LOS ANGELES — Taylor Swift and Adele tied with three wins at the American Music Awards, but the event belonged to the country superstar after she beat the soulful crooner, as well as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Lil Wayne, to win artist of the year, the ceremony’s highest accolade, which the 21-year-old singer-songwriter previously claimed in 2009.
"This is so crazy," beamed Swift, who also picked up the trophies for favorite country female artist and favorite country album for "Speak Now."
Adele had been the night’s leading nominee with four bids, but the soulful singer didn’t have much of a presence during the show: She was absent from the ceremony because she is recovering from recent throat surgery. Adele tied Swift with three awards, nabbing favorite pop/rock female artist, adult contemporary artist and pop/rock album for "21."
Other winners included Maroon 5 as favorite pop-rock band/duo/group, Beyonce as favorite soul/R&B female artist, Bruno Mars as pop/rock male artist, Foo Fighters as favorite alternative rock artist, Rihanna for favorite soul/R&B album for "Loud," Hot Chelle Rae as new artist of the year and Lady Antebellum as favorite country band/duo/group.
"We thank you very much for an incredible year," Lady A singer Charles Kelley told fans.
Nicki Minaj kicked off the 39th annual fan-favorite ceremony with an over-the-top performance that featured the pink-loving singer sporting a pair of speakers on her much-talked about derriere. She later earned two trophies: favorite rap/hip-hop artist, besting a group that included mentor Lil Wayne, and favorite rap/hip-hop album for "Pink Friday."
"Chase your dreams," the pink-haired Minaj encouraged the audience. "I never thought this could be possible."
The sprawling three-hour ceremony inside the Nokia Theatre in an unusually rainy Los Angeles was drenched with musical performances, including Justin Bieber getting into the holiday spirit amid a forest of neon lights with "Under the Mistletoe," and Kelly Clarkson channeling the big-band era with a swinging rendition of "Mr. Know It All."
Several artists delivered stripped-down performances: The Band Perry crooned an emotional "If I Die Young," a subdued Katy Perry accompanied herself on guitar for "The One That Got Away" and a platinum-blonde Chris Brown simply sang "All Back" before being joined by a troop of helmet-clad back-up dancers for a flashy interpretation of "Say It With Me."
Jennifer Lopez performed essentially a live version of the car commercial starring the "American Idol" judge set to her groove "Papi" — complete with a revolving car onstage — before launching into her dance hit "On the Floor." She was joined by rapper Pitbull, who later returned to the stage for the sexually charged "Rain Over Me" with Marc Anthony.
"I want to thank God because it’s been a really amazing year in so many ways," said Lopez, who announced earlier this year with Anthony that they were ending their seven-year marriage, after winning the favorite Latin music artist award. "It’s been up and down and just exciting and overwhelming and so many things. I’m just grateful for all my blessings."
Lopez later appeared with a glowing-in-the-dark will.i.am for his new single "Hard." Other collaborations included Christina Aguilera dueting with Maroon 5 on "Moves Like Jagger" and Bieber dancing with LMFAO in animal-print pants for a finale that ended with everyone on stage — including David Hasselhoff but not Bieber — stripping down to smiley-face underwear.