Rather than thanking a list of friends and colleagues, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis used their American Music Awards acceptance speech to send a message of tolerance on Sunday night.
Ben Haggerty, the rapper known as Macklemore, accepted the award for favorite rap/hip-hop album, then quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in a live satellite feed from the rap group’s latest tour stop.
“Due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight accepting this award I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids each year that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it,” he said. “This is really happening. These are our friends, our neighbors, our peers and our fans, and it’s time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it.”
Florida became a focal point after Martin’s killer was freed under the state’s stand your ground law. It was the first win of the night for Macklemore and Lewis, whose album “The Heist” has been an unexpected hit and made them the AMA’s top nominees with six. Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Marc Anthony and Imagine Dragons also picked up early awards.
Timberlake received his pop/rock favorite male artist award from Swift and thanked “everyone who took to their Twitter and got busy” before strapping on an acoustic guitar to play a soulfully raucous version of “Drink You Away.” Swift returned to take home the favorite country album award for “Red.”
“‘Red’ is very different than any album I’ve made before and the reason I was able to do that was because of the fans,” Swift said. “I cannot believe what you’ve done in the last year. This album came out almost exactly a year ago and the fact that 6 million of you went out and bought it is crazy.”
Katy Perry opened the show looking like a princess out of a classic Japanese painting. Dressed in a traditional Japanese dress, Perry’s show-starting performance of “Unconditionally” included dozens of colorfully clad dancers waved fans, shadow danced in front of rice-paper screens and played the drums.
Perry was the early focal point of the awards show, held at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, arriving on the red carpet in a black strapless dress to screams from hundreds of fans. She said before the show she wanted to up her game, given the chance to open, and the whirling stage production was a wash of colors and movements before Perry disappeared in a puff of smoke.
One Direction was at times drowned out by screams during an understated performance of “Story of My Life.” The decibel level was that way from the moment the British boy band arrived on the carpet, all smiles and dapper suits. Harry Styles stopped to take a picture with three fans.
Billy Ray Cyrus also mingled with fans, signing autographs and taking photos.
Many wondered how his daughter, Miley, would close things down with the final performance of the night. Most of the year’s top performers were scheduled to take the stage, and Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line were still to come.
Cyrus has shown herself adept at upping the ante in an especially memorable year that’s included some brinksmanship, a few totally odd moments and plenty of skin.
Associated Press writer Jessica Herndon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.