The 19-year-old twanger pocketed a leading five prizes, including the biggest, Artist of the Year, at Sunday's American Music Awards, while Michael Jackson made some history from beyond the grave.
The late King of Pop won four posthumous awards—including Favorite Pop/Rock Artist and Pop/Rock Album for his 2003 greatest-hits set, Number Ones—bringing his AMA career total to 25.
In a night when neither of the top winners was present (Jackson for obvious reasons; Swift was in London rehearsing for a show at Wembley Arena), the Los Angeles cemerony was marked by a couple of outrageous performances (thank you, Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga) and welcome comebacks by Rihanna and Whitney Houston. But in the end, the ghost of Jackson was the night's most compelling presence.
"We love you, Michael," said a sequin-glove-sporting Jermaine Jackson, who accepted the honor on his brother's behalf. "It's not just about the winnings, the awards, it's mainly the message. The message that Michael had will live on forever...and he saw good in everyone and he wanted them to do good. To start with love and let's love each other."
Sister Janet kicked things off with a medley of her hits. Even Swift, who accepted her Artist of the Year award (without interruption) live via satellite, paid tribute to Michael, who she beat.
"I just want to say that music has never been ultimately about competition, and to even be mentioned in a category with Mixhael Jackson, who we'll miss and love forever, is an unumaginable honor," she said. "And I just want to say I'm sending my love to the Jackson family and Janet."
Fellow country star Keith Urban scored Country's Best Male Artist and gave a big shout-out to wife Nicole Kidman—a presenter with her Nine costar Kate Hudson, who was nearly falling out of her platinum dress.
"I just love you so much, baby. This is for you and Sunday," said Urban, who also crooned "Kiss a Girl."
And in what was the evening's biggest surprise, Nashville's Gloriana was named T-Mobile's Breakthrough Artist, selected by the viewers.
Of course, what's an AMA show without Music? And there was plenty to be had.
Backed by a gospel choir, a joyful Houston brought the house down with a performance of her new single, "I Didn't Know My Own Strength."
After a standing O, Samuel L. Jackson presented the "So Emotional" singer with the International Artist of the Year, an award given out only six times in the history of the AMAs.
Among the other highlights: Shakira got the Nokia Theatre moving with her drum-heavy new single, "Give It Up to Me;" Jay-Z and Alicia Keys paid tribute to the Big Apple with a stirring take on their "Empire State of Mind;" Mary J. Blige offered up a classy take of "I Am;" five-time AMA winner Carrie Underwood brought some old-school burlesque to the festivities, belting out "Cowboy Cassanova;" the Black Eyed Peas delivered a futuristic one-two punch with "The E.N.D." and "Boom Boom Pow," the latter with robot dancers; and Eminem and 50 Cent teamed up for a bleep-worthy "Crack a Bottle."
Other stage hijinks included Rihanna, who took a page from Frankenstein by appearing onstage shackled in a mad scientist's laboratory to rock the house with her guitar-heavy anthem "Hard." Gaga, meanwhile, tried to out-diva Madonna with a somewhat kooky performance of "Bad Romance" that was probably more outrageous for her wardrobe than actual singing; she followed that up with the power ballad "Speechless" (her piano was literally on fire).
Then there was Lambert. The glam-rock-aspiring American Idol champ closed things out with an extremely raunchy S&M act choreographed to the title cut to his new album, "For Your Entertainment," complete with an up-close-and-personal moment with a backup musician that show sources told us was definitely not rehearsed.
And capping a box-office-busting weekend at the box office, The Twilight Saga even got in on the AMA action, scoring the prize for Favorite Soundtrack for the first film.
Here's the complete list of winners at the 2009 AMAs:
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
T-MOBILE BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST
INTERNATIONAL ARTIST OF THE YEAR
The highs, the lows, the Lambert. Get it all in our American Music Awards gallery.