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Kid Rock, who appeared onstage at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Sunday night to present the award for Top Rap Artist, summed up the evening with one line. “Let’s give it up for people lip-syncing to prerecorded music,” the singer shouted, adding an off the cuff sentiment to his presentation of the award to Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis.
Although many of the performers last night in the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena used the production of a televised pop show to their benefit, there was a sense that some performers were just going through the motions – for better or worse – to promote their latest single. Throughout the night, which kicked off with a boisterous performance of Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” no real cohesive theme was revealed beyond showcasing those artists who have topped the various Billboard charts over the past year. Pop music reigned supreme, from Taylor Swift, who took home eight statues and offered a rousing, fun rendition of “22,” to Justin Bieber, who appeared onstage twice in drop crotch leather pants, once to perform his “Take You” single and once to guest on will.i.am’s “#thatPOWER.”
Swift, clad in a sequined blue dress, spent much of the night side by side with Selena Gomez, another performer, and arrived tentatively in the pressroom to answer a few questions as the show drew to a close. For Swift, these awards represent her fans’ dedication to purchasing her music and radio’s devotion to playing it.
“There’s a significant meaning to each of these eight awards and that is it’s proof of who’s actually buying it and what songs people are passionate about,” Swift told the reporters backstage. “That fact that it’s actual measurements of what’s happening out there in the world, it makes it that much greater of an honor to receive one.” She added of her performance, which involved a slew of dancers, “That was a concept we just felt would be fun with the song. And also with Vegas. We had such incredible performers at our disposal to get to make cameos.”
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The performances ranged from bigger artists like Swift, Bieber and Gomez to newer additions to the Billboard charts. Icona Pop, who have earned a sizable hit with the Charli XCX-penned “I Love It,” came onstage to sing along to their own track, bounding around in light-up attire.
“We want to be able to have a party with the audience,” Icona Pop’s Caroline Hjelt told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet. “The whole live thing is very important to us. We definitely see ourselves as a live act. We try to develop it all the time [and] keep it interesting for ourselves. We want to have fun all the time. In the beginning it was a small spaceship and now we say it’s like the mothership.”
If Icona Pop’s bubblegum production represented one end of the spectrum, country singer Kasey Musgraves, who unveiled her new album Same Park Different Trailer in March, represented the genuine, stripped-down emotion on its opposite. Musgraves, who performed her single “Merry Go ‘Round,” with an acoustic guitar and a few backing musicians, pulled away the pop excess of her contemporaries to reveal just what some choice lyrics and lamenting vocals can do. The singer, who is interested in a variety of musical styles, has so far been able to translate that countrified twang to a broader audience.
“I’m still a newbie all around when it comes to award shows, but it seems like it’s a little more outside of the box,” Musgraves told THR before the show. “The fashion’s a little crazier. And there’s a huge mix of genres. I’m a huge fan of things all over the map so for me it’s really cool to see and be a part of.”
Musgraves’ sincerity was later mirrored by Prince, who took home the coveted Icon Award. Introduced by Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu, Prince performed a medley of his songs “Let’s Go Crazy” and “FixUrLifeUp”along with his band 3rd Eye Girl. “He’s a visionary,” Monae told the crowd. “He reminds us ‘Don’t you ever compromise your art.’”
STORY: Backstage at the Billboard Music Awards: Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus Mingle
Prince wasn’t the only musician with uncompromised art on their mind last night. Bieber, who won three awards including the Milestone Award, which is the only Billboard Music Award voted on by fans, felt forced to defend himself to a booing audience as he accepted the Milestone statue. “I’m 19 years old,” Bieber said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job. And basically, from my heart, I just want to say it should really be about the music. This is not a gimmick. I’m an artist and I should be taken seriously. And all this other bullshit should not be spoken of.”
It was a fair sentiment, although Bieber’s rant-like delivery brought him even closer to fully aping Kanye West’s style and aesthetic. The booed were only truly warranted at one point in the evening, which arrived in the form of Nicki Minaj’s a–. The rapper, who performed “High School” with Lil Wayne toward the end of the show, took the performative aspect of pop music to an unfortunate place by spending most of the number leaning over Wayne’s lap with her a– in the camera as she mimed masturbation. While the over-sexed look worked on Madonna, there to accept the Top Touring Artist award, it felt cheap and inappropriate on Minaj, particularly that close to the cameras of an awards show on ABC.
So was Kid Rock onto something veritable about an awards show dominated by pop music that lends itself well to performance but perhaps not to actual singing? Maybe, but the spectacles – at least the ones not involving Minaj’s behind – override anything else on a show like this one, especially on the Las Vegas strip.
“You know they say what happened in Vegas goes instantly to YouTube,” host Tracy Morgan told the crowd at one point during the three-hour show. “And sometimes to Instagram, depending on what it is.” What’s true of Vegas seems also to be true of the Billboard Music Awards.
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