Many celebrities have used their air time on awards shows over the past four years — and particularly in this election year — to make political statements. But Wednesday’s 2020 Billboard Music Awards, which took place at Los Angeles’s Dolby Theatre without a live audience, was for the most apolitical. Affable host Kelly Clarkson set a lighter tone for the evening with her buoyant opening performance of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” (accompanied by Pentatonix and Sheila E.), followed by some vague remarks about the power of music to unite people from different walks of life.
It was Demi Lovato who took the boldest stand towards the end of the three-hour telecast, with a world-premiere performance of “Commander in Chief” that was anything but vague and let BBMAs viewers know exactly where she stands in the lead-up to Election Day.
Lovato released the Finneas-produced anti-Trump anthem, which she co-wrote with Finneas, Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, and Eren Cannata, the day of the awards ceremony, and it was immediately polarizing — with some “fans” on Instagram even warning her to steer clear of politics, lest she “ruin” her career. Lovato responded to that backlash with, “You do understand as a celebrity, I have a right to political views as well? … I literally don't care if this ruins my career. This isn't about that. My career isn't about that. I made a piece of art that stands for something I believe in.”
And the pop diva refused to back down on the BBMAs, performing the protest song publicly for the first time as she unflinchingly belted: “Commander in Chief, honestly/If I did the things you do/I couldn't sleep, seriously/Do you even know the truth?/We're in a state of crisis, people are dying/While you line your pockets deep/Commander in Chief/How does it feel to still be able to breathe?"
Shortly after the semi-virtual BBMAs telecast wrapped on the East Coast, the powerful music video for “Commander in Chief,” featuring citizens of all ages and races singing along to the ballad’s damning lyrics, debuted on Lovato’s YouTube channel. Before the video’s official premiere, Lovato teased it on Instagram with the caption: “I'm calling on all of you, please join me in voting for this year’s election. Find your voter information at iwillvote.com.”
While Lovato’s performance was the grandest political statement of the 2020 BBMAs, according to TMZ, the “VOTE” block-lettering that was displayed on the Dolby stage behind Lovato did not make it to the air on NBC — because, since “Commander in Chief” was a protest against President Trump, the "VOTE" message was obviously a call to vote against him. (Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Dick Clark Productions for comment.) However, Lizzo definitely got that pro-voting message across when accepting her award for Top Song Sales in a dress emblazoned with that same word, “VOTE.” Lizzo also stated at the podium, “When people try to suppress something, it’s usually because that thing holds power. They’re afraid of your power. There’s power in who you are, there’s power in your voice, so whether it’s through music, protest, or your right to vote, use your power, use your voice and refuse to be suppressed.”
As for the other occasional political messaging during Wednesday’s BBMAs broadcast, rapper and social activist Killer Mike, receiving the inaugural Billboard Change Maker Award presented by Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said in his own acceptance speech: “Kids out there that sing and dance, what you do is worthy. You are artists, and your goal should be to express the very reality around you in the very most beautiful or ugly ways as you see fit. Kids who run and dance and sing and jump and all that, all the things they tell you don't matter, you matter more than you know. The kids plotting, planning, strategizing, on the ground mobilizing, you are needed more than ever.”
And finally, in a “Billboard Throwback” finale number introduced with the rallying cry “we are in a state of emergency,” funky divas En Vogue brought the fire and brought the house down with “Free Your Mind,” a song every bit as relevant as it was 30 years ago, if not more so.
Other standout performers of the 2020 Billboard Music Awards included Sia, Post Malone, BTS, Alicia Keys, Doja Cat, Brandy with Ty Dolla $ign, Kane Brown with Swae Lee and Khalid, and Garth Brooks, who received the 2020 Icon Award presented by Cher. For a full list of this year’s BBMAs winners, click here.
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