Selena Gomez was hit with criticism after her 'horrible' performance, but there was a sad reason behind her shaky vocals at the American Music Awards.

A source close to the singer says Selena suffered a panic attack before she took the stage at the American Music Awards.

"Selena definitely had an anxiety and panic attack before she went out and was putting a lot of pressure on herself," the source told E! News.

Viewers called her performance of her latest single Lose You To Love Me "horrible" and "embarrassing".

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Selena Gomez performed Lose You To Love Me at the American Music Awards. Photo / AP
Selena Gomez performed Lose You To Love Me at the American Music Awards. Photo / AP

"That was god awful," wrote a viewer on Twitter.

"I love you Selena but that wasn't good at all, you can do better," a fan posted.

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Lose You To Love Me is rumoured to be about her ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber.

The performance was tipped as the 27-year-old's big comeback and was her first TV performance in two years.

Dressed in a floor-length black long-sleeved gown, Gomez belted out the song, which includes the lyrics: "You promised me the world and I fell for it. I put you first and you adored it. Set fires in my forest, and you let it burn. Sang off-key in my chorus. 'Cause it wasn't yours."

Gomez was supported by her musician friends Taylor Swift and Halsey at the ceremony.