Last Updated on October 17, 2020 by Scott Shetler
Here we are in mid-October, many months behind schedule, finally getting the 2020 Billboard Music Awards. This shindig was originally planned for April, but Ms. Rona had other ideas.
So now we get to carve our pumpkins as we watch Kelly Clarkson host for the third year in a row. What’s going to happen? Will there be a live audience? Will everyone be singing from their bedroom?
Let’s get started with the 2020 Billboard Music Awards live blog, commenting on the show as it happens. Go!
The show opens with Kelly singing a piano and violin version of “Higher Love,” backed up by Pentatonix. It’s pretty to listen to, and the singers are spaced out and nailing this social distancing thing.
Finally in verse two, the drums kick in and the tempo picks up. Sheila E. shows up to bang the hell out of some drums while a chorus of dozens of people on Zoom screens joins the party. Can’t argue with a Sheila E. sighting! That’s a cool way to kick off the show.
Kelly is here for her opening monologue, and there’s clearly no one in the audience at the Dolby Theatre. “Music unites us, and tonight, music from every genre will bring us together!,” she exclaims. She proceeds to cheer for her own words, since there’s nobody else in the building to do it (“I’m my own hype man!”)
Nicole Ritchie introduces the first award (it’s so weird to see someone walking to a podium at an awards show with no applause!). Top Billboard 200 Album goes to a camo-mask-wearing Billie Eilish. She tells the fans, “Thank you for believing in me and caring about me still, I don’t know why you do.”
Sia is back! She’s still hiding her face. I love that she’s still performing this way after all these years. Stay in character, girl!
The blond bob has been replaced by curly pink hair and a huge orange bow. Instead of performing her catchy recent single “Together,” she goes the socially-conscious route with “Courage to Change.” Maybe it’s just me, but Sia’s voice seems a little off. In any case, the song is vibrant and appealing.
First commercial break. Evidently voting for some of these awards took place over the past two weeks on TikTok, which makes no sense on a number of levels. The Billboard Awards have always been determined by album sales, so it’s not clear which ones are now the realm of social media.
Who do the Billboard Awards think they are, the Grammys? We’ve got a weird collabo that seems straight from the Ken Ehrlich playbook, as country bro Kane Brown performs with Khalid and Swae Lee.
Swae Lee shows up for his guest verse looking exactly like Dionne Farris circa 1995, while Khalid looks like Khalid circa 2017. The man has a classic look. He never changes.
Julia Michaels is here to present Top Hot 100 Song, and holy hell, these songs are old! Old Town Road, Senorita, Truth Hurts, Someone You Loved. Remember that because the show was delayed six months, these awards are going to the best music of 2019. It’s such a bizarre time warp we’re in here.
Lil Nas X wins for “Old Town Road” and wears a cute paisley gold suit. He says to look out for his new single, coming in “Nasvember,” and promises “In 2021, I’m dropping the best album of all-time.”
Wearing a full body catsuit with a wig down to her waist, Alicia Keys sings “Love Looks Better.” Evidently, she’s using this appearance to get a little wild and crazy, since she has to be more reserved while hosting the Grammys.
Alicia sounds great as always. One of the most reliable voices in music.
Top Female Artist goes to Billie Eilish. It’s starting to look like a sweep of Billie’s Grammy repeat. “Please vote, please wear a mask,” says Billie, in the first comment of the night that could be remotely construed as political.
Luke Combs takes Country Artist of the Year. He’s one of the most exciting and rowdy country stars these days, but he chooses to slow things way down with “Better Together.” He’s even wearing a suit jacket with a fancy watch and no ballcap. Enjoy, America! This is our first look at Luke’s actual head!
The ballad is a brand-new song, and it kills. This will easily be his 10th straight chart-topper at country radio.
Post Malone performs from some sort of industrial nuclear site set. He doesn’t even pretend to be singing “Circles” live, as he pulls the mic away from his face before the end of every line. Oh dear, and now the audio and video aren’t even in sync. Someone at NBC messed up.
Top Song Sales Artist (that’s a real award) goes to Lizzo. Remember her? It’s been a minute, right? Lizzo is wearing a gorgeous black dress with the word “VOTE” in white all over it. “Remain true to who you are!,” Lizzo instructs viewers. “Use your power, use your voice, and refuse to be suppressed!”
In the first of tonight’s nostalgia performances, Brandy takes the stage. It feels like Brandy should still be a teenager, right? And she actually still looks like she’s about 19. Those are some good genes! She sings new songs (a Ty Dolla Sign duet) and old songs (“Almost Doesn’t Count”), enjoying her moment on the stage.
“This is for Chrissy,” whispers John Legend as the begins playing the notes of “Never Break,” a song he dedicates to his wife in the wake of her miscarriage. “We will never break / Build a foundation strong enough to stay,” he belts. A beautiful performance from one of the top vocalists in the biz.
