Here Come the Billboard Music Awards: Top Performers Talk the Year's Chart Hits

The year's wildest bash airs May 18 on ABC from Las Vegas as today's top performers (Pitbull, Miley, Katy and J.Lo) take the stage, and on these pages, talk about the year's chart hits - and what they won't miss (hint: "twerking...or selfies of people twerking")

What was the highlight of the past year for you?

Tyler Hubbard, Florida Georgia Line The past year has been such a whirlwind and so many amazing things have happened that it's hard to pick one highlight. Working with Nelly on the remix of "Cruise" was definitely one - he has become a close friend and mentor.

Zedd Winning a Grammy for "Clarity" was definitely one of the biggest moments for me. Though the song was very successful, I still couldn't believe I got a nomination. Going on to win was an unforgettable moment in my life.

Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic Selling out our Europe tour, the Hollywood Bowl and Red Rocks.

Dan Smith, Bastille Being invited to hang out with David Lynch was something I never imagined would happen. We did a remix of one of the songs off his latest album and he invited me for coffee. It was pretty surreal, but he was such a nice guy -funny, interesting and interested.

Darius Rucker Musically, "True Believers" being a No. 1 country album was a highlight for me.

Ryan Merchant, Capital Cities Playing weekend two of Coachella and then getting to enjoy the festival with friends and family.

Pitbull The highlight for me in the past 12 months was being able to open SLAM!, a Sports Leadership and Management Academy, in one of my old neighborhoods, Little Havana in Miami. It's a public charter school for sixth- through 12th-grade students who are looking for careers in sports leadership and management.

 

What song from the past year do you wish you wrote?

Zedd There's a million, but if I had to pick one from the past year it would probably be Rihanna's "Stay" featuring Mikky Ekko.

Merchant Pharrell Williams' "Happy" - the first time you hear the chorus it knocks you out with those beautiful, jazzy background vocals.

Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons "Strong" by London Grammar. It's been on repeat this year - a really special song.

Smith "My Song 5" by Haim. I love the Haim record but this song stood out the most for me. It doesn't sound like anything else and I love how the songwriting works with the production by the awesome Ariel Rechtshaid.

 

Was there a song you couldn't get out of your head, even if you tried?

Zedd "Latch," by Disclosure and Sam Smith.

Merchant "Pompeii" by Bastille.

Reynolds "Two Fingers" by Jake Bugg.

Hubbard Cole Swindell's "Chillin' It." So infectious that I'd catch myself singing it - often.

Rucker Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines."

Tedder "Hey Brother" by Avicii.

Smith "Latch" by Disclosure. Sam Smith has a knack for writing brilliant hooks, and I heard a stripped-back version of this song that made me listen to the songwriting itself a lot more closely. But I love the Disclosure version and it gets lodged in my head on loop for weeks.

 

Who was your favorite new or emerging artist?

Tedder A tie: Hozier and Kongos.

Smith Banks. I discovered her music last year and have been patiently waiting for her to release more. Luckily there has been a steady drip feed of singles and EPs. I love her vocals and her songwriting, and she works with some brilliant producers - like Sohn, Lil Silva, Shlohmo - so I can't wait for the album.

Pete Wentz, Fall Out Boy Foxes. [The Zedd collaboration] "Clarity," being a real song with structure, allows her to access a huge audience.

Merchant Disclosure and London Grammar.

Hubbard There are several we're digging right now: Thomas Rhett, The Cadillac Three, Cole Swindell and our buddy Chris Lane, who will be on the road with us this summer.

Reynolds London Grammar. Her voice is incredible, and they have such a smart, minimalist approach to their music.

Zedd I became a huge fan of Sam Smith. I don't know how "new" or "emerging" he is, but to me he's new and I love everything his voice is on.

 

Who really knocked it out of the park, with either a music or business move?

Smith Beyoncé's surprise album release was a brilliant and exciting move.

Wentz Jay Z - because he can make a double look like a homer and then come back to the plate and hit a homer. The ability to persevere is vastly underrated in music.

Merchant Disclosure - they took a really cool, sexy genre of dance music and used it to produce real songs with pop structure. I'm surprised more electronic producers don't do the same.

Tedder Avicii. Folk and dance was going to happen, and he did it first.

 

Did any artist stage a comeback, or finally get some overdue recognition?

Merchant I was happy to see Daft Punk come back on the scene and kill it with a very quirky album. They are always a very good influence on the music industry.

Tedder Pharrell had the biggest comeback in music history, in my opinion.

Hubbard We were so pumped for Justin Moore to take home the [Academy of Country Music] new artist of the year award. He has been working at it for a while and the nod couldn't have gone to a more deserving artist.

Zedd Whether you like their new album or not, I think Daft Punk finally got the recognition they should have gotten many years ago.

Reynolds Future Islands finally getting some real love.

Smith I love Damon Albarn's debut solo record [Everyday Robots]. I don't know if that counts because he's not ever been unrecognized, but I love the fluidity with which he changes between varying projects - yet it's nice to see him take the weight of an album solely upon himself.

Wentz Ahem! Ha ha, no, just kidding. Pharrell had an awesome and deserved year. The best part was he did it on his own terms. It's great and encouraging as an artist to see.

 

What was your favorite music-related meme or viral video?

Zedd The goat. Let's be honest: The goat deserves a Grammy. The first song I saw the goat perform on was Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," but only a few days later it jumped on my own "Clarity." I loved it.

Pitbull My favorite has to be DJ Snake and Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." Having grown up in the music industry with Jon and learning from him now and in the early days has been an honor. It should get video of the year.

Smith The video of Pharrell being completely overwhelmed by the success of "Happy," when he was on Oprah and broke down in tears.

Reynolds "My name is John Daker." You have to watch it to understand, but it's basically one of those magical moments in history that just happened to be recorded on video.

Wentz "I Should Buy a Boat" cat.

 

Was there a trend you were happy to see or hear?

Zedd As a mainly electronic music producer I was obviously happy to see the explosion of the genre. At the same time it pushed electronic music to a very dangerous comfort zone, and I hope that if you ask me this question one year from now, I will be able to answer that I'm happy to see electronic music going more musical and less sound-oriented.

Wentz Streaming music gaining steam in the U.S. I like that it opens people up to listening to music that may have been off their radar.

Tedder The trend back toward honest songwriting trumping flashy, overblown production.

Smith It's nice to see British music having success all over the world. And it's great to see more and more people buying vinyl.

 

Any trend you were unhappy to see or hear?

Tedder The folk, "Hey!," Mumford-lite vibe has officially gotten out of hand. If I see another band "learn" banjo, I'm going to scream.

Zedd I have personally never been a fan of selfies, so I wasn't very happy to see everyone suddenly preferring them over solid pictures taken by another photographer.

Merchant Too many EDM snare-drum buildups in pop music.

Wentz Emoji texting. But I am a part of the problem.

Smith The practice of giving writing credits to artists who didn't have any writing involvement in the song.

Reynolds Twerking, talking about twerking, or selfies of people ­twerking.

 

-As told to Jem Aswad


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