Billboard Music Awards Preview: Imagine Dragons, Lorde Dominate; Michael Jackson to 'Appear' as Hologram

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This story first appeared in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Luke Bryan takes the stage with Florida Georgia Line at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards to perform their current hit, "This Is How We Roll," they could well be describing the success of the show itself, which takes place Sunday, May 18, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and will be telecast live on ABC.

Since returning to the air four years ago following a four-year hiatus, the Billboard Music Awards have been on the rise. The 2013 edition -- hosted by Tracy Morgan and featuring performances by Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Prince, Selena Gomez and Ed Sheeran, among others -- attracted a viewing audience of 9.5 million, a 28 percent spike compared with the year earlier.

This year's event, produced for the first time by Billboard corporate partners Dick Clark Productions (both owned by Guggenheim Partners, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter), is being overseen by Larry Klein, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco, who just joined DCP from ABC. The trio replaces Don Mischer.

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"I like to think of the show as the kickoff to summer, right when kids are getting out of school," says Bracco, DCP executive vp programming and development, who was instrumental in moving the show after 18 years on Fox to ABC, where he was vp alternative series and specials. "It's a big party, a celebration of music. It's now an appointment date for artists to promote their tours or albums."

"Billboard is the holy grail of the industry," says awards-show veteran Klein. "Everybody wants to be number one on the charts."

Indeed, this year's lineup includes 12-time nominees -- and Las Vegas natives -- Imagine Dragons, who just a few months ago took the Grammys by storm with their standout performance of "Radioactive" with Kendrick Lamar. The band shares the honor of most nominations with New Zealand phenom Lorde, who had to postpone her current tour because of a chest infection but will perform at the BBMAs. Justin Timberlake follows with 11 nominations.

"About five years ago, we were playing small bars in Vegas at venues that you probably wouldn't invite your friends to," the band's lead vocalist, Dan Reynolds, tells THR. "So playing an awards show here in our hometown for the first time will be an especially surreal experience."

Taking a page from the Grammy book of artist pairings, the Billboard Music Awards will feature Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez debuting the brand-new FIFA World Cup anthem, "We Are One" (Lopez also will be honored with the Icon Award), while Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert will team for a duet on a song from the latter's new album. Other artists expected to perform their current hits include John Legend ("All of Me"), OneRepublic ("Falling Stars") and Katy Perry ("Birthday") along with Miley Cyrus, Jason Derulo and Aussie pop-punk breakouts 5 Seconds of Summer, who announced the engagement on their Twitter account.

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There also is the promise of a Michael Jackson "world premiere experience" to promote the May 13 release of Epic's posthumous Xscape album. The King of Pop's "appearance" reportedly will be a hologram in the style of the Tupac Shakur illusion created at the Coachella music festival two years ago.

As with previous broadcasts, such artists as David Guetta, Gomez and Icona Pop can count on significant postshow sales boosts, no small consideration for a show that uses chart data as the foundation for its honors.

"This is the only awards show based on empirical consumer chart sales and airplay data from Billboard," says John Amato, president of Billboard and THR. "It has nothing to do with critics."

With an increasingly crowded music-awards field, DCP's Bracco remains bullish on the genre thanks in part to social media.

"At the end of the day, ratings tell the story, and the numbers for shows like the American Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards are up," he says. "Right now, there's a renaissance in live television, whether it's sports or awards shows. There's nothing more fun than watching and interacting with your friends. People feel part of the process -- like their voices are being heard."

2014 Billboard Music Awards: May 18 at MGM Grand Las Vegas

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