Sunday night’s star-studded 2021 Billboard Music Awards featured a real, live audience and live performances, though social distancing rules and masks were still in place. A number of performances took place on an outdoor stage in front of a masked crowd of screaming, dancing fans.
For the more elaborate performances that took place inside L.A.’s Microsoft Theater, the audience was never shown, so it was unclear if they were pre-recorded — the show did feature a caption saying that portions of the show had been.
Awards were handed out in an elevated mini studio reminiscent of MTV’s TRL, with fans screaming on the plaza below while socially distanced artists waited for their names to be called and then stepped to a podium to say their thank-yous.
Arguably the coolest performance of the night didn’t take place on a stage, though: It took place in an enormous parking lot. It came from the night’s big winner, The Weeknd, who performed “Save Your Tears” while riding in a red convertible while about a dozen red and white cars performed precise, synchronized movements around him. He then exited the vehicle and walked around while the cars, now joined by several tractor-trailers, sped past him and around him while we watched their patterns from above.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of the night’s performances:
DJ Khaled, H.E.R. and Migos got the evening started with an outdoor performance of “We Going Crazy” — the artists were surrounded by dancers who mimed playing trombones, trumpets and other brass instruments.
Doja Cat and SZA gave the debut TV performance of their collaboration “Kiss Me More.” Performing indoors, they were surrounded by dancers in blue jumpsuits and large round balls on their heads, completely covering their faces. Doja stunned with long dark braids and a black-and-white outfit with strategic cutouts, while SZA rocked a bright yellow wig.
twenty one pilots performed their new single “Shy Away” outdoors, and the dragon featured on the cover of their new album Scaled and Icy took up part of the stage. Front man Tyler Joseph, sporting pink hair, urged fans to “check out” the new record.
In a pre-taped video, Michelle Obama introduced Alicia Keys, whom she called “a shining light.” In her indoor performance, Alicia paid tribute to her debut Songs In A Minor — which marks its 20th anniversary next month — by performing “A Woman’s Worth,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me” and “Fallin’,” while walking between backing musicians to play a different keyboard for each track.
Top Rock Song winners AJR rocked the outdoor stage with a super-energetic performance of their hits “Bang!” and “Way Less Sad,” complete with colorful smoke explosions. The lead singer of the brother trio, Jack Met, shouted out their father in the audience.
Back indoors, Jon Bon Jovi introduced ICON Award winner Pink, who performed one of her signature aerial routines with her daughter Willow, with the two spinning above the stage as their duet “Cover Me In Sunshine” was played. Pink then performed an acoustic version of her current single “All I Know So Far” while young girls swung on swings behind her. Next, she joined her band for a rocking medley of hits: “Get the Party Started,” “So What, “Who Knew,” “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” “Just Like A Pill” and “Just Give Me a Reason.”
After calling her award “ridiculous,” Pink joked that Jon Bon Jovi “broke her heart” when she was eight when he married his high-school sweetheart. She told fans, “Dream big…because what if it comes true?”
Then, off we went to Prince‘s famed Paisley Park studios outside the still-troubled city of Minneapolis, where Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis celebrated the 30th anniversary of “Optimistic,” the hit song they wrote for Sounds of Blackness. The group, along with Ann Nesby, performed a powerful version of the song while arranged on a circular stage.
From South Korea, BTS gave their new single “Butter” its TV debut, performing their signature dance moves on a sound stage and then on a red carpet set.
Back inside, Bad Bunny, wearing metal shades that look liked they were permanently attached to his face, plus a fur coat with what looked like a fur lobster around his neck, sang “Te Deseo Lo Mejor.”
Glass Animals delivered their hit “Heat Waves” on the outdoor stage, with front man Dave Bayley starting and ending the performance in a giant bed.
From London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Duran Duran performed their new single “Invisible” plus two of their big hits: “Notorious” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Blur‘s Graham Coxon joined them on guitar.
The Jonas Brothers closed the show outdoors, joined by Marshmello for their new song “Leave Before You Love Me,” plus a medley of “Sucker,” “Only Human,” “What a Man Gotta Do” and a snippet of their upcoming song “Remember This,” as fireworks exploded and fans screamed.