Madonna pays tribute to Prince and 7 other moments from the Billboard Music Awards

What did you think of Madonna's tribute to Prince? Take our poll below. Photo: Getty Images.v

With a starry lineup ranging from Britney Spears to Celine Dion, Troye Sivan to The Go-Go’s, the 2016 Billboard Music Awards offered plenty of Tweet-worthy moments – for many reasons.

This isn’t a show where the awards matter (really, do any aside from the Grammys?), but still, a big congrats to The Weeknd for his eight honors, and to Adele, who was named Top Artist.

Unlike the award show, which aired live from the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, I won’t make you wait until the bitter end to get to Madonna’s homage to Prince. So here we go with some high(ish) lights.

Throughout the broadcast, Ludacris kept referencing how “unforgettable” the Prince tribute would be when it closed the show. I’m not sure how something can be classified as “unforgettable” before it has occurred, and this might be a lesson in reining in the buildup a tad.

Questlove launched the tribute by articulating, “On April 21, we lost Prince. I say ‘we’ because it affects us all... His departure leaves behind so much work to do. We can be fierce, we can be uncompromising, we can be experimental…”

Did Stevie make the tribute better or worse? Photo: Getty Images.

With that, the inside of the new Las Vegas arena turned purple as the fitting “Dearly beloved…” intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” played, leading to an image of Madonna, back to the crowd, sitting on a purple velvet throne, a lacy-ruffled sleeve and Prince-like cane the only things visible. As the chair slowly spun, Madonna, clad in a silken lavender suit, intoned the opening of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Keep this in mind – after Lady Gaga’s visual-stuffed tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards, many people complained that it was overload. Too many songs, too many different looks, too much of everything.

Madonna went the opposite route. One song (initially), one outfit. A video screen illuminating images of Prince and a flying dove.

As she wound down “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Stevie Wonder joined her for “Purple Rain” - because it’s not as if Prince has 7,000 other songs that could be performed in his memory. Seriously, can we put a moratorium on this one?

The crowd swayed along and Madonna and Wonder warbled their way through the anthem. Now, Madonna isn’t a great singer. No news flash there. So yes, her vocal performance of the song Sinead O’Connor made famous was tenuous as best. But she seemed to have her heart in it, which should count for something.

But if this was considered an “unforgettable” tribute, it was for all of the wrong reasons.

Oops, she did it again. Photo: Getty Images.

Britney Spears opened the show with a robotic medley including “Womanizer,” “Breathe on Me,” “Toxic” and “Work B****” – prompting “Good Day New York” co-host Rosanna Scotto (and many others) to wonder on Twitter when it became OK to use that word in the 8 p.m. hour on TV. Fair question. But I’m wondering why people pay a lot of money to watch Spears lip-sync (and not all that well!) at her Las Vegas show. Look, you can’t help but root for her with all that she’s overcome personally – and kudos to her for getting back in fabulous shape – but at some point isn’t it OK to act your age and wear some clothes? And since she clearly can’t dance like she used to, why even try?

Ciara and Ludacris work the crowd. Photo: Getty Images.

Atlanta was well-represented with the hosting team of Ludacris and Ciara, but their attempts to be funny and spontaneous were instead detours into Smarmville with double entendres about threesomes and back ends. A gratuitous Russell Wilson shout-out didn’t help. Not that Ciara was any worse than Luda’s partner last year, Chrissy Teigen, but she’s probably better off with the assignments that require her to simply stand there and look gorgeous.

The Weeknd dedicated his award to Prince. Photo: Getty Images.

The Weeknd, who won an armful of awards including Top Hot 100 Artist and Top R&B Song, dedicated his first trophy to Prince, nothing that at Prince’s last TV appearance – on the American Music Awards in November -- he bestowed The Weeknd with an award. “I didn’t know him, but he was very close to me and he will always be an inspiration and help me push the envelope forever,” The Weeknd said, choking up a bit. A class act, for sure.

Trainor's outfit was definitely a "No." Photo: Getty Images.

Meghan Trainor is a cool chick who writes and sings her own material ( check out part of her great interview with Howard Stern ), but she might have been wearing the most unflattering outfit of the show. Show off those curves, girl, don’t drape them in some weird, knee-length shimmery rainbow thing that looks like what your aunt would wear to a bar mitzvah.

Trainor’s rendition of “No” was spunky fun, and hers was one of a handful of standout performances. Some of the others: Nick Jonas getting soulful with Tove Lo on “Close” and his tour partner Demi Lovato (who, funny enough, looked exactly like a young Demi Moore) unleashing a bold “Cool for the Summer” w hile wearing a T-shirt with a unisex bathroom symbol . Pink sizzling, as always, for the TV debut of “Just Like Fire”; Lukas Graham injecting some thoughtfulness into the show with “7 Years”; Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani locking eyes and making us all feel like intruders during their “Go Ahead and Break My Heart” duet; and Rihanna reminding us how well she can sing when she wants to on a potent, Whitney Houston-channeling version of “Love on the Brain.”

Adele accepted via video. Photo: Getty Images.

Adele couldn’t be at the ceremony because of her world tour, but she appeared on video twice to accept awards (for Top Artist and Top Billboard 200 Album). The show also served as the platform to debut the video for her new single, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” When I reviewed Adele’s “25” album last year , I said the Max Martin-produced song sounded like Enya with a pulse and I’m sticking with that. The video is simple enough – Adele on a stage in a floral-print dress with some visual effects that make it look as if she’s dancing with multiple versions of herself.

Kesha returned and paid homage to Bob Dylan. Photo: Getty Images.

Kesha was freed! With Ben Folds on piano and a violinist backing her, the singer, clad in a white suit decorated with hearts and rainbows, performed a lovely, understated take on Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” How nice to hear her without Auto-Tune and massive production.  At the end of the song, Kesha put her hands together in a prayer-like pose, bowed her head and smiled at the crowd, which responded with a deserved ovation.

Celine stays strong. Photo: Getty Images.

The drama of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” perfectly suited Celine Dion’s typical intensity. Looking strong in a thigh-baring gown, Dion traveled the stage with her trademark fist-clenching gusto. Even though she returned to her Vegas gig in February , six weeks after the death of her beloved husband René Angélil, this performance had to be cathartic for her (Lindsey Stirling offered complementary fire on violin). Following her performance, Dion walked toward presenter Seal to receive her Icon award, but was instead surprised by her son Rene-Charles (and what a handsome young man he’s becoming), who handed her the trophy. “I want to thank the fans for traveling through music with me in good and bad times,” Dion said, fighting back tears. But she allowed herself to get choked up when she thanked, “my beloved husband, whom I know will continue to watch over me from above…Rene, this one’s for you…the show must go on.”

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.