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Five memorable moments at the American Music Awards

No question Justin Timberlake is the man of the year, but oh how the women of pop music proved its their world again at the American Music Awards.

Debonair at every turn, Timberlake put on a great performance and said something funny each time he appeared. But it was Taylor Swift who won the night, taking home four awards, including top honor artist of the year for the third time. It was Rihanna who won the Icon Award – at age 25. And it was Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry who will again drive the morning's water-cooler conversation with their continuing awards show brinksmanship.

Not to worry, though, JT, we'll still include you our five moments to remember. But first, Miley:

• Miley's kitty: What was that exactly? We can describe it, no problem: Cyrus performed her hit "Wrecking Ball" as a duet of sorts with a giant, lip-syncing CGI kitten that floated through space projected on a screen behind her. But no way can we explain it. Playfully absurdist, it was a moment Salvador Dali would be proud of. And like all of these performances so far, it became delightfully self-referential when the cat finished the song by winking and sticking its tongue out – Cyrus' trademark move.

• Mr. President: After imitating a sex act last weekend on Saturday Night Live, it was hard to imagine how Lady Gaga and R. Kelly might approach their performance of Do What U Want on Sunday night. They went high concept, casting Kelly as the president and Gaga as a Marilyn Monroe-like figure. Throughout the course of the song, Gaga dances on President Kelly's desk as he gazes up at her, their relationship is outed on Instagram and Kelly storms out when a reporter starts questioning him about the affair.

• The question: — As usual, comedian Sarah Silverman got right to the heart of the uncomfortable subject in the room — white folks winning awards that usually go to black performers. She noted the nominees for favorite soul/R&B album were Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Rihanna: "One, a white kid from the Mickey Mouse Club, one the son of the dad from 'Growing Pains,' and the other a strong, soulful Caribbean woman of color. I don't know who will win, but I do know who should find this most ironic if she loses."

Timberlake, also the favorite soul-R&B male artist, won: "Thank you, Sarah. Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., I can honestly say that's the first time I've ever been racially profiled by a white woman."

• Channeling Celia: You're left wondering after the show how long Jennifer Lopez prepared for her Celia Cruz tribute. Lopez was sexy and dazzling, leading a troupe of two dozen dancers through complex routines without missing a step in salute to the Salsa legend. She changed outfits on stage twice, finishing with a shimmering silver singlet and wining triumphantly at the crowd as her dancers sprawled about her at the end of the tribute.

• Hi, mom: Monica Fenty, Rihanna's mom, hi-jacked the show when she came on stage to present her daughter with the AMA's first Icon Award. The singer put her arm around her mother as she spoke, and told stories about growing up in Barbados after accepting the award. "Right now I cannot believe at 25 years old that I'm holding an Icon Award," Rihanna said. "That is weird to even say out loud."

     
 
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