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Madonna and Stevie Wonder covered Prince at the Billboard Music Awards. Would he have approved?

Stevie Wonder and Madonna perform a tribute to Prince.

Stevie Wonder and Madonna perform a tribute to Prince.

(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Two icons celebrated a fallen peer at the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday when Madonna and Stevie Wonder paid tribute to Prince with versions of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Purple Rain.”

The performance, which concluded a broadcast that featured a volume of lip-synching likely to have perturbed the Purple One, opened with Madonna spinning into view on a purple velvet throne to the delicate chords of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Wearing a purple and pink paisley suit and lacy cuffs that highlighted fingers heavy with silver rings, Madonna sang from her perch to open as images of gravestones and grey skies drifted across the screen behind her.

Along with Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna were two of the most successful pop stars of the 1980s, and helped change the course of American pop music. The two both broke into the mainstream in 1984, she with “Like a Virgin” and he with “Purple Rain.”

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Over the next decade they’d share the charts on many occasions, and share the studio at a few key moments. The two worked together on Madonna’s album “Like a Prayer,” most memorably during the Prince- and Madonna collaboration “Love Song.”

Madonna didn’t do that song, opting instead to tackle “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song made famous through Sinead O’Connor’s memorable rendition. Even with a sturdy voice it’s a hard song to handle, and Madonna had a hard time wrestling it into shape.

Would Prince, a skeptic when it came to other artists singing his songs, have approved?

The night concluded with a surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder, who joined Madonna for an arena-wide singalong of “Purple Rain.” Infusing the song with the feel of an old time gospel number, Wonder and Madonna delivered the two-word title refrain while purple glowsticks swayed in the crowd.

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