With just 19 days to go until the presidential election, the 2020 Billboard Music Awards sounded a political note Wednesday night.
In fact, that tone made some of the most powerful moments ones that were not involving music at all. Certainly, the award for best speech of the night went to Lizzo, picking up her trophy for Top Song Sales Artist at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Wearing a one-shouldered black minidress with the word “vote” emblazoned all across it, the “Truth Hurts” diva made a major statement without singing a note.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about suppression and the voices that refuse to be suppressed,” said Lizzo. “And I wonder, would I be standing here right now if it weren’t for the big black women who refused to have their voices be suppressed?”
The Grammy-winning singer-rapper continued to rock the vote: “When people try to suppress something, it’s normally because that thing holds power. They’re afraid of your power … So whether it’s through music, protest or your right to vote, use your power, use your voice and refuse to be suppressed.”
Now that’s what we call using your juice for good.
Then, in a nod to these socially impactful times, Run the Jewels rapper and activist Killer Mile was honored with the inaugural Billboard Change Maker Award from the historic APEX (African American Panoramic Experience) Museum in Atlanta. After being presented the award from Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Killer Mike spoke directly to the “kids that are organizing … strategizing, right there on the ground and mobilizing” with words of encouragement.
“You matter more than you know,” he said in a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. “You are needed more than ever.”
But the prevailing political message of the night went beyond speeches. Demi Lovato — having her Alicia Keys moment playing the piano — performed her new single “Commander in Chief,” speaking directly to President Trump with some condemning lyrics: “Commander in Chief, honestly/If I did the things you do, I couldn’t sleep/Seriously, do you even know the truth?/We’re in a state of crisis, people are dying/While you line your pockets deep.”
Later, Lovato issued a fists-in-the-air warning: “We’ll be in the streets while you’re bunkering down/Loud and proud, best believe.” That’s a long way from “Sorry Not Sorry.”
It was a moving moment that was one of the best performances of the night. Even better, though, was the electric rendition of “Free Your Mind” that En Vogue closed the show with 30 years after the girl group released its debut album, “Born to Sing.
With a full, mask-wearing band and vocals that left no doubt there was no lip-syncing involved, En Vogue proved that the message of “Free Your Mind” is just as relevant today as it was when the funk-rock anthem was released in 1992.
Another memorable ’90s R&B moment occurred when Brandy took the stage to perform two tracks from her new album “B7” — “Borderline” and “No Tomorrow” (with Ty Dolla $ign) — as well as her 1999 hit “Almost Doesn’t Count.” It was a much-needed throwback to escape these trying times.
But for sheer tears, the winner was John Legend’s emotional performance of his “Bigger Love” ballad “Never Break,” which he dedicated to his wife Chrissy Teigen, who miscarried their son — who was to be named Jack — a couple of weeks ago.
“This is for Chrissy,” Legend said as he started the song, during which his voice broke ever so briefly at times before regaining its strength.
“John, that was so beautiful,” said BBMAs host — and Legend’s fellow coach on “The Voice” — Kelly Clarkson. “All my love to you and Chrissy.”
And the night’s big winner? Post Malone, who picked up his ninth and final trophy — for Top Artist — from Taraji P. Henson while holding what appeared to be a red Solo cup. It was not the same kind of statement that others made, but rock stars will be rock stars.
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