1. DJ Khaled, H.E.R. and Migos
Videos by American Songwriter
After a year without live music, DJ Khaled, H.E.R., and Migos re-energized an eager masked audience at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. To kick off the award show hosted by Joe Jonas at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, the dynamic trio brought “We Going Crazy” to the stage for the first time.
Drummers and horn players enriched the live rendition of the song from DJ Khaled’s latest record that became his third No.1 album on the Billboard 200 earlier this month. The album featured hip-hop headliners like Jay-Z, Nas, Drake, and Lil Wayne. But, it exhibits the evolution of the genre, hosting emerging and breakthrough acts including Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, and more.
2. Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Ann Nesby and the Sounds of Blackness
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their song “Optimistic,” the legendary songwriter/producer duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis joined with soul and gospel singers Ann Nesby and the Sounds of Blackness for a moving performance of the 1991 hit.
They performed the choral rendition from Paisley Park in the duo’s hometown of Minneapolis, “place that musically has always represented change to the status quo.” On the ground, where George Floyd was murdered in May 2020 and Daunte Wright in April 2021, the performance featured photos from Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the city and at points, several countries, since.
“Faith is key to make positive change,” the duo insists. Now, three decades later “Optimistic” continues to help restore that faith in the future of a divided nation.
3. Jonas Brothers with Marshmello
Kelsea Ballerini welcomed the Jonas Brothers and Marshmello on stage for the final performance. The country-pop crossover artist, who recently announced she will join Kevin, Nick, and Joe Jonas on the road this summer for their Remember This tour, joked that this was a fitting opportunity and expressed excitement for their forthcoming run.
The Disney starts-turned-global pop phenoms kicked off their performance with their new song, “Leave Before You Love Me,” which they released Friday, May 21 featuring Marshmello. They then backtracked through their iconic discography dating back to 2005.
They also previewed their unreleased “Remember This” — an upcoming feature for the 2021 Summer Olympics.
4. P!NK – Icon Award
After Bon Jovi presented P!NK with the Billboard‘s Icon Award, the pop artist confirmed the accolade was well-deserved with a theatrical medley of her hits spanning the last two decades. She started off suspended in the air with her daughter, Willow, to perform their recent duet, “Cover Me In Sunshine.” Once her feet returned to the stage, she continued through other career highlights including “Get The Party Started” and “Give Me A Reason.”
P!NK is the tenth artist to receive the award—following Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Cher, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Garth Brooks. The Icon Award “recognizes outstanding artists who have achieved excellence on the Billboard charts and have made an indelible mark on music itself.” At 41-years-old, P!NK is now the youngest recipient on the trophy.
The artist describes the honor as “a true ‘pinch me’ moment and I feel humbled and blessed.”
5. Drake – Artist of the Decade
Nominated for Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Artist, Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Streaming Song (“Life Is Good”), and Top Rap Artist, Drake was honored as Billboard Artist of the Decade. The enduring rap act brought his son Adonis on stage to accept the award presented by friends and family.
His forthcoming album Certified Lover Boy, announced last fall, is still in the works. But he has kept busy with other projects, including March’s Scary Hours 2—a follow up to 2018’s Scary Hours EP.
“The truth is, I’m really bad at taking compliments,” he says, with his son grabbing onto his left leg. “I’m really self-conscious about my music. Even if I do a good job, I always wonder how I could’ve done it better.”
His advice is to “keep going in the hopes of figuring out the formula.”
Catch more the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, here.
Photos by NBC Universal