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There are many words you could use to describe Lady Gaga, but “understated” is not one of them.

Until now, that is. The Artpop singer wasn’t nominated for any awards at the American Music Awards last night (November 20), but that didn’t stop her stealing the show with a stripped down performance of “Million Reasons” from her most recent album Joanne.

First, her American Horror Story co-star Matt Bomer provided an introduction: “Working with this woman,” he said, “I’ve gotten to see how passionate she is about the things that truly matter. And this performance is just one more example of how her words and music reflect and capture the most powerful of our emotions.”

Then, wearing a simple black dress and no shoes, Gaga sang the power ballad live, belting it out while sat on a stool and playing guitar:

It was a breath of fresh air on an evening of high-octane pop performances from the likes of Bruno MarsNicki Minaj, John Legend, and The Weeknd.

The night’s big winners were Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Drake, who won three and four awards, respectively, with Ariana Grande being named the AMAs Artist of the Year and Zayn, in a post-One Direction era, winning New Artist of the Year. And despite being nominated four times, Adele bagged just one award for Best Adult Contemporary Artist.

This is an awards show where nominees are identified by sales and the winners chosen not by a panel of judges but by a poll open to the public and fans, meaning sheer popularity sometimes replaces artistic merit. Nor does the music have to be recent: the award for Best Soundtrack, for instance, went to Prince‘s Purple Rain, which originally came out in 1984 but was given a sales jolt when the pop genius passed away in April.

Veteran Sting was also awarded an American Music Award of Merit, and in his acceptance speech credited the country that invented rock and roll. “While I may be an Englishman,” he said, echoing the title of one of his most famous songs, “my musical soul is American,” before launching into a career-spanning medley of “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” “Message In a Bottle,” and “Every Breath You Take.”

Read the full list of winners here.

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By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.