Taylor Swift and Aretha Franklin Sing Each Other's Praises at Billboard's Women in Music Event
Ariana Grande, Hayley Williams, Jessie J, Idina Menzel & more are also feted
"It's really cool to be at a music event where over half the people in the room have vaginas," quipped an outspoken Charli XCX, who was Billboard's Hitmaker honoree at the magazine's 10th annual Women in Music Awards. "P---y power."
The "Fancy" star may have been blunt, but the hundreds of women gathered inside New York City's Cipriani Wall Street -- which included Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Jessie J and Ariana Grande, among others -- applauded every word. The luncheon, held on Friday (Dec. 12), was a celebration of the music industry’s most successful women, from pop stars to major record label executives, who all appear on Billboard's annual Women in Music power list. Sponsored by American Express, the event featured performances from Colbie Caillat, Betty Who and Jessie J, and introductions from Billboard's chief executives: John Amato, Janice Min and editor-in-chief Tony Gervino.
A full list of Billboard's Women in Music honorees was revealed earlier this week. The list changes each year as executives move suites or change careers, but offers a wide-lens view of the most influential women in the business. Female empowerment is a tender subject for many of the event's honorees, who spoke of overcoming challenges in their careers such as sexism or unfair cultural pressures, so most tried to balance their speeches with a little humor.
"I wrote all this down because I was afraid I'd make eye contact with Beyonce and then forget everything," said Hayley Williams, who received the inaugural Trailblazer award. She then got serious: "It's an amazing and powerful thing to be celebrated for who you are."
Sharon Osbourne -- who introduced Michele Anthony, Universal Music Group's EVP of U.S. Recorded Music -- followed a similar tone. "She has a huge pair of balls so don't f--- with her," she quipped. "But most importantly, she has a huge heart."
And of course, several women nodded to those who helped pave the way for their success. Ariana Grande shouted out her mom ("who taught me that behind every successful woman is herself," she said), and Michele Anthony praised Gloria Steinem. Taylor Swift, who received Billboard's Woman of the Year award for the second time, spoke about empowering the next generation of artists by teaching the public that music is worth paying for.
"I'm very well aware that the music industry is changing, and I'm open to that change," she said. "But I am not open to the financial model that is in place... The greatest moment of pride came to me this year when my fans proved that if you pour your life into an album, they will go out and buy it."
The event's highlight was a breathtaking performance from Jessie J, the 26-year-old recipient of the list's Powerhouse award who sang "Masterpiece," the third single from her album Sweet Talker.
"You have no idea how honored I am to be recognized as someone who sings really, really loud," she joked after the performance, before getting serious: "Honestly, I never thought I'd have this honor in America. And the most common thing I've heard today from all of the women in the audience is that we have to fight. So I just want to take a minute to celebrate every single woman in the room who may not be walking out with an award, but does this because they love it."
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.