It was a massive night at the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, October 14, with performances and appearances from many of popular music’s best and brightest artists — even though no one was around in-person to watch them.
Still, the three-hour ceremony was able to achieve an impressive sense of normalcy, thanks in large part to the expert efforts of host Kelly Clarkson and a variety of memorable performances and acceptance speeches. If you didn’t get to catch the BBMAs on Wednesday, here are a dozen moments certainly worth doubling back for.
Kelly Clarkson: “We cry — like I do, often”
While discussing all the ways we’ve reacted to the music of the past year in her opening monologue, The BBMAs’ third-timer host included this line — along with a little voice crack and self-effacing chuckle. It showed that even if she may have been reading the all-too-relatable line off a teleprompter, she still felt it a little more deeply than she was likely comfortable with.
Billie Eilish in the camo pajamas
If you wondered if Eilish would be making a body-image statement following a day or two of far too much discussion of her post-pandemic figure, you got your answer from the baggy camouflage-style PJs (“Duck Hunt chic,” as offered by our Stephen Daw in the Billboard Slack) she wore as she accepted her multiple BBMA awards. She had weightier concerns on her mind anyway: “Please vote, please wear a mask, please wash your hands and be safe,” she cautioned while accepting her top female artist trophy.
Lil Nas X going full Purple Rain
Gotta love the artist behind 2019’s biggest smash accepting his top Hot 100 song award in full mid-’80s Minneapolis frills, with a proper Prince hairdo and even a little of that Morris Day cockiness — teasing fans that they should look out for next month’s Nasvember, “the best album of all time.”
Post Malone’s performance from a “top secret” location
Was it the steel mill where the Terminator melted at the end of T2? Or from the climax of RoboCop? Or maybe the outdoor version of Walter White’s Breaking Bad meth lab? Unclear, but the industrial yard stage where Post performed his “Circles” smash and then his Tyla Yaweh collab “Tommy Lee” (with Yaweh himself) certainly made for one of the most striking sets of the night.
Lizzo’s big statement
Lizzo used the platform of her acceptance speech for top song sales artist before she got to the microphone, wearing a dress covered with the repeated message, “VOTE.” “I’ve been thinking a lot about suppression, and the voices that refuse to be suppressed,” she led off her speech. “And I wonder: Would I be standing here right now, if it wasn’t for the big black women who refused to be suppressed?”
Brandy, then and now
“Almost Doesn’t Count” wasn’t one of Brandy’s biggest pop hits, but it was one of her best singles, and it still disarms over 20 years later. But the R&B great’s new stuff is just as potent, and her sweetly harmonized and intimately delivered “No Tomorrow” with collaborator Ty Dolla $ign proved similarly captivating.
John Legend, unbroken
In one of the most emotional performances of the night, John Legend performed a solo “Never Break” on piano — with the singer-songwriter dedicating the performance to wife Chrissy Teigen, the implications about enduring their recent personal tragedy obvious.
Not surprising that afterwards, Kelly Clarkson called Legend one of her favourite performer/entertainers ever.
Killer Mike accepts first-ever Change Maker award alongside wife Shana
While the Run the Jewels rapper was largely recognized for his work as an activist, and was even presented the inaugural award by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the most memorable part of his speech was his opening tribute to his wife Shana, standing beside him — saying that he didn’t want to be a “martyr” for his causes, and promising that he remained “first and foremost your husband.”
Doja Cat embracing musical theater
It was a little Burlesque, a little Chicago, and entirely Doja Cat, as one of 2020’s biggest breakout stars performed three of her biggest hits in a throwback dress and wig and with an old-Hollywood sense of flair and showmanship. Between this and the sci-fi futurism that backdropped her VMAs performance, it’s pretty clear there aren’t many stages that Doja can’t own.
Virtual fans singing along to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”
You couldn’t have a Garth Brooks greatest hits performance without “Friends in Low Places,” and you couldn’t have “Friends in Low Places” without a good old-fashioned audience singalong. Of course, there were no actual fans in attendance at the BBMAs on Wednesday night, but for a brief moment, the virtual crowd (imported from an old show of the singer’s) shouting out “to the o-o-o-asis!” while Garth soaked it all in made it feel just like a normal year’s award show.
BTS doing a more organic (but still explosive) “Dynamite”
As it will undoubtedly be heard at millions of weddings across the world once public weddings are again a thing, BTS performed their Hot 100-topping “Dynamite” with a live band arrangement — one a little slower and smoother than the pepped-up recorded version. Fun way to hear a song that already feels like it’s been massive for decades in a new way.
En Vogue going back to the future
“A song just as relevant now as it was then,” Kelly Clarkson said by way of introduction — and if anything, En Vogue still sounded ahead of their time with their searing full-band performance of the 1992 classic “Free Your Mind.” In an evening without any traditional rock performances, the R&B now-trio made sure the jams were sufficiently kicked out to close the evening, even weaving in samples of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” on the breakdown. Can’t argue with that.
The 2020 Billboard Music Awards is produced by dick clark productions, which is owned by MRC Entertainment, the parent company of Billboard.
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