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iHeartRadio Music Awards Keep the Weeknd’s Vindication Lap Going

The first live Weeknd/Ariana Grande duet kicked off a show that included an all-star Elton John salute and Doja Cat dancing with tightly choreographed space aliens.

weeknd ariana
Kevin Mazur for iHeartMedia

Do not adjust your dial. Yes, there was a sense of deja vu in seeing the Weeknd pick up some trophies on prime-time television Thursday night, just as there was in watching him look into the camera and vow: “Like I said before, the after-hours are done and the dawn is coming.” He had uttered those some words Sunday night (without the “like I said before” part) at the Billboard Music Awards, another show that allowed him to make up for lost Grammy time in his spring victory/vindication lap. (How did these two telecasts, with 365 nights to work with, ended up getting booked four nights apart?)

Then again, the iHeartRadio Music Awards did have a lot to distinguish them from other such telecasts. No matter how many of these shows you feel like you’ve watched lately, you know you haven’t seen Doja Cat in a cornfield with a synchronized team of space aliens.

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Doja Cat performs onstage at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Dolby Theatre i Kevin Winter for iHeartMedia

Neither had we actually seen the Weeknd performing a duet with Ariana Grande yet. He gave separate-but-equal treatment to the two awards shows, dividing up two very stunts. At the earlier show this week, he led a team of stunt cars through automotive choreography in an Arcadia mall’s parking lot, with no dents despite the risks. On Thursday night, the Weeknd did something equally impressive: just stood on a stage singing with someone who is at least as famous as he is — Ariana Grande — with just enough room for both to shine, and seem relaxed, even, without either’s ego getting scratched.

The Weeknd was clearly the man of the hour (or a tight two hours, actually — that the iHearts run a tight ship and don’t quite require your entire evening is one of their key advantages). He started the show with that Grande duet and ended it by picking up his climactic song of the year award, on the heels of winning male artist of the year on the air as well.

“Oh my gosh, a live audience,” he blurted upon picking up his first award, as if he’d been too entranced by Grande in their show-opening set to notice anyone was out there watching beyond the lights… which is the kind of chemistry you hope for, right? But of course, there was more than three making it a crowd — it was a full house, in fact, at what show host Usher called “the historical Dolby Theatre.” (It’s 20 years old, and as the joke goes, in Los Angeles maybe that is deep history.) The audience was masked but running at 100% capacity, the first time a TV awards show audience has filled every seat in a venue, unseparated shoulder-to-shoulder, in 15 months.

Elton John was the other key figure of the night, receiving a three-person medley from H.E.R., Brandi Carlile and Demi Lovato. Coldplay’s Chris Martin, not previously known for being a roast-master, did an unexpected comedy routine about John. (The singer said he was a fan “particularly of the one he wrote for his husband’s parents, ‘Don’t Let Your Son Go Down on Me.'”) A more earnest Lil Nas X traded compliments with John. (Nas X: “To me he’s a trailblazer to those who live their lives freely and unapologetically.” John: “A special thanks to Lil Nas X because he is a wonderful artist and has balls of steel!”)

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Lil Nas X speaks onstage at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Dolby Theatre Kevin Winter for iHeartMedia

 

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(L-R) H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, and Demi Lovato are seen onstage at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, which was broadcast live on FOX Kevin Winter for iHeartMedia

Doja Cat’s performance with the gray men amid the green cornstalks certainly upped the bar for originality in this year’s music awards performances. Better to inflict the audience with alien-induced sleep paralysis than sheer awards-show fatigue. Perhaps they can show this as a fun ice-breaker at the next secret congressional UFO committee hearing.

Dan + Shay’s performance, besides including the best singing of the night that was not an Ariana Grande dog whistle, established that, with his pandemic non-haircut, Dan now looks officially like a metal dude. As Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak had the banquette of stars on stage cleared out so that it could be filled with young ladies to be musically come onto, although it would have been much more interesting if they’d tried to musically seduce Elton John, or to steal Megan Fox away from Machine Gun Kelly.

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Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly attend the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Dolby Theatre Kevin Mazur for iHeartMedia

The “club” atmosphere on stage was an interesting wrinkle that was visually arresting — as well as relaxing, with musical director Raphael Saadiq leading a jazzy band that made things seem quite swank in the early going, although they seemed to disappear later on. Usher didn’t seem entirely enamored of the constant crowd yelling, as at one point he interrupted a quickie interview with Lil Nas X to declare: “I hate that we’re up here and we literally have to scream at each other.”

