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Rembert Explains the ’80s: The 1985 American Music Awards

Welcome back to our series Rembert Explains the ’80s. Every so often, we’ll e-mail 25-year-old Rembert Browne a video from the 1980s that he hasn’t seen. Rembert will write down his thoughts as he’s watching it, then we’ll post those thoughts here. This week’s installment was selected by Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons: a portion of the 1985 American Music Awards. If you have an idea for a future episode of Rembert Explains the ’80s, e-mail us at

Simmons’s note: I’m demanding a breakdown of this clip please …

Rembert’s note: I’ve got no choice, he followed “demand” with “please.” So kind.


This is already better than 90 percent of the ’80s videos I’ve attempted to “explain.” And that mustache. Lord heavens.

0:05 Wait, I think Lionel is the host. I thought he was just a presenter. Incredible.

0:19 I can’t get over this jacket. He looks like a fancy Christmas tree. Or a professionally wrapped present.

0:24 Well, this will be good. Some white lady named Janie Frickie and the Beach Boys are presenting “Favorite Black Single.” Does that mean someone on that stage is going to say the phrase “Favorite Black Single” out loud? Please say yes. Also, I could go off for 8,000 words on the category “Favorite Black Single,” but I won’t. Not now. Later. In, like, five minutes.

0:45 Janie said it. “Let’s see what record will make it as Favorite Black Single.” This is too good. Why was I not alive and making music while there was still a Black category?

0:46 This is ’85, does this mean I’m about to get a Prince vs. Michael Jackson face-off? What about Lionel? Can he win awards as a host? Did he have any Black Singles in 1985? Maybe he got all of his Black Singles out of his system in ’84. Can’t remember.

0:54 I almost spat out my drink. The first nominee is Billy Ocean for “Caribbean Queen.” Classic Black Single. Also, for the past 15 years I thought this song was called “Caribou Dream” and was about an iced coffee drink. The more you know.

1:00 Nominee 2: Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Tina is so fly, even if her hair makes her look like a tanned, hot Nikki Sixx.

1:06 Nominee 3: AHHHHHHHHH!

Ladies and gentlemen, the perfect man. Prince Rogers Nelson. I can’t imagine anyone in human history was cooler than Prince in the mid-’80s. Look at that faint mustache. Look at that neck thing. Look at that swooping hair bang curl fiesta on his face. Wow. Just wow.

1:19 Interesting, only three nominees. Maybe it was a slow year for Black Singles. Or perhaps there just were a bunch, but only a few favorite Black Singles. Anyway, will they just announce Prince as the winner already? If Billy Ocean pulls off the upset, I’ll asphyxiate myself with a blouse.

1:28 How’s this for a two-second transition?

The Winner is: “When Doves Cry,” Prince

Point camera to Prince:

Who/what on Earth is that? Is he sliding out to let Prince by, or is he with Prince? If the latter is true, I’m going to be so happy. He’s got to be nine feet tall.

1:42 Yep. Definitely with Prince. He’s following him onstage. Incredible. I’m so glad Prince is going to accept his award for Favorite Black Single with this giant hovering over him.

1:53 If you think you’re cool, just know that you are nothing compared to Prince. This small man walked onstage, looking like this …

… said, “Thank you very much,” and WALKED BACK TO HIS SEAT. Four words. He didn’t even go backstage to celebrate. He went back to his seat with Santa bodyguard. World, we all need to collectively step our games up. Watching this is extremely humbling. This man lacks flaws.

2:09 Back to Black Single-less Lionel, who only has one word to describe what happened. That word is “Outrageous.” Actually, it’s “OUTRAGEOUS.” When Lionel sees things that are OUTRAGEOUS, he does this:

You know what’s OUTRAGEOUS, Lionel? You going a full year without a Black Single. Get it together.

2:25 Lionel just had a inside-joke conversation with Quincy Jones. I want to know what they’re referencing, but the crowd seemed to like it. I kind of like Black-less, Single-less Lionel as host. He’s fun and will let you dress him up like Liberace if you ask nicely.


2:53 This awards show is incredible. Lionel just introduced the presenters for Favorite Black Album and it’s Madonna and Huey Lewis.

A few notes:

  • Madonna looks a hot mess.
  • Huey Lewis is an extremely well-dressed man.
  • Madonna is trying to holler at Huey.
  • Huey will not fight it.

That’s all.

3:08 Madonna (while she seems to be chewing gum like a flirty 16-year-old): “Well, Huey, 1984’s been a good year for us.”

Chill, Madonna. Unless you somehow win Favorite Black Album, 1984 wasn’t ANYTHING.

