Each year, the iHeartRadio Music Festival collects nearly two dozen of music’s biggest stars and lets them work their magic in the same Las Vegas casino as David Copperfield. This year’s enthralling showcase at the MGM Grand Garden Arena had its fair share of mind-blowing moments — from Taylor Swiift shaking it off to Iggy Azalea getting fancy to One Direction making some midnight memories a few hours before midnight — but these five performers unquestionably stood out in the midst of the mega-stars. Check out Billboard’s picks of the five best performances at this year’s iHeartRadio Fest:
5. Ed Sheeran – The U.K. star made his iHeartRadio debut with a typically engaging performance that included an unexpected surprise: Macklemore turning up to perform a duet of “Same Love” with Sheeran. That cameo was a treat, but Sheeran doesn’t need guest stars to command an arena — just his guitar, some goofy charm and crowd-pleasing singles like “Don’t” and “The A Team.” Ed even spat some rhymes of his own on the set-closing “Sing,” once again proving that Macklemore isn’t the only ginger in the game that can rap his ass off.
4. Steve Aoki – Although Aoki isn’t a household name like Saturday headliner Calvin Harris, the EDM maestro certainly made an impression on the unaware audience members with a wildly spectacular set on Friday. When you can bring out friends like Will.i.am and Pete Wentz (the latter surfed toward the stage in an inflatable life raft!) but still make sure your bass drops are the star of the show, you know you’ve connected at iHeartRadio Fest.
3. Nicki Minaj – The bright lights of Vegas are pristine for an entertainer of Nicki Minaj’s magnitude: with so many different skills and a magnetic stage presence, the rapper makes sure that, no matter what song she’s playing, you can’t turn away from her. Following Taylor Swift and Coldplay on the Friday lineup is no easy task, but with an Ariana Grande cameo for “Bang Bang,” ample booty-popping on “Super Bass” and “Anaconda,” and a face-melting a cappella version of her “Flawless (Remix)” verse, Minaj made sure that she was the early Friday performer the crowd would be gushing about for days after.
2. Paramore – Paramore has played dozens and dozens of shows in support of their 2013 self-titled album, but on Saturday night, the alt-rock mainstays treated the iHeartRadio audience to a performance bursting with dizzy energy. The cell phone lights were waving for “The Only Exception,” the gospel breakdown of “Ain’t It Fun” was a massive singalong, and when Hayley Williams brought a fan onstage to sing the end of “Misery Business” — as Paramore does at every show — it didn’t feel like a gimmick as much as a loving toast to the rock lovers that helped the group’s comeback happen.
1. Usher – Establishing yourself as the top dog of iHeartRadio Festival is an exceedingly difficult task — how can one outshine a collection of mega-stars? But that’s exactly what Usher did as the final performer on Friday night, and the R&B veteran made the win look effortless. In between flawless dance moves, electric new singles like “She Came To Give It To You” and “Good Kisser,” a melisma-stuffed rendition of “You Make Me Wanna” and a dance-off with special guest Chris Brown, Usher had an unabashed grin on his face, a born entertainer at home in front of thousands. If Usher’s upcoming UR Experience tour is anything like his iHeartRadio Fest performance, it’s a show that pop fans cannot miss.