How the 2020 Billboard Music Awards Reflected the COVID-19 Era

Billie Eilish Top Billboard Album
Rich Polk/NBC

From background dancers wearing masks to a virtual band, the ceremony abided by COVID-19 safety protocols.

After the 2020 MTV VMAs and Primetime Emmy Awards carried on despite being the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it was the 2020 Billboard Music Awards' turn to host a ceremony.

When host Kelly Clarkson opened the stage with a performance of Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" alongside Pentatonix and percussion icon Sheila E., a digitally generated backdrop of background singers and videos of fans watching and singing along played. BTS also featured a virtual band onscreen while they danced and sang along to their song "Dynamite."

Later on Clarkson acknowledged that they were broadcasting the show from an empty Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. "It is no secret that there is no audience tonight," she said.

She explained that she and producers were "debating having fake applause," but Clarkson would agree to one condition. "The only way I would agree to it is if I could control it," she said, as she showed a remote device in which she could press buttons that would project audience cheers for when Clarkson tells a joke and after a performance.

Clarkson even quipped that she could press a button that could make "boo" sounds.

Though the ceremony had no audience, when Garth Brooks, the recipient of the Icon Award, performed, viewers could overhear the sound of loud applause throughout.

Other stars seemed to make jokes about the lack of audience including Post Malone who admitted it was strange to be in the empty venue. "It's so bizarre to see nobody in the audience here," he said when accepting his award. (Later on, after Clarkson revealed that Post Malone won nine total awards, she presented him his trophies in a "COVID-safe" way by rolling them toward him on a cart.)

While the stars were glammed up, Billie Eilish kept her mask on when she took the stage to accept her awards. During one of her speeches, she expressed her wish for everyone at home to wear their mask and wash their hands to stay safe.

Masks were also visible during some of the night's performances. During Alicia Keys' performance, her background dancers and band members could be seen wearing masks. Background dancers during Doja Cat's performance also wore masks, whereas band members wore masks during En Vogue's closing number.

When accepting his award for top country artist, Luke Combs thanked the production crew of the show for making the event safe. "They have gone through some insane stuff to make this happen for you guys," he said.

The show was broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday with Clarkson hosting. 

The Billboard Music Awards is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.