Taylor Swift Scores Record Wins and Gets Political at 2018 American Music Awards

Taylor Swift may be attracting heat over being politically outspoken these days, but the fans sure do love her. At the 2018 American Music Awards on Tuesday night Swift took home four trophies including Artist of the Year and Pop/Rock Album. This gives her a total of 23 AMA wins, a record for any female artist in the show’s history. And while her music performance was devoid of any overt statements, she took a moment during her final acceptance speech to urge viewers to get out the vote. It was the fitting culmination of a week which has seen Swift attract rare attention for breaking with her usual, apolitical persona and get quite political.

On Sunday Swift ignited a twitterstorm after posting an Instagram message endorsing Tennessee Democratic candidate for the Senate Phil Bredesen, and openly condemning Senator Marsha Blackburn for voting against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. “I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” wrote Swift. Since then the pop star has been thrown into the current, stormy political climate, provoking strong reactions from both sides of the spectrum. All eyes were on Swift when she opened Tuesday night’s AMAs with a performance of “I Did Something Bad.” During the performance, which featured a giant cobra, Swift was in top form but stayed away from including anything political. But when Swift received the Artist of the Year award from Lenny Kravitz, she followed the prerequisite thank you’s with, “this award and every single award given out tonight were voted on by the people, and you know what else is voted on by the people? The midterm elections on November 6.”

Yet Swift was not the only artist to touch on the November 6 elections. The evening’s host, Tracee Ellis Ross of “black-ish” wore a shirt that stated “I Am a Voter.” But most of the show was also traditional AMA music and tributes as some of the current big chart toppers hit the stage, legends were honored and fashion statements were made. Swift managed to overshadow even the year’s top hitmaker, Drake, who had the year’s #1 album plus three No. 1 hits yet went home empty-handed. The performances themselves this year were memorable for their energy and visual daring. Cardi B, who won three awards including Favorite Hip-Hop/Rap Artist, performed her smash hit “I Like It” with a stage set bursting with color and oriental designs. It was a good night for Cardi B as her husband, Offset and his rap trio Migos won Favorite Pop/Rock Duo or Group. Migo included expressions of affection for his wife while onstage, pointing at Cardi B and saying, “I want to thank you sexy lady.”

One of the evening’s great and stunning performances belonged to Ciara, who performed “Level Up” accompanied by Missy Elliott. It was a pounding, futuristic set that overwhelmed the house. Another memorable performance belonged to Panic! At the Disco who delivered a decent, spot on cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The performance was introduced by actor Rami Malek, who plays Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the upcoming “Bohemian Rhapsody” biopic. Ella Mai sang “Boo’d Up” and made the performance somewhat interactive when she stood in the middle of the AMAs audience. Shawn Mendes and Zedd delivered a “Lost in Japan” that had a gorgeous elegance with hundreds of paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Jennifer Lopez returned to the AMAs to debut a new song, “Limitless,” which she performed in a silver ensemble amid lightning and clouds for a stage design. Another classic diva, Mariah Carey, also made an appearance and sang “With You.” Dua Lipa’s performance of “One Kiss” had a rave meets “Tron” vibe as her and the dancers wore rave outfits that glowed neon, including Lipa’s bikini top.

The night also belonged to Camila Cabello, who tied Swift with 4 wins of her own including New Artist of the Year, Music Video and Collaboration for her hit “Havana” with Young Thug. Cabello received a standing ovation for a heartfelt performance of the ballad “Consequences.” When receiving her award for Pop/Rock Song for “Havana,” Cabello thanked her dad, who was her date to the show. There was much humor as well during the show, as when Busy Philipps and John Stamos presented the Male R&B/Soul Artist award and Philipps confessed to having a crush on Stamos when she was younger but was freaked out later because his posters age faster than him. The award itself would go to Khalid. Also honored for Favorite Male Artist in the Country category was Kane Brown, who looked a bit astounded by the win. Carrie Underwood would take home the Female Artist award for Country as well. In the Soul/R&B categories, XXXTENTACION won Favorite Album for “17” and Bruno Mars and Cardi B would take home Favorite Song for “Finesse.”

But the night would end in waves of thundering gospel as an assortment of respected artists took the stage to honor the legendary Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul passed away earlier this year and the tribute would put aside the standards and hits for pure gospel glory. Gladys Knight opened the tribute with an evocative “Amazing Grace,” which was followed by gospel singer Donnie McClurkin doing Franklin’s own “Climbing Higher.” CeCe Winans nearly turned the evening into a spiritual communion with a powerful “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” It was all a rousing tribute to Franklin and her roots, as she had begun singing at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was the preacher. Ledisi appeared next to sing “How I Got Over” and the gospel duo Mary Mary appeared last to close the tribute with a dancing, thunderous climax. If the night began with the sounds now dominating the airwaves, it ended with a throwback to the timeless sounds of the American gospel tradition.

Rest assured the morning headlines will still focus on Taylor Swift, whose awards prove she remains one of the most popular pop artists of her day, but she is charting new waters as an outspoken one as well.

The 2018 American Music Awards aired Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.