Hoo boy, we’re not even halfway through this show. We’ve had a few solid performances, but no water-cooler moments yet. Maybe this will be the one – Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is here to present the new Change Maker Award to one of the most successful activitis of the music world, Killer Mike of Run the Jewels.
Bottoms promises this will be an annual award, but I highly doubt that. It seems obviously like one of those awards that a show creates one time and then never bothers with again. I hope I’m wrong. Mike gushes about the support of his wife, then tells the kids who sing, dance, or organize how important their work is.
J Balvin and Bad Bunny have really taken their momentum from “Despacito” and kept it going for a few years now. They are both contenders for Top Latin Artist, which goes to Bad Bunny. He takes the stage for a performance of “Yo Perreo Sola,” along with Ivy Queen and Nesi, whose black and silver outfits give me huge Paula Abdul Vibeology at the 1991 VMAs vibes.
Seeing the music video clips in these nominee packages is weird, because I’ve never seen most of the videos in the first place. Music videos are just such an afterthought these days.
The noms for Top Male Artist are mostly hip hop acts, as you’d expect. “Greetings!,” a cheerful Post Malone says while sipping from a red Solo cup as he accepts the award.
One of the breakout stars of the year, Doja Cat makes her appearance. Her performance with wooden chairs, backup dancers, and red neon lighting is giving me Madonna Girlie Show vibes. Wait, now she tosses the chair aside like Janet in Pleasure Principle. I guess it’s really true that everything has already been done. Doja dances while her prerecorded voice croons “Say So.”
Whoa, the most exciting moment of the night may have just come during a commercial! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are shown in black and white footage fooling around in the studio and singing their latest song, “Letter to You.” It’s an Apple advertisement, but it’s the first moment of the night that offers something for the over-50 crowd.
Remember when the lifetime achievement awards used to be the boring part of the night? Tonight, it’s the highlight. Cher is here in all her glory. The former Icon Award winner introduces this year’s recipient, Garth Brooks.
It used to be annoying as hell when Garth was showing up at every award show in the ’90s, winning every trophy. But now it’s just nice to see a familiar face. Garth gives us an old-fashioned award show greatest hits medley, with “The Thunder Rolls,” “The River,” “Standing Outside the Fire,” and “Friends in Low Places.” He pauses in the middle of the performance to give his acceptance speech.
The best part of the audience-free crowd may be the presenters’ banter. Namely, the fact that there isn’t any. Every presenter has come out and given a straightforward introduction. No corny jokes, no lame attempts to be cool. Khalid wins Top R&B Artist, beating Lizzo and Post Malone. Khalid adds to the chorus of winners urging viewers to vote.
Saint Jhn is here to perform “Roses,” one of the smash hits of 2020. Except the version that was a hit was the Imanbek remix with Saint Jhn’s vocals sped up to Chipmunk speeds, not the slower original version that he’s performing here. Strange.
A short tribute to the recently-departed Eddie Van Halen, with footage from the band’s Billboard performance.
It’s time for the fan-voted TikTok award. The “Chart Achievement Award” goes to Harry Styles, who beats his old flame Taylor Swift. He’s not in the house to accept. Top Social Artist goes to BTS, who accept on tape. Is this their first award from an American music awards show?
Demi Lovato is here to premiere a new song, and I’m not amused. FFS, how many times is she going to premiere a new song on an award show stage? That shit is getting old. Demi’s a mess with all her relapses and comebacks, but you have to root for her. She always knocks it out of the park vocally and this one is no exception, although the choir takes a lot of the glory with their powerful vocals.
Mercifully, we’re almost done with this show. Three hours is too many.
BTS sing their Jonas Brothers-soundalike “Dynamite” from South Korea. I still can’t get past the lyric, “Shoes on, get up in the morning / Cup of milk, let’s rock and roll.” That has to be ironic, right? Nobody would sing “cup of milk, let’s rock and roll” seriously, would they? The choreography in this performance is ridiculously-detailed. I’m digging the maroon suits.
Top Christain Artist is Lauren Daigle. Of course, because she had that one hit. Kanye West was nominated. The one blessing of the Covid era is that we know Kanye won’t be rushing the stage.
By the way, what’s up with the award design. The Billboard award has gotten so gaudy, with a giant old-timey microphone and gold handle atop a raised black base.
Post Malone is Top Artist of the Year (well, last year). I didn’t even notice he was wearing a kilt, how bout that? Clarkson brings out all nine awards that Malone won tonight.
Closing out the show is another nostalgia performance. En Vogue doing “Free Your Mind!” This can’t possibly match the energy and fury of their VMA performance from back in the day, but it still kicks ass. You have to love hearing those heavy metal guitars, especially now that we live in an era when guitars are all but extinct.
There’s even a guitar solo! Oh my, this is amazing. Who knew that En Vogue would be the hardest-rocking band to perform on the broadcast?