LOS ANGELES, May 23, (Agencies): Madonna paid homage to Prince by wearing his signature color and bringing another icon — Stevie Wonder — onstage to sing the classic “Purple Rain” at Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards.
Sitting atop a purple throne, Madonna kicked off the tribute with a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which Prince wrote and Sinead O’Connor recorded. She as teary-eyed as she sang the song, videos and photos of Prince projected behind her.
Wonder, in 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. Some felt she should not do the tribute alone, and others said a black artist should be involved.
“All of us live in the land of music and his departure was an earthquake,” Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson said before the performance. “I just want to take a moment to remember the great Prince Rogers Nelson.”
The Weeknd, the night’s big winner with eight, dedicated an award to Prince and told the audience, “I love him so much. I didn’t know him, but he was so close to me. He will always be an inspiration.” However, The Weeknd lost the night’s big award — top artist — to Adele, who didn’t attend the show because she’s on tour.
Celine Dion and Kesha, both in the midst of drama in their personal lives, gave emotional performances during the three-hour show.
Dion sang Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” in strong form, 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.
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.
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 — who won the fan-voted Billboard chart achievement award — were also highlights with strong vocals.
Bieber was a double winner, including a win for top male artist, beating The Weeknd, Drake, Ed Sheeran and Fetty Wap.
Adele’s best-seller “25” bested albums from Taylor Swift, Bieber, the Weeknd and Sheeran for top Billboard 200 album. At the show, she premiered her music video for the single, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).”
Gospel artist Kirk Franklin, rapper Wiz Khalifa, pop singer Charlie Puth and the bands twenty one pilots, Walk the Moon and Hillsong UNITED also won multiple awards. In a surprise win, Meek Mill’s “Dreams Worth More Than Money” won top rap album, beating Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Dr Dre’s “Compton,” Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” and Drake and Future’s collaborative album, “What a Time to Be Alive.”
Ciara and Ludacris hosted the show. 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.
Madonna came under fire late Sunday for her tribute to Prince during the Billboard Music Awards ceremony, which critics saw as too distant from the late artist himself.
Wearing a shimmering lilac-colored suit, Madonna took to the Las Vegas stage at the end of the evening and sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” followed by “Purple Rain” as she held the hand of surprise guest Stevie Wonder.
Despite the tangible emotion, critics said her performance was disappointing, panning it on social media.
Her interpretation was full of languor and devoid of any solo guitar — a key element of the late Minneapolis singer’s repertoire — and far removed from a typical Prince performance and its unique brand of danceable funk.
Wonder was spared the criticism, with most commentators saying he had saved the performance from even worse failure.
Writing on Twitter, British singer Dave Stewart of Eurythmics set the tone: “Please don’t have Madonna attempt a Prince song.”
And shortly afterward: “Too late.”
She was the last of a line of artists who paid tribute to the late singer, including Wiz Khalifa, Seal and Canadian singer The Weeknd, who dedicated his first prize to Prince.
“I don’t know him. But he was very close to me. And he will always be an inspiration. And of course, helped me push the envelope forever, and every artist I hope,” said the visibly-emotional singer, who took home eight trophies.
During his last televised appearance, Prince had given The Weeknd a prize at the American Music Awards in late November.
“That was the greatest experience of my entire life,” the Canadian singer said.
Another highlight was a performance by Dion, who was making her return to the stage since the death of her husband Rene Angelil in mid-January.
The Quebecer, who received the Billboard Icon Award honoring her illustrious career, sang Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” in tribute to her late husband.
Rene Angelil “will continue to watch over me from above,” she tearfully after receiving the prize from her first-born son Rene-Charles.
With the awards based on commercial results and popularity, the evening was dominated by a string of dramatic performances rather than any suspense over the winners.
Billboard ranks album sales in the United States each week.
For the annual awards, it takes into account both digital and analog music sales, radio plays and online streaming, as well as concerts and social network activity.
Besides The Weeknd’s big wins, Adele won five trophies, among them the prestigious awards for top artist, top female artist and top-selling song. Her other wins were for top Billboard 200 artist and top Billboard 200 album.