Ahead of a music award show, there’s usually tension-filled questions that viewers hope will be answered during the ceremony.
Who will shock? Who will flop? Who will win big?
But the big question heading into the inaugural iHeartRadio Music Awards on Thursday was simple yet crucial: Why?
In an already-crowded market of second-tier telecasts vying to be the viral, fun alternative to the prestigious Grammys, what purpose does this show have that the Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, etc., don’t already satisfy?
During the three-hour, fan-voted telecast, that answer never came.
Touted by radio conglomerate Clear Channel, the promise was a groundbreaking approach to the typical awards show format in an “intimate atmosphere.”
So what did that look like?
Inside the Shrine Auditiorm, the show’s setup was a jarring collision of award show glamour and arena pizazz.
Superstars and industry leaches held court at tables as waiters passed around cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
Below the VIP area, hundreds of fans were crammed like sardines into two pits that hugged the front of the stage (the balcony was backed with seated fans). But don’t fret: The hours of brutal standing were soundtracked by a pair of DJs who kept the party moving.
The stage was designed to look like a sprawling, music-centric vision of Los Angeles with a massive billboard doubling as a video screen, the iHeartRadio logo built atop a faux building and music keys serving as skyscrapers.
Performers seemed to miss the intimate memo as well, opting for splashy showings.
Pitbull opened the show aboard a gigantic yacht with a bevy of buxom beauties and a girl group we didn't bother to remember.
The grandiose live displays continued throughout the evening. Usher jumped from table to table as he danced to a posthumous Michael Jackson single, Ariana Grande traded in pop pagentry for sexy showstopping and a hits-filled medley from Pharrell that provided the night’s sole audience-wide dance party.
Even country stalwart Luke Bryan performed under a bevy of LED lights and arena-friendly staging, making his knack for jeans, T-shirt and a ballcap appear incredibly inappropriate for the occasion. He made up for it with the hip swinging, though.
The action stretched outside the Shrine as well, with Ed Sheeran tacking a two-song medley from the Hotel Café and Arcade Fire being beamed in from famed L.A. haunt the Roxy.
Performances were spliced in with musicians telling their "L.A. story," opening up about what brought them to the city and how it shaped their career. Lady Gaga pretaped a package, as did John Legend, Iggy Azalea, Chris Martin and Kendrick Lamar, the latter of whom probably had the deepest roots in the city and paid tribute to L.A. by covering the West Coast rap classic "California Love."
But this was an awards show, too.
Rihanna scored big, taking home four awards, including artist and song of the year and best fan army.
“It’s not easy, what we do. It’s very difficult at times. I never felt comfortable being anything other than myself,” Rihanna said, after arriving late (she was stuck in traffic).
Miley Cyrus nabbed the trophy for best lyrics for “Wrecking Ball,” a song she had absolutely zero hand in writing, with her dad accepting for her; Pitbull and Kesha’s “Timber” was named the best collaboration, beating two smashes from Rihanna and two from comeback king Justin Timberlake; and Avicii could be seen waiting patiently in the wings (and getting notes from a producer) to collect his trophy for EDM song.
Pharrell took home the night’s highest honor, iHeart Radio’s Innovator award, and was feted in a video package that featured a who's-who of celebs, including Beyonce, Oprah, Usher, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga, giving the producer-singer props.
“He was the person who made it cool to just be you,” Beyonce said.
“You gotta believe in something bigger than yourself,” Pharrell said. “I never dreamt in a million years as a producer that I would be standing here as an artist.”
"All I did was write the songs," he continued. "You guys did all the rest."
But despite some weighty star power, the telecast lacked serious heft.
Plenty of winners were no-shows. Drake, a previously announced performer, never bothered to call in sick. Performances were largely forgettable, but maybe everyone is saving their juice for the Billboard Awards in a few weeks?
Ultimately the overwrought telecast (three hours are entirely too much time for this) was nothing more than a night out in L.A. -- expect all the cool kids stayed in.
As for that question of why? Maybe they’ll figure out their purpose next year.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun