It was a night of redemption at the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night.
First, there was country star Morgan Wallen — who had been banned from performing at the Grammys and the Country Music Association Awards for a video that surfaced in early 2021 of him using the N-word — getting the chance to take the stage at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. He milked the opportunity by going gospel for maximum sympathy with his song “Don’t Think Jesus.”
Then there was Travis Scott performing publicly for the first time since last December’s Astroworld tragedy that killed 10 concertgoers. With baby mama Kylie Jenner in the audience, he missed an opportunity to make any kind of a statement with a mystifying medley of “Mafia” and “Lost Forever” that looked and felt more like a “Mad Max”-esque video.
And then there was the 40th anniversary tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” near the end of the show in which Maxwell — delivering a sexy, silky-smooth rendition of “Lady in My Life,” complete with a sequined black jacket and not one but two gloves — showed much love for the King of Pop despite the child molestations that have marred his legacy. “We love you, Michael Jackson!” he said at the end of his performance.
But the emotional highlight of the night came when another superstar Jackson — Janet — got a standing ovation and then presented the Icon Award to Mary J. Blige. It was one of the show’s truly iconic moments as queen recognized queen — and you could feel all the love and respect for both women.
It provided some much-needed star power on a night when the biggest winner — Olivia Rodrigo, taking home seven trophies — wasn’t even in attendance. Neither were other heavy-hitter winners such as Drake and Taylor Swift.
The night began with host Sean “Diddy” Combs — who also served as executive producer — breaking out some of his old Puffy moves to lead a medley that also included “She Don’t Want It” singer Bryson Tiller and “First Class” rapper Jack Harlow. It all ended with Diddy doing a bit of “Mo Money Mo Problems,” his 1997 hit with the Notorious B.I.G., just a week before what would have been Biggie’s birthday on May 21.
Although the ultimate hip-hop hype man was overly hyped at times, Diddy — who won his first BBMA 25 years ago — brought some ghetto-fabulousness to the event. “I’m putting on a fashion show,” said the New York native after one of many costume changes. “Harlem in the house!”
Then there was Diddy’s Bad Boy signee Machine Gun Kelly, who, with his pink hair and painted nails, jumped the gun by calling fiancée Megan Kelly “my wife” and then addressing their “unborn child” in a medley of “Twin Flames” and “Born with Horns” that veered from acoustic guitar ballad to pop-punk rave-up.
But the night’s best performance came from retro-soul superduo — aka Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak — who, decked out in maroon three-suits, took a break from their Las Vegas residency to deliver a cover of Con Funk Shun’s 1982 classic “Love’s Train” that had everyone feeling superfly.