3:14 Huey just rhymed “earful” with “year full.” In public. On television. What a cornball. Great skinny tie, though.

3:20 I think this is the best interchange. I don’t know why, but I think it’s accidentally about race relations:

Huey: These three nominees for Favorite Black Album.
Madonna: Yeah, well, I want them all to win.
Huey: Yeah, well, I do too … but of course they can’t.

(two-second pause)

Just fantastic. Anyway, so who is it? Prince and what other two fools?

3:31 Nominee 1: LIONEL — Can’t Slow Down.

Wow, the host up for Favorite Black Album. I take back what I said earlier, Mr. Richie. You did have a year of Black favorites. My sincerest apologies.

3:41 Nominee 2: PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION — Purple Rain. This is amazing. Two of the three Black beasts of the ’80s going head to head. Please, somehow, let the third nominee be MJ. Please. Pretty please.

3:58 Dreams really do come true.

This is the best. Lionel vs. Prince vs. Michael in 1985. I dare someone to show me a more competitive category in the history of awards shows. All genres of awards shows. Nothing can top this.

4:12 Whoa. Purple Rain just beat Thriller. I’m just going to sit here for a moment and think about that.

4:16 Thought just got interrupted, because:

He’s baaaaaaaaaack.

4:30 Yes, the entire Revolution is filing onto the stage. Also, they are getting a standing ovation. I wonder if we’ll get more than four words from Prince this time. I’ve got my money on seven.

4:34 The Revolution filed out of that row like they were stuck in a clown car. They just won’t stop coming out of this row. On this day in 1985, if you wore a sequined jacket and a Zorro hat and didn’t smile and weren’t named Lionel, you could be part of the Revolution.

4:40 Purple Rain just beat Thriller. If there was Twitter in 1985, the social networking platform would have broken for a week.

4:44 The Revolution are not only beautiful, but they walk as a unit quite well.

5:10 Prince isn’t speaking, but Prince is holding the hand of the Revolution member that is speaking on behalf of Prince and the Revolution. She is saying a lot of words. This is magical.

5:23 She is talking a lot about the spirit and believing in yourself. This is putting me in a great mood. #BasedRevolution

5:26 Camera just panned to Smokey Robinson, who seems to be quite confused by what just happened. And this is in 1985. And he’s still alive. I’d love to live in his head as he walks around in 2012.

5:30 Back to Lionel, who is back to screaming. He has a giant smile on his face, hiding the grief that comes from losing Favorite Black Album. Poor Lionel. But to be fair, it was one versus a Revolution. There’s no shame in that loss.

5:42 Lionel’s last 10 seconds:


Poor guy.

5:49 Whoa, quick scene and outfit change for Lionel. I miss the old jacket. I already miss it so much.

5:50 Lionel just introduced Vanity and two dudes I’ve never heard of. I know a good amount about Vanity, because I’m a Prince fan, and there’s a line from her Wikipedia page that I will never forget until the end of time:

Prince renamed her Vanity because, he said, he saw his female reflection when he looked at her.

Like I said, Prince is perfect.

6:03 FAVORITE POP ALBUM. I think this is the last award of the show, unless there’s a category for Favorite Black, which would obviously/better go last.

6:11 Vanity is so fly, especially next to these two clowns whose names I refuse to go back and learn. She’s like a mythical creature. The good kind.

6:31 Excuse me while I make an announcement:


The three Favorite Black Albums are the SAME as the three Favorite Pop Albums. Was this the moment that racism ended? Was it? Why isn’t this award show in history books? Why am I just learning about this now? This is incredible. It would suck to be white in 1985. Wow.

6:43 Obviously Prince won. We knew that. Is he about to walk onstage and create a child with Vanity? I hope so; there are about two minutes left in this telecast.

6:52 The camera just flashed to the Pointer Sisters. Were there white musicians in 1985? Were any white non-presenters invited to the awards show? What channel was this on? I need to know everything about this glossed-over historical event.

7:02 Prince just ran. Or floated across the stage. It was almost as if he was excited. This is big.

7:25 Vanity just gave the big giant bodyguard/potential upright bass player a kiss on the cheek. It’s like a glittery family reunion onstage. I want to go to there.

7:28 PRINCE JUST SMILED. He’s like some beautiful faun native to mythical forests.

5:42 Prince. Speaks.

For all of us,
life is death
without adventure
Adventure only comes to those who are willing
to be daring
and take chances.

I’m done. I’m converting. I’m sure he says more, but nothing else matters. Bye, old world. I’m renaming myself Humanity and going on a vision quest. See everyone never.