Gun Debate Shadows Nashville Artists at Billboard Music Awards

Sam Hunt
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sam Hunt accepts the Top Country Song award for 'Body Like A Back Road' onstage during the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas.

With country music providing a direct link to heartland hearts and minds, Nashville's music community found itself in the crosshairs of the gun debate again the week of May 14.

SB Projects founder Scooter Braun -- who manages Ariana Grande, Tori Kelly and Dan + Shay -- challenged Music City's creative class while accepting a humanitarian award at the Music Biz conference on May 17 to "get on the right side of history" and make a difference in the heated conversation on gun laws.

Almost as if on cue, 10 people were killed in Santa Fe, Texas, the next day in a school shooting, the latest in a series of massacres that includes the Route 91 Harvest Festival; the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla.; schools in Newtown, Ct., and Parkland, Fla.; a Nashville church; and a Nashville Waffle House.

Nashville resident and Texas native Kelly Clarkson used the opening of the May 20 Billboard Music Awards to call for real progress in lieu of ineffective thoughts and prayers: "I'm so sick of moments of silence. It's not working -- like, obviously. So, sorry. So why don't we not do a moment of silence? Why don't we do a moment of action? Why don't we do a moment of change? Why don't we change what's happening? Because it's horrible."

Sam Hunt, whose "Body Like a Back Road" won top country song in the only country category aired during the NBC telecast, used part of his acceptance speech to encourage creators to make a difference: "Y'all are shaping the culture in this country," he said. "It's a big responsibility."

Chris Stapleton won three awards off-camera, where Maren Morris, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Alan Jackson were also recognized. But the repeated references to cultural change -- in acceptance speeches by Taylor Swift and Janet Jackson, and in the appearance of the Parkland High School Choir during a Shawn Mendes/Khalid performance -- underscored Braun's challenge to Nashville.

"This town can make a difference," he said. "If you go down and ask the kids at the university what are they going to do, you would know that this is your chance to be on the right side of history."

Go here for the full story on Braun's challenge and here for the complete Billboard winners list.

Billboard Music Awards 2018