Megan Thee Stallion, accepting an award for collaboration without Beyonce, made a fashion impression with a dress implying asymmetrical nudity. “She’s not just an amazing artist but she’s one of the best twerkers of all time,” said Chris Montana in introducing her, cosigning the sentiment so throughly that he uttered it twice.

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Megan Thee Stallion accepts the Best Collaboration award for ‘Savage’ (Remix) onstage at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Dolby Theatre Kevin Mazur for iHeartMedia

Megan was one of those showing in person to accept, although some did it remotely, like Taylor Swift, Zooming in from a recording studio, lest anyone think she’s slacking and not putting out at least three albums this year. It was “Folklore” she was winning pop album of the year for, though, not one of her re-records. “You really wrapped your arms around it,” she told fans, “the way that someday we’ll be able to wrap our arms around each other when we see each other again.”

A complete list of winners:

Song of the Year:

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd

Female Artist of the Year: 

  • Dua Lipa

Male Artist of the Year:  

  • The Weeknd

Best Duo/Group of the Year: 

  • Dan + Shay

Best Collaboration:

  • “Savage” (Remix) – Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé

Best New Pop Artist: 

  • Doja Cat

Pop Album of the Year:

  • “Folklore” – Taylor Swift

Alternative Rock Song of the Year:

  • “Level Of Concern” – Twenty One Pilots

Alternative Rock Artist of the Year:

  • Twenty One Pilots

Best New Rock/Alternative Rock Artist:

  • Powfu

Alternative Rock Album of the Year:

  • “Tickets to My Downfall” – Machine Gun Kelly

Rock Song of the Year:

  • “Shame Shame” – Foo Fighters

Rock Artist of the Year:

  • The Pretty Reckless

Rock Album of the Year:

  • “Power Up” – AC/DC

Country Song of the Year:

  • “The Bones” – Maren Morris

Country Artist of the Year:

  • Luke Combs

Best New Country Artist:

  • Gabby Barrett

Country Album of the Year:

  • “What You See Ain’t Always What You Get” – Luke Combs

Dance Song of the Year:

  • “Roses” (Imanbek Remix) – SAINt JHN

Dance Artist of the Year: 

  • Marshmello

Dance Album of the Year:

  • “Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley, Chapter 1: Snake Oil” – Diplo

Hip-Hop Song of the Year: 

  • “The Box” – Roddy Ricch

Hip-Hop Artist of the Year:

  • Roddy Ricch

Best New Hip-Hop Artist:

  • Roddy Ricch

Hip-Hop Album of the Year:

  • “My Turn” – Lil Baby

R&B Song of the Year:

  • “Go Crazy” – Chris Brown & Young Thug

R&B Artist of the Year: 

  • H.E.R.

Best New R&B Artist:

  • Snoh Aalegra

R&B Album of the Year:

  • “Chilombo” – Jhene Aiko

Latin Pop/Reggaeton Song of the Year:  

  • “Tusa” – KAROL G & Nicki Minaj

Latin Pop/Reggaeton Artist of the Year: 

  • J Balvin

Latin Pop/Reggaeton Album of the Year:

  • “YHLQMDLG” – Bad Bunny

Best New Latin Artist: 

  • Rauw Alejandro

Regional Mexican Song of the Year:

  • “Se Me Olvidó” – Christian Nodal

Regional Mexican Artist of the Year: 

  • Christian Nodal

Regional Mexican Album of the Year:

  • AYAYAY! – Christian Nodal

Producer of the Year: 

  • Max Martin

Songwriter of the Year:

  • Ashley Gorley

Best Lyrics: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Adore You” – Harry Styles

Best Cover Song: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Juice” (Lizzo) – Harry Styles cover

Best Fan Army: *Socially Voted Category

  • #BTSARMY – BTS

Best Music Video: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Dynamite” – BTS

Social Star Award: *Socially Voted Category

  • Olivia Rodrigo

Favorite Music Video Choreography: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Dynamite” (BTS) – Son Sung Deuk

TikTok Bop of the Year (New Category): *Socially Voted Category

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd

Label of the Year:

  • Republic Records

Titanium Song of the Year:

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd

Titanium Artist of the Year:

  • The Weeknd