Breaking Down The Billboard Music Awards 2016

Breaking Down The Billboard Music Awards 2016

From stunning tributes to career-defining performances, here's everything you might have missed at one might have become one of the biggest nights in music of the year

From stunning tributes to career-defining performances, here's everything you might have missed at one might have become one of the biggest nights in music of the year

Text: William Defebaugh

Last night's Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas kicked off with a bang, as the inimitable Miss Britney Spears (who recently covered our 100th issue) took the stage to perform a medley of greatest hits spanning her entire career—including "Work Bitch," "Toxic," "Womanizer," and "Slave 4 U." The 34 year-old pop star dazzled the audience in a barrage of revealing red and bejeweled ensembles that recalled iconic past performances (appropriate, considering she was there to receive the prestigious Millennium award).

Spears set the bar high with her opening number, but luckily her peers who followed did not fail to deliver (for the most part). Justin Bieber, who took home the award for Top Male Artist, performed two hits from his latest album ("Company" and "Love Yourself"), with his signature dance moves that had the crowd going wild. This show was followed almost immediately by a welcome return from one of pop's most quietly prolific players: P!nk, who sang her new single "Just Like Fire" on trapeze and a giant burning clock. Next came what would have been a yawn-worthy act by Nick Jonas—saved by his "Close" counterpart Tove Lo, who brought the song's sex appeal to life on stage in a sultry black lace gown.

The performance that followed was a clear standout of the night, belonging to none other than Kesha. The singer, who was recently featured on Zedd's "True Colors," has had a difficult year in the public arena due to her tumultuous trial with music producer Dr. Luke—against whom she has alleged sexual assault charges, and was denied release from his record label to which she is signed (Kemosabe Records, owned by Sony). Kesha took to the stage in an elegant white pantsuit, and performed an emotional rendition of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" that let her stirring vocals shine. It was the perfect performance to send a message to audiences that the pop star (who made a name for herself singing about vomiting glitter) has grown up in her time in the spotlight.

PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN WINTER/GETTY IMAGES/BILLBOARD

And then there was Rihanna, who offered a stripped down rendition of her critically-acclaimed ballad "Love On The Brain." The paired-down performance, much like her recent album Anti, proved that the Bad Gal doesn't need show-stopping antics to demonstrate her reign in the pop music sphere: all she really needs is a microphone (and some archive Thierry Mugler). It may have been the strongest public performance of the Barbadian singer's career to date.

As if audiences hadn't been through enough of an emotional ringer, Celine Dion arrived to sing her single "The Show Must Go On" before collecting her Icon award for lifetime achievement opposite her 15 year-old son René-Charles Angelil. The 48 year-old singer shed a few tears as she embraced her son onstage, and spoke about maintaining her strength for her children following the recent death of her husband, Renee Angelil.

After Adele premiered her new music video (and accepted the award for Top Female Artist via video), newcomer Troye Sivan (the 20 year-old openly gay Australian pop sensation whom V has been championing since before his first EP) proved himself to mainstream audiences with a rendition of his hit song "Youth." Next up was Ariana Grande, who released her new album Dangerous Woman last Friday, and stormed the stage triumphantly to perform her new career-defining new single, the undeniably catchy "Into You."

The grand finale of the evening showed Madonna paying homage to the late Prince, with a cover of his beloved—and fitting—classic hit "Nothing Compares 2 U." Dressed head-to-toe in a custom purple Gucci suit, Madonna was at her best last night, eschewing antics and self-indulgent, overplayed sexuality in favor of a refined performance that reminded viewers why she is so legendary—and worthy of offering tribute to one of music's fallen heroes. This was all topped off by Stevie Wonder joining Madge on stage, which received a well-earned standing ovation.

All in all, it was a successful night for music—one that reminded audiences, artists, and the industry at large, what its capable of.

For more winners and exclusive photos from last night's ceremony, head over to Billboard.com.

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