The Associated Press
Madonna closed Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards paying tribute to Prince with the help of Stevie Wonder, ending the night with “Purple Rain.”
Wearing a shiny purple suit, Madonna kicked off the tribute with a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which Prince wrote and Sinead O’Connor recorded. She sat in a large purple chair and was teary-eyed as she sang the song, as videos and photos of Prince were projected behind her.
Wonder, who wore a purple scarf, later joined her for “Purple Rain” as the audience at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas sang along.
“Most of all thank you Prince Rogers Nelson for all that you’ve given us,” Madonna said after the performance.
Prince died on April 21 at age 57. The icons collaborated on “Love Song” in 1989 and Madonna was met with criticism online when Billboard announced she would be the one to pay homage to The Purple One.
“All of us live in the land of music and his departure was an earthquake,” Roots drummer Questlove said before the performance. “I just want to take a moment to remember the great Prince Rogers Nelson.”
Celine Dion and Kesha, both in the midst of drama in their personal lives, also gave emotional performances during the three-hour show.
Dion sang Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” in strong form Sunday, sporting a shiny dress and backed by a powerful orchestra. Dion lost her husband and brother in the same week in January, and her son presented her with the Billboard icon award after her performance.
“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,” a teary Dion said to Rene-Charles Angelil. “Thank you very much …This is such a tremendous honor … Music has been my passion since before I can almost remember.”
Dion said her late husband Rene Angelil will “continue to watch over me from up above.”
Kesha sang a heart-wrenching cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. She stood still in a cream suit and was backed by a pianist and violinist, hitting all the right notes and growing teary-eyed near the end.
She earned a standing ovation from the audience – a welcome response after the performance was initially nixed by her former mentor, Dr. Luke. The hit-making producer and his record label gave Kesha the OK to perform after she said she would not use the stage to discuss their ongoing lawsuit.
Other performances were not as strong: Justin Bieber sang his hits “Company” and “Sorry” with the help of a backing track as bright laser lights beamed throughout the performance. He walked from side to side, performing a few dance moves but didn’t match the energy of his backup dancers. Britney Spears – clearly lip syncing – kicked off the show in a shimmery red number with a performance that featured several of her hits, from “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Toxic,” and some of her signature dance moves.
Demi Lovato’s performance of “Cool for the Summer” was among the night’s best. She made a statement by wearing a shirt featuring an inclusive bathroom symbol, taking a stance against North Carolina’s recent law addressing LGBT rights and bathroom use by transgender people. Lovato, who is on tour with Nick Jonas, recently canceled shows in North Carolina in protest of the state’s law.
Pink also impressed with her performance – featuring her signature high-flying moves – while she sang her new song, “Just Like Fire.” Ariana Grande and Rihanna were also highlights with strong vocals. Rihanna won the Billboard chart achievement award.
Adele, who was on tour and missed the show, won top artist, beating The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Drake.
“It’s lovely to be in everyone’s company,” she said in a video message.
The Weeknd, who was the night’s leading nominee, won top R&B song for “The Hills” and top hot 100 artist, which he dedicated to Prince.
“I want to dedicate this award to the late, great Prince,” he said. “I love him so much. I didn’t know him, but he was so close to me. He will always be an inspiration.”
He lost top male artist to Bieber, who also beat out Drake, Ed Sheeran and Fetty Wap.
“I’m not really a talker, but I’ll say thank you to my family. I want to thank God. I want to thank everyone that believed in me and believes in me,” Bieber said.
Adele’s best-seller “25” bested albums from Swift, Bieber, the Weeknd and Sheeran for top Billboard 200 album. At the show, she premiered her music video for “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).”
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” won top hot 100 song and Thomas Rhett won top country song for “Die A Happy Man.”
Ciara and Ludacris hosted the show, which aired live on ABC. In the opening monologue, the rapper poked at this year’s Academy Awards, which featured all-white acting nominees.
“Unlike the Oscars, we actually have black nominees,” Ludacris said to laughs.