Billboard Music Awards: 16 Memorable Performances, From Rihanna to 'N Sync

11:41 AM 5/15/2017

by Billboard Staff

Ahead of Sunday's show in Las Vegas, a look back at some highlights over the years featuring Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruno Mars and more.

Rihanna performing at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards
Rihanna performing at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards
Jeff Kravitz/BBMA2016/FilmMagic

Like the Billboard charts themselves, the Billboard Music Awards have a history of celebrating a diverse cross-section of the music landscape. From the girl-powered punch of Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" to the pitch-black rock of Metallica's "Unforgiven II" to the seductive snap, crackle and pop of Britney Spears and Rihanna's "S&M," the ceremony has always collected music's biggest stars in one place and let their hits shine in front of millions.

That legacy will continue on ABC on May 21, when a slew of stars will strut their chart-topping stuff on the Billboard Music Awards stage. But before that chapter is written, take a look back at 16 of the most memorable performances in the show's history.

  • Shania Twain

    1995

    Shania Twain might have been flanked by a full band when she took the stage at the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, but she sang her hit "If You're Not In It For Love (I'm Outta Here)" as if dancing alone in her bedroom. The country star wiggled during the guitar solo, cooed each word in the verses, and belted out the song's chorus with a wide grin. She even let out a celebratory "Woo!" at the end of the performance.

  • Metallica

    1997

    After being introduced by Wayne Newton and Busta Rhymes, Metallica performed "The Unforgiven II" with a sense of calculated anger and hard-rock precision. Frontman James Hetfield led the slow build of the Reload highlight, and when drummer Lars Ulrich was finished pounding away, the crowd went wild.

  • Mariah Carey

    1999

    In one of a lifetime's worth of powerhouse performances, Mariah Carey took the Billboard Music Awards stage in 1999 to gracefully deliver her ballad "I Still Believe." Afterward, she was joined by Queen Latifah and Stevie Wonder, the latter of whom told her, "We gotta sing together!"

  • 'N Sync

    2000

    'N Sync's 2000 performance of their No Strings Attached hit "Just Got Paid" demonstrates everything you should fondly remember about the turn-of-the-century boy band era: colorful costumes, elaborate set pieces, lock-step dance moves, and of course, the sweet pop harmonies. Watching Justin Timberlake and the rest of the guys shimmy in their pimp suits and play-fight with another group of dancers is a perfect snapshot of the time.

  • Alicia Keys, Angie Stone & Eve

    2001

    Alicia Keys' 2001 performance united some of the biggest female stars in R&B, hip-hop and soul music, as Angie Stone and Eve took the stage to assist the then-rising singer on "Brothers." Before the trio traded lines and high notes, though, Keys hinted at the unparalleled talent she would eventually become while singing "A Woman's Worth" behind a piano.

  • P!nk

    2003

    Before P!nk remade her stage show into an acrobatic wonder, the pop star performed one of her most best-known singles, "God Is a DJ," at Billboard's 2003 ceremony. Turning the stage into her own personal turntable, P!nk reached out to the disaffected, rocked out to a screeching guitar solo, and shoved one dancer's head into her crotch before writhing around on a giant record player.

  • BeyoncĂ©

    2011

    Before being honored with the Millennium Award at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, R&B superstar Beyoncé took to the stage for an empowering performance of "Run the World (Girls)." After a video montage featuring shout out from like-minded ladies like Michelle Obama, Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, Bey stunned the audience with a jaw-dropping performance that featured an interactive video screen, 100 dancers and enough pyrotechnics to light up the Vegas skyline.

  • Rihanna and Britney Spears

    2011

    Soon after releasing her fifth studio album, Rihanna took to the stage and opened the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, enticing the crowd with a high-octane performance of one of her most controversial singles, "S&M." Clad in white pleather, chains and little else, the seductress paraded around the stage, hands groping at her sides before being joined by Britney Spears, who donned a matching black bondage suit, complete with bunny ears. The pair even shared a smooch and had a pillow fight later in the set, making for one of the steamiest sets in BBMA history.

  • Cee Lo Green

    2011

    Those watching the 2011 BBMAs were treated to a medley of Cee Lo Green's best musical moments, beginning with a majestic, horn-backed rendition of his Gnarls Barkley hit "Crazy." After that, he dipped into the best of his solo material -- first "Bright Lights, Bigger City" and then "Forget You," as his sparkling piano levitated – and did a complete 360-degree flip -- above the stage.

  • Jordin Sparks & John Legend

    2012

    Held three months after the tragic death of Whitney Houston, the 2012 BBMAs paid tribute to the dearly departed singer with performances from John Legend and Jordin Sparks. On piano, Legend opened up the emotional, orchestra-backed performance with a poignant rendition of "Greatest Love of All." Sparks then added an impassioned rendition of the Houston standard "I Will Always Love You" that brought the house down.

  • Justin Bieber

    2012

    What would the BBMAs be without a little Bieber? During the 2012 show, Biebs took things to the next level with a show-stopping performance of "Boyfriend" that featured the classic Bieber moves that got all of America grooving.

     

  • Taylor Swift

    2013

    Taylor Swift opened the 2013 Billboard Music Awards with a... well, a happy-go-lucky stroll, which turned into a spectacularly choreographed dance party through the halls of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which morphed into a ride on the back of a bicycle through the crowd, which transformed into a soaring rendition of the back half of "22" when she finally reached the stage. Swift would go on to win Top Artist of the Year later that evening for an incredible run behind her Red album, but really, she would have been a strong contender based solely on that on-the-go opening show.

  • Bruno Mars

    2013

    Months before being named Billboard's Artist of the Year for 2013, Bruno Mars stepped out underneath a handful of disco balls and partied at the BBMAs like it was 1979. Clad in a slick red suit and backed by his faithful brass band, Mars shimmied ever so smoothly through "Treasure," adding some throwback style to the 2013 ceremony.

     

  • Nicki Minaj & Lil Wayne

    2013

    Nicki Minaj left everyone in awe with her performance at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards. While performing her Pink Friday: Roman Reladed - The Re-Up hit "High School," she gifted the song's featured guest, Lil Wayne, with an unforgettable lap dance-turned-twerk fest.

  • Michael Jackson Hologram

    2014

    Nearly five years after his untimely death, Michael Jackson returned to the BBMAs stage… in hologram form. An animation of the King of Pop was unveiled alongside a slew of dancers and performed "Slave To The Rhythm," from the 2014 posthumous album Xscape.

     

  • Rihanna

    2016

    Rihanna's powerhouse performance of "Love on the Brain" dazzled the audience at the 2016 ceremony, as she's done for years at the Billboard Music Awards.

    This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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