LAS VEGAS -- Travis Scott and Morgan Wallen made controversial returns on the Billboard Music Awards stage on Sunday, while Mary J. Blige was honored for her musical excellence.
Wallen performed in his first major awards show after he was caught on camera more than a year ago using a racial slur. After not receiving a verbal introduction, the country star sat alongside his four-piece band and performed “Don’t Think Jesus” then his chart-topping “Wasted on You,” a single from his popular project “Dangerous: The Double Album.”
Shortly after his performance, rapper Pusha T presented Wallen with the top country artist award.
“I want to say, ‘Thank God.’ And thank my fans. I got the best damn fans,” said Wallen, who acknowledged his mother for accompanying him as his date to show. He also thanked for Billboard for inviting him. He did not mention last year’s incident, which once found the disgraced singer rebuked by the music industry.
“Thank you to my little boy,” he continued. “You inspire me every single day.”
Scott made his first televised performance since a massive crowd surge killed 10 people and injured thousands at his Astroworld Festival in Houston in November last year. The rapper performed his single “Mafia” in an icy, polar-themed set with heavily censored lyrics.
Mary J. Blige received the Icon Award for being an influential music maker. The singer, known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, was presented the award by Janet Jackson and escorted on stage by Sean “Diddy” Combs – who emceed the show, which was broadcasted live on NBC from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Blige said she was in a “dream right now” after she received the honor. She spoke about the journey of becoming an icon not being an easy feat during her stellar career.
“I’ve been on this journey for a long time, one that didn’t always look the way you see me now, one that is filled with a lot of heartache and pain,” she said. “But God helped me to channel those experiences and emotions in my music, which is where I started in music.”
Blige was honored through a video montage with appearances from Queen Latifah, Gabrielle Union and Taraji P. Henson. Previous award recipients include Prince, Steve Wonder, Mariah Carey, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks, Pink, Celine Dion and Janet Jackson.
“I was ghetto fabulous and I still am,” said Blige, whose Dr. Dre-produced single “Family Affair” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001 and had four No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. “So ghetto and so fabulous and people were threatened by that. Now, everybody wants to be ghetto fabulous.”
Maxwell paid homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in a performance that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the King of Pop’s 1982 album. The singer took the stage with sparkling black gloves and a jacket before he performed the heartfelt jam “The Lady in My Life.”
Combs honored activist Tamika Mallory with the Revolt Black Excellence Award. He applauded Mallory’s efforts as an organizer of the Women’s March in 2017, being an advocate for gun control and supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“You fight for us on the front lines, and we just have to pay so much respect for you, queen,” Combs said before calling her “fearless.”
After hearing Combs’ gracious remarks, Mallory was almost moved to tears. She then took the opportunity to bring up the deadly mass shooting Saturday that left 10 dead in Buffalo, New York.
The white gunman was arrested on a murder charge after the supermarket attack, in what police called a hate crime, where most of the victims were Black.
“While they arrested the person who did the killing, they haven’t arrested the hate,” Mallory said. “They haven’t arrested the harm and the pain. And if you are not doing anything at this time, you’re actually doing something by being silent. I ask you tonight: Get involved, fight for justice.”
Earlier, Drake was named top artist, male artist, rap artist, rap male artist and rap album for “Certified Lover Boy.” The rapper extended his record as the most decorated winner in the history of the awards show with 34 wins.
Olivia Rodrigo and Kanye West, known as Ye, took home the most awards with six during a non-televised ceremony. Rodrigo was awarded best new artist.
Ye made his mark in the faith-based categories - again: The rapper won top Christian artist for the first time, but he claimed top gospel artist and gospel song for a third year in a row. He also received top gospel album for the second time.
The Kid LAROI became a first-time winner, taking home five wins for his song “Stay” with Justin Bieber - whose Billboard Music Awards win count rose to 26.
Doja Cat came away with four awards. She won top R&B artist and R&B female artist for the second consecutive year, along with top R&B album and female artist.
Taylor Swift - who has the second most-ever award show wins with 29 - won four awards. Bad Bunny received two wins while R&B duo Silk Sonic, comprised of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, won their first-ever award for top R&B song for “Leave the Door Open.”
Becky G, who released the album “Esquemas” on Friday, performed her hit song “MAMIII,” which topped the Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. Ed Sheeran delivered a remote performance from Northern Ireland, where he is on tour.
Other acts who took the stage include Miranda Lambert, Meghan Thee Stallion and Grammy Awards darlings Silk Sonic.
Nominees are determined by Billboard chart rankings and winners are selected based on several criteria, including their album and digital song sales, airplay and streaming success and touring.