The Weeknd Wins Big, Celine Dion & Kesha Deliver Powerful Performances at 2016 Billboard Music Awards

The Weeknd at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards
David Becker/Getty Images

The Weeknd poses in the press room during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas.

He didn't perform, but The Weeknd was the big winner at Sunday (May 22) night's 2016 Billboard Music Awards, taking home eight honors, including Top Hot 100 Artist and Top R&B Artist at the event, broadcast live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Billboard Music Awards 2016: Complete Coverage

Adele won the biggest honor of the evening, Top Artist, accepting in a pre-recorded video from overseas, while Justin Bieber (Top Male Artist) and Rihanna (the fan-voted Chart Achievement Award) also walked away happy. But this was a show defined by moments and performances, both celebratory and somber, throughout the evening.

Britney Spears kicked off proceedings with a medley of her hits that began with "Work Bitch," "Womanizer" and "I Love Rock and Roll" -- delivered while gyrating on a giant guitar -- and culminated with "Toxic," showcasing both her well-known hits ("I'm a Slave 4 U" was also included) and some deeper cuts. And Madonna's tribute to Prince put an exclamation point on the evening -- she began singing "Nothing Compares 2 U" on a purple throne and brought out Stevie Wonder to assist her on a powerful rendition of "Purple Rain" that had Rihanna dabbing and The Weeknd singing along.

Prince was on everybody's mind from the beginning -- The Weeknd dedicated his Top Hot 100 Artist victory to the late icon early in the show -- but there were plenty of highlights in the build-up to Madge's tribute. Fifth Harmony got sensual while performing "Work From Home" with Ty Dolla $ign, while Meghan Trainor strolled through the crowd to her latest single "No." And Pink delivered the world television debut of her latest single "Just Like Fire," a cut from the Alice Through the Looking Glass soundtrack, by reprising her high-flying awards show routine on a harness above the crowd; toward the end, she rose above the stage sitting on the hands of a giant clock that erupted into flames.

Nick Jonas ran through a pared-down version of his latest hit "Close" alongside a seductive Tove Lo, which led directly into Demi Lovato's "Cool For the Summer," which found the singer wearing an inclusive bathroom symbol on her shirt in protest of North Carolina's "bathroom law." Nick's brother Joe Jonas led another highlight from the show, as his new band DNCE brought along confetti and balloons during a celebratory performance of "Cake By the Ocean," which prompted an adventurous Joe to venture into the crowd while his brother Nick cheered louder than anyone. And Rihanna's vocals stole the show during her performance of "Love on the Brain," focusing on passion over pageantry and putting her whole body into her delivery.

All eyes were on Kesha when she took the stage midway through the event for her first televised performance -- which almost didn't happen -- since her long-running lawsuit with producer Dr. Luke started. Her spare, plaintive and emotional rendition of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" -- accompanied by Ben Folds' deft piano and haunting strings -- was a clear highlight of the evening, and reminded anyone who may have forgotten that she is a fantastic singer.

Speaking of fantastic singers, the elegant Celine Dion looked resplendent and sounded even better when powering through "The Show Must Go On" in front of a full orchestra, imparting as much meaning as possible into every word while the musicians behind her -- including Lindsey Stirling on violin -- did the same. Seal, who introduced her, called her performance "exquisite" before bringing out her son to deliver the Icon Award to his mother, which brought her to tears. It was the most emotional moment in a night that promised -- and delivered -- plenty of them.

Despite not being there, Adele still made an impact, winning five awards and using the opportunity to debut her new music video, for "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)." And though the awards broadcast featured plenty of fireworks -- Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and the Go-Go's all delivered eye-catching performances -- there were a lot of low key, stripped down renditions as well from the likes of Lukas Graham ("7 Years"), Shawn Mendes ("Stitches") and Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani ("Go Ahead and Break My Heart").

Billboard Music Awards 2015 Recap

But the end of the show was all about the Purple One, and Questlove took on the task of introducing Madonna's performance. "All of us live in the land of music," Quest said of Prince, "And his departure was an earthquake." As Stevie Wonder walked on stage during the first notes of "Purple Rain" and the arena lit up with purple lights, it was hard not to feel a little emotional.

Billboard Music Awards 2016

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