2018 Billboard Music Awards Was a Big Night For Women and Activism

The 2018 Billboard Music Awards summed up the year in popular music just as you might expect. Host Kelly Clarkson began the night by addressing the Santa Fe school shooting, choking up as she opted to call for a “moment of action,” instead of the planned moment of silence. On this note, a bronzed Ariana Grande heeded the call. It’s been nearly a year since the bombing at Grande’s Manchester concert, and she appropriately rung in the night with an inspiring performance of her tribute single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” which has made her the first artist to debut charting lead singles from four consecutive albums. She began reclined atop the surface of black umbrellas, and the act spiralled into an energetic routine with dancers opening and shutting their umbrellas in sync.

From this point on, the show was a festive event, with Clarkson immediately in higher spirits. After some light banter, she sprung into a medley, with bits of Maren Morris’ “My Church,” Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbyes,” Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.”, Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder,” Khalid’s “Young, Dumb and Broke,” Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s “Finesse (Remix),” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” “HUMBLE,” especially struck by surprise, and drove the audience wild.

Khalid picked up the award for Top New Artist, and it was onto another elaborate performance. Dua Lipa took the stage for a sultry rendition of her hit “New Rules” with a multiethnic cast of dancers cavorting around a flamingo flanked by winding staircases, filmed from aerial shots. Next, presenters The Chainsmokers and Halsey took a moment to praise the legacy of the beloved Avicii, to a heartfelt response, before presenting the award for Top Hot 100 Song to Luis Fonsi for “Despacito.” Fonsi gave a shout out to Puerto Rico, and made a reference to “when they say ‘speak English.’” Aaron Scholssberg’s blood must really be boiling.

Shawn Mendes donned his guitar and performed his hit, “In My Blood,” amid a setting of glowing flowers, and audience swooning with more flowers in their hands. South Korean boy band phenomenon BTS could be seen conspicuously enjoying it. Taylor Swift picked up an award for Top Female Artist, and gave a shout out to tourmates Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, as well as “all the female artists who paved the way.” Next, Khalid teamed up with singer Normani for a steamy performance of his hit “Love Lies.” John Legend showed up next, with an entourage of all white-clad dancers, some young children. He sung “A Good Night” about the time he met his wife Chrissy Teigen, absent only because she just gave birth to their second child Miles. At the end of the number, a photo of the baby boy flashed.      

Christina Aguilera was joined by Demi Lovato for the first live performance of their empowering duet, “Fall In Line.” The two were clad in black patent leather, surrounded by helmet-wearing policemen. From a singing standpoint, this was the night’s most impressive moment, with the two divas bleating in tandem, ending in an epic embrace. Afterwards, K-Pop boy band BTS, surely one of the most unique and colorful acts of this year, won Top Social Artist.

Ed Sheeran was broadcast from Dublin, Ireland, where he is on tour, for a cheery live performance of his “Galway Girl,” with help from Irish folk band Beoga. Then, back in Vegas, Jennifer Lopez took the stage for yet another grand, festive award show display. She performed her banger, “Dinero,” with DJ Khaled, who threw fake money in the air from his booth, as she pranced around with dancers dressed like 1920s gangsters. After which Post Malone picked up the Top Rap Song award for “Rockstar.”

At this point, Bebe Rexha introduced the next guest, alluding once more to the Santa Fe shooting, with another call to action. Shawn Mendes again took the stage, this time with Khalid, as well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas choir, from the Florida school that endured the Parkland shooting, for a poignant performance of “Youth.” Khalid wore a shirt bearing the words, “Protect Our Guns,” with the word “guns” crossed out and replaced by “children.” Soon after, Maren Morris, Zedd, and Grey lightened up the mood, taking the stage for an upbeat rendition of their hit, “The Middle.” Taylor Swift picked up another award, this time for Top Selling Album.  

One definite highlights was Janet Jackson, who was given a career retrospective introduction from Bruno Mars, who called her “the epitome of success,” before performing for the first time in years. What followed was a medley of her hits, “Nasty,” “Throb,” and “If.” To a chanting crowd, she accepted the prestigious Icon Award, making Jackson the first black female recipient of the award. She spoke about women’s progress in her acceptance speech, to much adulation, and wound up in a bit of sermon.

Sam Hunt won Top Country Song, and the next act found Macklemore and Kesha playing at a plaza along the Vegas Strip. Here, the two recreated a scene from their video for “Good Old Days.” Back in the stadium, Clarkson switched from host to performer for an energetic version of “Whole Lotta Woman,” to an excited crowd. Pharrell WIlliams then joined Camila Cabello on a set of volcanic lava to perform “Sangria Wine,” after which she burst into her number one hit, “Havana,” in a lively, stellar performance. Cabello walked off with the Top Chart Achievement Award.

BTS delivered a highly-anticipated, high-octane demonstration of their single, “Fake Love,” with animated choreography, to an intensely enthusiastic crowd. Ed Sheeran appeared from Dublin again to accept the Top Artist Award. For the finale, Billboard went full ‘90s, bringing on Salt-N-Pepa to commemorate thirty years since they became the first female rap act to have a top 20 song on the Hot 100. In a colorful, throwback medley, they ran through bits of “Push It,” “Shoop,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” and even joined forces with “En Vogue,” for their collaborative hit, “Whatta Man.” Clarkson joined them on the mic at the very end, literally ending the ceremony on a high note.  

The 2018 Billboard Music Awards took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV on May 20 and aired live on NBC.