The 2019 Billboard Music Awards celebrated a wide range of pop hitmakers Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The show opened with the live debut of Taylor Swift’s new single “Me!” featuring Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie. The performance largely re-created the song’s flowery, pastel-hued video, with Swift and Urie trailed by parasol-wielding backup dancers in a frothy production that fell somewhere between “Glee” and a Target commercial.
Some viewers, however, were quick to take issue with the pink-uniform-clad drumline that led the performance, which recalled a paler version of the drumline from Beyoncé’s iconic 2018 Coachella performance.
As with many top music awards shows in recent years, Billboard’s seemed challenged by hip-hop’s current dominance. On the one hand, because the Billboard Awards are based solely on commercial success, hip-hop artists were amply rewarded. Both Cardi B and Drake took home multiple trophies and gave multiple acceptance speeches, Drake’s earnest and meandering, and Cardi B’s loose and uproarious.
More problematic were the performances, or lack thereof: Not a single hip-hop artist performed on the three-hour show, a shocking omission for any music awards show in 2019, and particularly for one whose namesake, Billboard magazine, so diligently covers popular music. The closest any artists came to rapping onstage were R&B veteran Ciara, who summoned “Rhythm Nation”-era Janet Jackson for her new single, “Thinkin Bout You,” and the animated ’80s footnote MC Skat Kat, who accompanied his onetime video-dance partner, Paula Abdul, on a snippet of their MTV artifact, “Opposites Attract.”
The 2019 telecast did, however, offer a glimpse into pop’s multinational future, with K-pop megastars BTS and electropop singer Halsey delivering the night’s strongest performances — and eliciting the most screams. Halsey, sporting a pink leather leotard and bare feet, served up a striking modern-dance interpretation of her hit “Without Me” early in the show, and returned to the stage later in the evening, sporting a black wig, to join BTS for a sprightly performance of their smooth new single, “Boy with Luv.”
Although politics largely remained behind the curtain, a few artists embraced the stage as a platform for speaking out. Drake and Cardi B encouraged support and positivity between artists and fans, while Imagine Dragons used their Top Rock Artist win to advocate legislation supporting LGBTQ youth.
The evening closed with two prolific hitmakers from decades past. Abdul wrapped the show with a hoofer-heavy, lip-synced medley of her squeaky, soulful ’80s chart-toppers. And Billboard Icon Award winner Mariah Carey charmed the audience with an assortment of her melismatic hits before delivering a heartfelt speech that reflected on a career that has experienced its shares of missteps and triumphs.
“I want to thank all the people who’s been with me on this journey,” she said. “To anybody who doesn’t allow themselves to be broken and keeps getting up and keeps holding on and keeps standing tall and keeps on believing and keeps rising, I celebrate you tonight. And to anyone who has ever told me that a song I wrote helped save your life, I thank you, because you saved mine.”