This year’s Billboard Music Awards evokes the current COVID-19 pandemic situation worldwide—devoid of a live audience, pre-recorded performances, and a massive call for Americans to vote in the upcoming US Presidential elections.
The three-hour awards show ran with the theme of uniting and connecting people through music and bringing hope and joy, especially in the time of the pandemic. It was broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Since no audience was allowed inside the theater as one of the safety protocols, the artists’ performances (some of them, pre-recorded) and winners accepting the awards were received with deafening silence—no standing ovations, no cheers, no applause.
“Music connects us in so many ways. Music moves us… it brings back the good memories and also helps us make new ones. Music connects us to each other—from virtual living room dance parties to neighborhood balcony concerts, music has united us,” said three-time BBMAs host Kelly Clarkson.
Clarkson kicked off the show with a powerful performance of the song Higher Love by Whitney Houston (originally by Steve Winwood), whose song remix by Norwegian DJ Kygo was nominated for Top Dance/Electronic Song. A capella group Pentatonix and percussionist, singer and author Sheila E. joined Clarkson on stage with other artists harmonizing virtually on screens in the background.
Post Malone was the biggest winner of the night, bagging a total of nine awards (from his 16 nominations) including Top Male Artist, Top Artist, Top Rap Album for “Hollywood’s Bleeding” and Top Streaming Song for Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), a collaboration with Swae Lee.
“Just by the love that everybody showed me, honestly, I appreciate it more than I could ever express,” he said. “Honestly, to be able to reach out to people who might not have anybody to turn to and just be able to reach out and show everybody that they are not alone, and music can bring everybody together is absolutely incredible.”
Billie Eilish, who wore camo pajamas with a matching face mask, won three awards for her 12 nominations: Top Billboard 200 Album for “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do we Go”, Top Female Artist, and Top New Artist, an award that no other female artist has won since Lorde in 2014.
Eilish was the first artist of the night who used her acceptance speech to urge the public to vote in the upcoming US Presidential elections. “Thank you to the women who came before me and paved my way. I love you. Please vote, please wear a mask, please wash your hands, please be safe, please say a prayer,” she said in a slightly muffled voice because of her face mask.
Another big winner of the night was Khalid, who won five awards for his 12 nominations: Top R&B Artist, Top R&B Album for “Free Spirit” and Top R&B Song for Talk. After thanking his family and fans, he, too, brought up the importance of voting. “I want to let you know guys that your voice matters, please use your voice, your voice matters now more than ever.”
Perhaps the most powerful acceptance speech of the night was from Top Songs Sales Artist winner Lizzo, “There is power in who you are. There is power in your voice, so whether it’s through music, protest or your right to vote, use your power. Use your voice and refuse to be suppressed,” says the Good As Hell singer who wore an LBD with the words “Vote” emblazoned on it.
Performers who were interviewed on the sidelines of the awards show like Pentatonix and Swae Lee also called for the viewers to exercise their right to vote.
Lil Nas and Billy Ray Cyrus were also big winners for their Old Town Road collaboration, winning them four awards including Top Streaming Song and Top Rap Song.
An inaugural Billboard Changemaker Award was given to Killer Mike for being a “true social justice warrior who has made exemplary strides to lead the community in positive change making advocacy.” Atlanta, Georgia Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms remotely presented him with the award.
Country legend Garth Brooks was honored with the much-coveted Icon Award. He is a 19-time BBMA winner, who has domestically sold more than 156 million albums, making him the best-selling solo albums artist in the US today. The iconic Cher, who was an Icon Award recipient herself in 2017, presented Brooks the award.
Meanwhile, K-pop powerhouse group BTS (who scored their first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 with their song Dynamite) won the fan-voted Top Social Artist, which, thanks to their solid Army fan base, they have bagged since 2017. The group was also the first to dominate the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Social 50 Charts for 200 weeks.
A tribute was given to legendary guitarist and musician Eddie van Halen, who passed away recently after his battle with cancer, along with the other personalities that the music industry has lost so far this year.
Click here for the complete list of winners.
Stunning performances—live, pre-recorded and overseas
This year’s BBMAs stage featured stunning performances from notable artists like Alicia Keys, captivating in her silver bodysuit and fresh fringe, who performed Love Looks Better; Sia, in her exaggerated sartorial glory, sang her heart out to Courage and Change; Brandy, who performed a medley of her crowd favorites with rapper Ty Dolla $ign; and Garth Brooks, who performed with his whole band on stage.
The night’s big winner Post Malone also performed Circles and Tommy Lee from a “mysterious” remote location in Los Angeles that resembled an industrial yard with Tyla Yaweh.
For his pre-recorded performance, an emotional and tearful John Legend seated behind a grand piano delivered a moving rendition of his song Never Break, which he dedicated to his wife Chrissy Teigen, who had suffered a pregnancy loss two weeks prior to the show.
Demi Lovato performed in the world premiere of her politically charged song called Commander in Chief amid a black backdrop with massive “Vote” written on it.
The much-awaited performance by BTS was shot at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport Terminal 2. The group performed a slower and smoother live band arrangement of their hit song Dynamite.
En Vogue closed this year’s BBMAs with their throwback performance of Free Your Mind, one of the group’s biggest hits. BBMA’s throwback is the awards show’s tribute to some of the biggest milestones in music. In 1990, En Vogue sent their first three singles to No. 1 on the Hot R&B Hip-hop Songs Chart, making them the first ever female group to achieve that feat.
Photos from Billboard Music Awards Twitter page