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Music was the surprising star of the American Music Awards

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By Lisa Respers France, CNN

The 2018 American Music Awards were, surprisingly, mostly about the music.

There were some moments, including comedian Billy Eichner going off script to urge people to vote and XXXTentacion's mother, Cleopatra Bernard, accepting the award for favorite soul/R&B album for her late son.

But it was the performances at Tuesday's ceremony that captured attention.

Taylor Swift, who just wrapped the North American leg of her "Reputation" tour, kicked off the show with her single "I Did Something Bad."

It marked Swift's first live awards show performance in three years.

She also made history by snagging the artist of the year award, making her the most awarded artist in AMA history.

Here are some of the other moments that put the "music" in American Music Awards:

Ledisi, CeCe Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary and Gladys Knight pay tribute to Aretha Franklin

Legendary singer Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer in August, was honored with a gospel tribute that closed out the show.

Her friend Gladys Knight began with a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace." The tribute then transitioned into more rollicking performances by the other artists, with selections that harkened back to Franklin's influential gospel roots.

Carrie Underwood's emotional 'Spinning Bottles'

The country superstar offered a moving rendition of her single "Spinning Bottles."

She also took home the award for favorite country female artist.

Panic at the Disco's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

It's not easy doing a Queen cover, especially when it's an iconic song.

But Panic at the Disco more than pulled it off, performing via satellite from Sydney.

The performance was introduced by Rami Malek, Joseph Mazzello and Gwilym Lee, who star in the upcoming film about Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny's 'I Like It'

Welcome back, Cardi B!

The new mother gave fans plenty to like with a tropical-themed rendition of her hit song "I Like It."

It was her first awards show performance since the July birth of her daughter, Kulture Kiari Cephus, with husband Offset.

Mariah Carey debuts new song 'With You'

When you are a diva who has been in the game for a minute, you don't need to dance around.

Wearing a pink gown and surrounded by the same color, Mariah Carey gave notes, not moves.

Ciara and Missy Elliott show how to 'Level Up'

This performance was the complete opposite of Carey's as Ciara seemed never to stop moving.

She and her backup dancers went through an energetic routine that helped show why "Level Up" has become a viral dance craze.

It gave shades of a 2018 version of Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" minus the social message.

And of course Missy Elliott makes everything she appears on better.

Ella Mai is all 'Boo'd Up'

Newcomer Ella Mai has a hit with her new single.

That was made obvious as the crowd jammed to the English singer-songwriter's performance.

Jennifer Lopez brings the power with 'Limitless'

Jennifer Lopez did double duty, both singing and reminding us that she's also an actress.

J-Lo sang "Limitless," from her forthcoming movie "Second Act."

Lopez began with a poem by writer Jasmin Kuar, which read: "Scream so that one day a hundred years from now another sister will not have to dry her tears wondering where in history she lost her voice."

The performance evoked the power of women, and Lopez's backup dancers accentuated the song's lyrics, "I am here to stay."

Camila Cabello has 'Consequences'

Former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello brought in an orchestra to perform her single "Consequences."

It was good night for Cabello, who also took home awards for favorite new artist of the year and favorite pop/rock song for "Havana," featuring Young Thug.