He didn’t perform, but The Weeknd was the big winner at Sunday (May 22) night’s 2016 Billboard Music Awards, taking home eight honors, including Top Hot 100 Artist and Top R&B Artist at the event, broadcast live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Britney Spears kicked off proceedings with a medley of her hits that began with “Work Bitch,” “Womanizer” and “I Love Rock and Roll” — delivered while gyrating on a giant guitar — and culminated with “Toxic,” showcasing both her well-known hits (“I’m a Slave 4 U” was also included) and some deeper cuts. And Madonna’s tribute to Prince put an exclamation point on the evening — she began singing “Nothing Compares 2 U” on a purple throne and brought out Stevie Wonder to assist her on a powerful rendition of “Purple Rain” that had Rihanna dabbing and The Weeknd singing along.
Prince was on everybody’s mind from the beginning — The Weeknd dedicated his Top Hot 100 Artist victory to the late icon early in the show.
Speaking of fantastic singers, the elegant Celine Dion looked resplendent and sounded even better when powering through “The Show Must Go On” in front of a full orchestra, imparting as much meaning as possible into every word.
Despite not being there, Adele still made an impact, winning five awards and using the opportunity to debut her new music video, for “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” And though the awards broadcast featured plenty of fireworks — Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and the Go-Go’s all delivered eye-catching performances — there were a lot of low key, stripped down renditions as well from the likes of Lukas Graham (“7 Years”), Shawn Mendes (“Stitches”) and Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani (“Go Ahead and Break My Heart”).
But the end of the show was all about the Purple One, and Questlove took on the task of introducing Madonna’s performance. “All of us live in the land of music,” Quest said of Prince, “And his departure was an earthquake.” As Stevie Wonder walked on stage during the first notes of “Purple Rain” and the arena lit up with purple lights, it was hard not to feel a little emotional.