Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP
Monday, May 23, 2016 | 2:04 p.m.
The Billboard Music Awards telecast is more than just an awards show. It’s a live-performance spectacle, fashion show, means to make a cultural/political statement and great arena spectacle.
More than 9,000 fans (production equipment — TV cameras and related apparatus — and the giant stage knock out a good part of the capacity of 20,000 off the top) turned out in the show’s debut at T-Mobile Arena — previously it was staged at MGM Grand Garden Arena — and there were innumerable memorable moments in the three-hour event.
The night’s big award winners were The Weeknd (present and who did not perform), whose award haul included Top R&B Song for “The Hills” and Top Hot 100 Artist. Adele, busy on a world tour, won the Top Artist and Album awards, accepting the honors via video message from the road.
In the mix of the awards doled out by Billboard magazine, we came away with several unofficial honors. Cue the TelePrompTer:
Cultural Reference Award: To co-host Ludacris, who opened with the mocking comment, “The Billboard Awards are like the Oscars of music. Except, unlike the Oscars, we actually have black nominees this evening.”
Romantic Intensity Award: To Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani and their respective penetrating gazes during “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.” Someone shouted, “Get a room!” Probably already done.
Best Use of Prop: Britney Spears’ fiery opening medley was highlighted by the rollout of an oversized guitar she has returned to the stage in “Britney: Piece of Me” at Axis at Planet Hollywood. The song: Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock and Roll.” The result when Spears climbed atop that giant instrument: Quite effective.
Costume of the Night: Never an easy call, but give it to Spears for her dazzling crimson number, which started with her wearing a military-styled jacket, which was shed to a dripping-in-rhinestones bikini. That outfit was punctuated by a pair of thigh-high leather boots. Killer look.
Best Use of Aerial: Pink, who always commits in these shows, was buckled into a harness at the auxiliary stage in the middle of the arena and taken on a ride during “Just Like Fire.” Not coincidentally, pyro awaited Pink at the main stage. Fantastic.
Inside-Vegas Reference Award: To Kathryn Hahn of “Bad Moms,” who said her kids were in good hands because they were hanging out at Spearmint Rhino.
Best Use of Sequined Leotards: Fifth Harmony, who grooved and sparkled to impressive effect during “Work From Home.” As I texted the group’s manager, Larry Rudolph, during the show: I want to be known as the Sixth Harmony. Kind of a Robert Palmer-type character. Let’s get to work on that.
Red Man Group Award: To DNCE, who summoned dozens of oversized red balls during “Cake By the Ocean.” The effect revived the great closing scene from Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo, when oversized blue balls were turned loose on the audience.
Best Use of Scrims: Justin Bieber appeared behind a sheet of simulated fire during his two-shot medley of “Company” and “Sorry.” The winner of the Top Male Artist Award is characteristically inventive in these televised performances.
Best Use of Stage Smoke: Ariana Grande, who performed the newly released “Into You” at the keyboard in a haze of pink smoke.
The Take-It-Down-a-Notch Award: To Kesha — who nearly did not perform as a result of her legal tussle with producer Dr. Luke — and Ben Folds, silencing the scene with a sinewy take of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Such a strong voice and steady performance, worthy of the standing-O it received.
Protest Statement You Had To Search For To Detect Award: During “Cool For the Summer,” which was showered in sparks from behind the set, Demi Lovato wore an inclusive-bathroom symbol as a protest to the “Bathroom Law” in North Carolina.
No Announcement Award: To Dallas Mavericks owner and “Shark Tank” judge Mark Cuban, the center of speculation about a third-party candidacy for the presidency. Standing alongside Miss America Betty Cantrell, he said, “Today I am here to announce ... this next category!”
“American Bandstand” Revival Award: To The Go-Go’s, on their “farewell” tour (I was not aware of this reunion), as their introduction for “We Got the Beat” was preceded by a clip of them performing on their national-TV debut on “American Bandstand.” The year: 1982.
Best Color Choice: Draped in furry boa, the shade of green was Rihanna, for “Love On the Brain.”
Performances of the Night: Even on a night when Pink took to the air, Madonna sang “Purple Rain” in duet with Stevie Wonder, not that difficult a call. Celine Dion’s rousing run through “The Show Must Go On,” summoning the late Freddie Mercury with an orchestra led by violinist Lindsey Stirling. The song, of course, was a tribute to the late Rene Angelil, and Dion was joined by her son Rene-Charles in accepting her Icon Award.
That moment was a surprise, and Dion was clearly shaken at her son’s arrival. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for crying. I want to be so strong for my family and kids. ... I don’t want to cry in front of you,” she said, to R-C and everyone else.
Then, turning to her 15-year-old son, she said, “Would you stay here with me?” R-C grinned and said, “Sure, of course,” and a teary Dion said, “I thank my beloved husband whom I know will continue to watch over me from up above.”
Chills, all over the place, for Celine Dion.