Only seven months after the 2020 Billboard Music Awards was postponed, the annual award show returned Sunday to honor the world’s finest music artists.
Hosted by singer-songwriter and actor Nick Jonas, the event kicked off with DJ Khaled, H.E.R. and Migos performing “We Going Crazy,” accompanied by an exciting fanfare of trumpets. The live audience added fuel to the fire that was the performance. In contrast to last year’s show, a live audience was permitted at the outdoor venue, following appropriate coronavirus guidelines.
Singers Doja Cat and SZA proved themselves as multifaceted artists with their performance of “Kiss Me More.” Along with their stable vocals, the duo displayed their dance abilities with controlled and sharp movements. As always, they were in perfect harmony with each other, both vocally and choreographically.
Following both performances, singer-songwriter The Weeknd accepted the night’s first award, Top 100 Artist. He was nominated for 16 categories and won 10 — the most of any other nominee — a well-deserved accomplishment after being unfairly deprived of a single Grammy nomination this year. He ultimately took home the biggest win of the night for Top Artist.
The performances resumed with Twenty One Pilots singing “Shy Away” from their new album “Scaled And Icy.” Alicia Keys also sang a special, nostalgic medley of some of her biggest hits to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her debut album, “Songs in A Minor.” Other performers included pop trio AJR, English band Duran Duran, Latin singer-songwriter Karol G and Latin rapper Bad Bunny, with the latter winning four awards, including Top Latin Artist.
Other artists also took home major awards. Clad in a stunning golden dress, singer-songwriter Gabby Barrett won Top Country Female Artist and Top Country Song. Before the live broadcast began, she was also crowned the winner of Top Collaboration for her duet with Charlie Puth, earning Barrett three wins out of her nine nominations — the most nominations of this year’s female artists. Rappers DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” was awarded the Top Rap Song.
Globally-renowned K-pop group BTS won Top Selling Song with “Dynamite,” beating out fierce competition from Cardi B’s “WAP” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” The song also beat The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” which later won Top 100 Song. Before the live broadcast, BTS won Top Song Sales Artist and Top Duo/Group, which they narrowly missed last year. The seven-member group was declared Top Social Artist for the fifth consecutive year.
In addition to winning all four of their nominations, BTS gave a debut performance of their second English song, “Butter,” which was released Friday. Unable to join the venue live, the group still did “pull [me] in like no other” from South Korea with full charisma and charm. The dance was as smooth as the song title, ushering groovy choreography of body rolls and glides across the floor, which perfectly tied in with the single’s playful and flirtatious vibes.
Singer-songwriter P!nk also joined the roster of performers. P!nk and her daughter Willow delivered a beautiful aerial dance of their mother-daughter duet “Cover Me in Sunshine.” P!nk’s guitarist then joined her for “All I Know so Far” before P!nk turned the stage upside down with a lightning mash-up of her most iconic songs, including “So What,” “Just Give Me a Reason” and “Get the Party Started.”
P!nk became the 10th artist to receive the Icon Award, while the late rapper Pop Smoke won five awards, one being Top Billboard 200 Album. His mother, Audrey Jackson, accepted the award on his behalf.
Though the BBMAs are usually intended to award top-charting music artists, the 2021 BBMAs highlighted artists’ important non-music contributions. Rapper and activist Trae tha Truth accepted the Change Maker Award, honored for his non-profit organization seeking to provide relief for those affected by natural disasters.
Songwriting duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis sang a tribute to Minneapolis, a “place that musically has always represented change to the status quo.” Joined by singer Ann Nesby, vocal ensemble Sounds of Blackness delivered a moving acapella rendition of “Optimistic,” a song that serves as an anthem for strength.
Many artists made their BBMAs debuts this year. During his acceptance speech for Top Rock Artist, singer-songwriter and rapper Machine Gun Kelly noted how this was his first time being invited to a big stage, despite releasing his first mixtape 15 years ago. British rock band Glass Animals, too, performed at the BBMAs for the first time.
Huge familiar faces also returned to the BBMAs. Singer-songwriter and rapper Drake received the Artist of the Decade award. With 27 wins, he now holds the record for most BBMAs.
The Jonas Brothers returned to perform for the first time since 2019, joined by producer and DJ Marshmello, to perform their collaboration “Leave Before You Love Me.” They closed out the night with even more intensity with a medley of the JoBros’ hits.
Thanks to coronavirus vaccines, the 2021 BBMAs more closely resembled a “normal” spectacle than last year’s event. With the presence of a live audience, albeit masked-up and distanced outdoors, the energy and excitement remained high throughout the night. From Sounds of Blackness to BTS to Alicia Keys, each dynamic performance shined in their own ways. Though complete normalcy for awards shows is yet to be attainable, the 2021 BBMAs is one thrilling reminder that music can and should still be celebrated.