How The 2016 Billboard Music Awards Put Women Front & Center

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 22: Recording artist Kesha performs onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In a nice change of pace from most awards shows (or Hollywood in general, for that matter), the 2016 Billboard Music Awards forgoed tradition and instead, put women front and center. From the primarily female-led performances to the honors bestowed on so many prominent female artists, the show was all about the women, highlighting their achievements and contributions in what felt like an effortless, yet extremely effective way.

First and foremost, nearly every performance given at the Billboard Awards was by a woman. There was Céline Dion, Ariana Grande, Pink, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Kesha, powerful, hugely talented women who dominate the music industry. While some of these artists gave typical (albeit impressive) performances of hits off their newest albums, a few used their time on stage to promote a cause, send a message, or pay tribute to someone special. Dion's version of "The Show Must Go On" was not only beautiful, but incredibly moving, and it showed her resilience in the face of tragedy; similarly, Madonna's "Purple Rain" cover was a hugely heartfelt ode to her late friend Prince. And then, of course, there was Kesha, whose emotional performance of "It Ain't Me Babe" earned her a well-deserved standing ovation and was a remarkable moment, considering her legal drama and much-publicized battle to get on that stage.

It wasn't only the performances, though, that made Billboard's female focus loud and clear. Many of the awards given out during Sunday's show were to women, including the biggest ones of the night: The Millennium Award and the Icon Award. Spears won the first one (following artists like Beyoncé and Whitney Houston) while Dion was honored with the second, making her one of just five artists in Billboard history to win it, and just one of two women (after Jennifer Lopez).

And even when they weren't winning awards or singing on-stage, women still managed to steal the show — just take Adele, who wasn't present at the actual awards, but made waves by debuting the new music video for her song "Send My Love" (To Your New Lover)." By the end of the three-hour show, it was clear that the night belonged solely to the women.

What makes that fact even more impressive is that for the most part, the Billboard Awards weren't a "message"-focused awards show; the night wasn't focused on shining a light on gender equality or other female-centric issues. It's never a bad thing when those subjects get discussed, of course, and often, celebrities choosing to use a stage to promote social issues is wonderful and much-needed. However, the fact that the Billboard Awards managed to be hugely feminist and female-focused without making it a "thing," but simply doing it, is commendable, and something other awards shows can —and hopefully will — take a note from.

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