Monday. After all he was named favorite male pop-rock singer for the third time in four years. And who was he matched against? Someone whose very name inspires us all to reach for artistic excellence?

His rivals: faceless rocker Bryan Adams and cartoon rocker Meat Loaf.

But this show isn't really about awards. It's about musical performances that offer valuable exposure for the artists and the promise of excitement for viewers.

Some years the music delivers. Not this time. Monday's performances seemed like a three-hour losing streak. This was a ceremony that made the Grammys look good.

Things started off wobbly as Little Richard's primal energy on his '50s classic "Tutti Frutti" was neutralized by the Go-Go's party bounce. Things didn't get much better. Given the melodramatic Celine Dion, the listless Crash Test Dummies and the stiff Lorrie Morgan, the only relief at time for home viewers must have been the mute button.

The night's standouts were supposed to have been Madonna, Led Zeppelin and whatever you call the guy from Minneapolis who used to be a great artist. But all three struck out.

Madonna was modest and anonymous on a duet with Babyface. Led Zeppelin, via satellite from England, tried to recapture the bite of "Black Dog," but Robert Plant and Jimmy Page looked simply silly.

At least the Prince segment gave us surreal irony. Under his new identity as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, the Minneapolis singer-producer accepted the AMA's Award of Merit for the superb music he made in the '80s when he was known as Prince. When it was time to perform, however, the new Prince sounded an awfully lot like a rehash of the old Prince.

*

The evening's chance for significance came at the end when Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones and Kenny Rogers hosted a salute to the 10th anniversary of the "We Are the World" recording project, which raised more than $60 million for African famine relief.

Too bad that most of the evening's performers didn't seem to know the words, leaving the sing-along a shambles. The man from Minneapolis--the word slave painted on his face, an apparent reference to a dispute with his record company--didn't even try to join in. He simply stood on stage sucking on a lollipop. The image underscored the hollowness of the whole affair and should be a marvelous closing scene for the movie.

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The 22nd annual American Music Awards winners:

Boyz II Men: favorite soul/R&B group, favorite pop-rock single and favorite soul/R&B singleboth "I'll Make Love to You") Ace of Base: new pop-rock artist and pop-rock duo/group Michael Bolton: male pop-rock artist and adult contemporary artist Reba McEntire: female country artist and country album ("Read My Mind") Alabama: country group All-4-One: new soul/R&B artist Babyface: male soul/R&B artist Anita Baker: female soul/R&B artist Toni Braxton: soul/R&B album ("Toni Braxton") Garth Brooks: male country artist Mariah Carey: female pop-rock artist Counting Crows: alternative artist Vince Gill: country single ("Whenever You Come Around") "The Lion King": pop-rock album Tim McGraw, new country artist Nirvana: heavy metal/hard-rock artist Snoop Doggy Dogg: rap/hip-hop artist

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