Five ways the 2020 Billboard Music Awards stuck it to 45…and other observations from this year’s oddly dated show.

(October 15, 2020). The 2020 Billboard Music Awards are (finally) in the history books.  

An awards show mostly celebrating the accomplishments of the 2019 charts ten months into 2020 was the perfect recipe for the ultimate “been there done that” event, especially in a headline-filled year like 2020 when breaking news from last Sunday can seem like it happened an eternity ago (even the normally relevant SNL writers can’t seem to keep up this year).

This year’s BBMAs were sponsored by TikTok

Of course, the BBMAs of late have been somewhat of an enigma ever since they moved their annual telecast from December of the year to April, outside of the traditionally crowded end-of-year awards season.  The move several years ago forced the BBMAs to use a shifted calendar of Billboard charts from March of the previous year to March of the current year to determine the award winners – so the awards appear fresher and don’t mimic the data that appears in Billboard’s December year-end issue.  Confusing, I know. 

But this year’s BBMAs still managed to feel ancient, especially when 2019’s ubiquitous mega-smash “Old Town Road” took the award for Top Hot 100 Song some nineteen months after it settled in for a record-breaking 19-week stay at the top, or when Taylor Swift was nominated for songs from her last album Lover even though she’s three months into the promotion cycle for this year’s biggest seller – her current album Folklore

To borrow an old Fergie line – this year’s BBMAs seemed so two-thousand-and-late.  Throwing Garth Brooks, Alicia Keys, Brandy and En Vogue in as performers were all very nice throwback moments, but they didn’t help reduce the dated feel of this show, although Brandy did team up with current hitmaker Ty Dolla $ign for her segment.

But at least Billboard spared us the indignity of the previously planned big reveal of last decade’s top five artist nominees (reportedly Drake took the top honor), a presentation the show’s producers had slated for its original air date in April while the 2010s were still fresh in our hearts and minds and before Covid forced the show’s postponement to Wednesday night’s telecast.  (Why Wednesday though?)

Despite the show’s oddly aged feel and dubious midweek airing, there were some standout (and more 2020-ish) moments, including performances by rapper/singer Doja Cat (who performed one of this year’s many No. 1 singles “Say So”), BTS (“Dynamite”), Top Country Artist Luke Combs (“Better Together”) and Top Male Artist Post Malone (okay, “Circles” is another 2019 holdover, but it’s still in the Billboard top 20 after 59 weeks on the Hot 100 chart, so Posty gets a pass for opening his performance with it).

In a show of diversity, Kane Brown, Khalid, and Swae Lee – three artists from country, R&B and hip-hop, respectively, and all three of whom happen to be Black – joined forces for a performance of the song “Be Like That.”

And emotional performances by Sia (“Courage to Change”) and John Legend (“Never Break”) added to the show’s more poignant moments, particularly Legend’s, which was dedicated to his wife Chrissy Teigen after the couple suffered a very public pregnancy loss recently.

I’d recap the show’s winners, which were determined from Billboard’s charts dated between March 2019 and March 2020, but the actual awards seem so irrelevant now with Billboard just seven weeks away from announcing this year’s actual year-end charts (using a 12-month period covering through early December 2020).

Instead, with the 2020 election looming and in honor of Billboard’s charting tradition, I thought it would be more interesting to close by listing the top five ways in which the 2020 BBMAs kind of addressed this year’s political climate (okay, more accurately how they stuck it to 45 in true Hollywood style) in this year’s telecast.

Demi Lovato
  1. Demi Lovato’s performance of new song “Commander in Chief.”  Released just the day before and reportedly written in less than an hour, Lovato went for the Trump jugular with the musical question “How does it feel to still be able to breathe,” a thinly veiled reference to the president’s recent bout with Covid-19, from which he now claims to have been “cured” (in less than two weeks) and is now “immune,” while millions have suffered from the disease and more than 215,000 in this country have died from it.
  2. TikTok’s in-your-face sponsorship of – and tie-ins to – the show.  With the short-video social app connected to the broadcast via its hosting of fan-voted awards, numerous shameless plugs (mainly those related to the recently revived Fleetwood Mac hit “Dreams,” which is owed to a viral user-created TikTok video), and corporate guest speakers, it was almost as if the president never issued an executive order banning the app’s use in America.  
  3. Lizzo’s “VOTE” dress and the anti-voter suppression message that went with it.  Lizzo may not have had a hit (yet) in 2020, but her dress and her speech about acceptance, “staying true” to one’s self, and using your voice by voting (in this year’s election) spoke volumes. 
  4. This one may be a stretch, but didn’t it seem like the BBMAs aired a certain  Top Christian artist category to get a dig at Kanye West, the rapper and longtime Trump supporter whose last album qualified him for the award, which he lost to singer Lauren Daigle.  In another era, say 2009, that outcome might not have gone over so well.  Daigle was over the moon about it, though.
  5. The awards themselves, which, in an era where sports are beginning to open up outdoor venues to more fans and Trump himself is holding numerous campaign rallies, felt like a throwback to a few months ago when awards shows were just figuring out how to do it during the pandemic.  If nothing else, it was a mid-October reminder that we’re clearly not out of the woods yet, despite what the president and others might have you think.

In about six months, we’ll find out who this year’s BBMA winners are. 


DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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