LOS ANGELES -- You can imagine how this might've gone down in an alternate universe.
Taylor Swift, fresh from her internet-rattling endorsement of two Democrats running for congressional seats in next month's midterm elections, takes the stage at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles to open Tuesday's American Music Awards.
She's wearing an Uncle Sam hat -- one of those tall stars-and-stripes numbers -- and as her band vamps on the groove from her song "Look What You Made Me Do," she delivers a lengthy, detailed speech about the scourge of gerrymandering.
Needless to say, this is not what happened here in our world.
Instead, the pop superstar began this most inconsequential of awards shows with an assured but un-thrilling rendition of "I Did Something Bad" -- a carefully choreographed routine that likely felt familiar to anyone who caught Swift on her recent world tour, back when she famously kept mum on matters of politics.
So, a lost opportunity for this newly engaged activist? For sure.
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But Swift was far from the only one not trying especially hard in a program, broadcast live on ABC, that seemed built around obligatory performances by artists who'd been assured they'd win something if they just turned up. (For her troubles, Swift -- who in an acceptance speech did urge fans to "get out and vote" -- was named artist of the year and took home the prizes for tour of the year and favorite pop/rock album; other winners in this fan-voted contest included Camila Cabello, for new artist of the year, and Carrie Underwood, for favorite female country artist.)
Singing her forgettable new single "With You," Mariah Carey was weirdly wooden as she stood there in a shimmery pink gown amid a crew of male dancers putting in much more work than she was.
Post Malone seemed close to falling asleep -- closer than usual, that is -- as he did a medley of his heavy-lidded hip-hop hits "Psycho" and "Better Now." And though you could tell she was going for a kind of Broadway-diva grandiosity, Cabello's dreary "Consequences" sounded like something you'd hear during last call at a suburban wine bar.
No wonder the ungainly trio of Halsey, Khalid and Benny Blanco styled their performance of "Eastside" to look like they were just bumming around somebody's apartment.