Music takes center-stage at Billboard Music Awards at pandemic-era celebration
The music must go on.
Nearly seven months after its intended date, the 2020 Billboard Music Awards arrived at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles Wednesday night for an intimate, applause-less, highly unusual but still electrifying party.
"A weird time for everybody," noted singer-songwriter Post Malone, when he accepted the award for top male artist.
"It's so bizarre to see nobody in the audience here," he added.
Malone was the big winner, taking home nine trophies.
Hosted for the third consecutive year by Kelly Clarkson, the pandemic-era celebration of the business of music brought the stars, the glam, the hits -- and even the Cher -- to a celebrity-packed stage and an empty house.
Clarkson, a Grammy Award-winning musician and Emmy Award-winning talk show host, kicked things off with a show-stopping performance of Whitney Houston's 1990 hit "Higher Love," which hit No. 1 on Billboard's dance club songs charts last year as a rework by Norwegian DJ and producer Kygo.
Clarkson was joined by two-time Billboard Award nominees Pentatonix and the queen of percussion Sheila E on the song that was originally a hit for Steve Winwood in 1986.
First-time winner Billie Eilish won the night's first prize, top Billboard 200 album. The 18-year-old superstar beat out fellow nominees Drake, Khalid, Malone and Taylor Swift.
"Oh, gosh. Oh, this is heavy," she said, taking the stage wearing a face mask.
Nicole Richie, who presented Eilish with the prestigious award, couldn't hide that she's a big fan: "My favorite," Richie declared when reading the envelope.
"I wanted to say, thank you to the fans, thank you for believing in me and caring about me still, I don't know why you do," said an emotional Eilish.
"I also want to say that I never, ever take these for granted. It is always a shock when I win anything at all. Thank you, Billboard. Thank you, guys. I love you, thank you, thank you, thank you."
"Good as Hell" singer Lizzo used her speech -- and outfit -- to urge people to vote.
The 32-year-old scored 11 nominations and won the Billboard Music Award for top-selling song.
"When people try to suppress something, it's usually because that thing holds power. They're afraid of your power," she said, wearing a dress with the word "VOTE" written all over it.
"There's power in who you are, there's power in your voice, so whether it's through music, protest or your right to vote, use your power, use your voice and refuse to be suppressed," she said.
Another powerful moment was delivered by singer John Legend, whose emotional performance of "Never Break" was dedicated to his wife, Chrissy Teigen, just weeks after she announced she had suffered a miscarriage.
"John, that was so beautiful," Clarkson said. "All my love to you and Chrissy."