LOS ANGELES, Dec 2, (Agencies): Selena Gomez received top honors Thursday at the annual Billboard Women in Music event, but the singer felt the recognition may have been misplaced.
“To be honest, I think Francia should be getting this award because she saved my life,” a tearful Gomez said of actress Francia Raisa, who donated her kidney to Gomez earlier this year.
Raisa presented the woman of the year award to Gomez, who had a transplant due to her struggle with lupus.
“Specifically this year, I would like to thank my amazing team and my family because they stuck with me through some really hard times. And I got to do a lot this year, even though I had a couple of other things to do,” Gomez told the crowd at the Hollywood gala.
The event, which honors female trailblazers in music, also paid tribute to Solange Knowles, Kelly Clarkson and Camila Cabello.
“I’ve never felt as proud to be a women in the industry than I do today,” Gomez said while adding how crucial it is that voices “are being heard for the fist time.”
The wave of sexual harassment allegations rocking the entertainment industry was touched on throughout the evening.
“This year we have all witnessed the power of speaking up to share our truths,” said host Ciara while kicking off the evening. “Lets all remember how important it is that we use our voice so that the next generation’s path has less resistance, less hate, less sexism, less body shaming, and let it be said loud and clear – less harassment.”
Earlier Thursday music mogul Russell Simmons stepped down from the companies he founded after a second allegation of sexual misconduct was leveled against him.
Atlantic Records executive Julie Greenwald called the music industry “a male-dominated sport.”
“Now it’s time to change the industry for the better,” said Greenwald, who was named executive of the year. “It’s all right here in how we support each other and how we’re committed to providing young women with a safer environment, free from harassment and discrimination.”
Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran presented the award to Greenwald, calling her “a warrior and a tank.”
Clarkson received the powerhouse award and told the crowd that she’s tired of seeing women pitted against one another.
“Accept the fact that there is room for everyone,” she said. “Once women start really respecting each other as women and artists and all of that, then men will.”
Taraji P. Henson presented the icon award to Mary J. Blige. The Grammy-winning legend said her path to success has not been easy.
“I’m a fighter and I’m here and I’m gonna keep fighting for every woman everywhere,” said Blige. “I’m out there fighting for you.”
Cabello was honored as a breakthrough artist. The former Fifth Harmony member performed her sultry single “Havana,” which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s pop songs charts this week.
Taking her often deeply personal songs to clubs around the United States, Pauline Pisano found an opening. She began speaking about personal debt — and was surprised by the response.
The songwriter, whose music ranges from piano pop to folksy rock, had been studying the crushing debt faced by many people and placed fliers at her shows, inviting fans to confide in her their experiences and views.
“If I’m connecting with them musically, then I think they felt I was safe somehow,” Pisano said at a coffeehouse in New York, where she lives.
“It was almost like, in a weird way, that with the music, they could see me being vulnerable. And if they can see me being vulnerable, they can feel vulnerable,” she said.
Pisano, whose tour took her to conservative pockets of the United States, found the occasional skeptic. But she mostly found common ground, especially when discussing the massive medical debts that can be incurred in the market-based US health care system.
“It was interesting that there is some kind of solidarity with people when it comes to medical expenses,” she said.
“I also said to myself, I don’t think we’re that divided in this discussion. I think we’re being told that we are divided, but when I went to talk to people, I felt that we were able to have this discussion in a way that is very open and honest,” she said.
In the United States, households held nearly $13 trillion in debt at the end of September, a record that surpasses the level during 2008 financial crisis, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Some 80 percent of Americans have debt, according to a 2015 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts. While some debts such as mortgages are expected, the survey found a growing number of young people saddled with student loans.
Pisano found less sympathy when discussing other common debt, such as credit card bills. But she believes her conversation offered hope about finding solutions, even beginning dialogue on ideas that seem politically infeasible such as a debt jubilee write-off.
“I didn’t think I would ever talk about debt. It wasn’t even in my periphery. I was going to be a musician and play keyboards and sing about robots,” Pisano, who also teaches music in New York, said with a laugh.
Pisano felt a stirring last year when she became active in the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline, where authorities in North Dakota deployed rubber bullets, pepper spray and a food blockade to stop protests led by Native American activists and environmentalists.
“Everything for me starts with that awakening — why in 2016 are we shooting rubber bullets? That really changed my perception of everything.”
Pisano took up studies of income inequality. Around the same time she ended a five-year relationship, leading her to retreat for 10 days into a family cabin in New Hampshire.
She brought her instruments and wrote her newly released album, “Inside the Wheel.” Exploring her break-up, Pisano crafted an album of multiple characters — including a voice of wisdom sung in a lower octave and a Greek chorus akin to the mythological Furies.
“I feel that I lost my mind, but in a good way. When you spend a lot of time in solitude, you see different aspects of yourself,” she said.
Pisano has since been working on music about the debt crisis.
“I’ve been telling myself, I’m not a journalist, I’m not a scientist, I’m not an economist, I’m not a social worker. Do I have the power to have this conversation?
“And then I realized, well, I’m a human being and an artist and I live here on the planet,” she said. “Maybe that is enough.”