The 2015 Billboard Music Awards were much more than just the unveiling of Taylor Swift’s new video. Okay, we all know that pretty much everyone who tuned in was at least curious at what “Bad Blood” had in store, but this year’s BBMAs had plenty more going on. One Direction looked to the future while paying tribute to its past, Mariah Carey did the same, Sam Smith worked his magic from across the country (and without his voice!) and Kanye West brought the curtain down in pummeling Kanye West fashion. And yes, we heard plenty from Taylor after her big opening. There were lots of moments to remember, but we counted down the top ten:
10. Nicki Minaj Gives Us a “Night” to Remember
Flanked by black-clad dancers, Nicki Minaj appeared before a purple backdrop to perform “The Night is Still Young” before David Guetta appeared onstage for a spirited rendition of “Hey Mama.” Really though, it was Nicki who stole the performance — while flames danced beside the French DJ and acrobats flipped through the air, Minaj belted the lyrics with gusto and received a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.
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9. Mariah Carey: Then and Now
To celebrate her Las Vegas residency, Mariah Carey busted out a medley of her 1990 debut single “Vision Of Love” and her new single “Infinity.” It’s been a lengthy career of Billboard hits for the singer, and pre-performance video gave a little refresher to those on hand. And for her last note, was there any way Mariah wasn’t going to make it count?
8. Fall Out Boy Teams With Wiz Khalifa
There were plenty of collaborations at the BBMAs this year, but this one had more natural chemistry than most. After all, Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa are set to tour this summer, so getting onstage for a song made perfect sense. Together, they performed FOB’s crowd-pleaser “Uma Thurman,” backed by a posse of dancers in Uma’s iconic outfit from the film. Wiz added a verse of his own before the final chorus.
7. Sam Smith Charms… All the Way From New York
Sam Smith won the award for Top Male Artist but was not able to accept it, as he was stuck in New York City recovering from vocal surgery. Even from across the country, Sam’s charm permeated the crowd. Smith accepted his prize with a video that featured a hello to Taylor Swift, a shout out to Nicki Minaj’s bum, and an offer to Ed Sheeran to form a Chippendale dancer duo. Fingers crossed, guys.
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6. “See You Again” Collaborators Get Together, Honor Paul Walker
What would the Billboard Music Awards have been without a performance of the reigning number one song? Wiz Khalifa brought the rap, Charlie Puth brought the soulful vocals (and some grand piano) and Lindsey Stirling brought the violin. All in all, it was a powerful collaboration prefaced perfectly by Furious stars Ludacris and Tyrese, who shouted out the “late, great Paul Walker.”
5. One Direction Shouts Out Zayn Malik
One Direction was at its first awards show as a quartet, but it refused to forget Zayn Malik. After all, 1D won the prize for Top Duo/Group, which reflected the efforts of the band as a five-some for most of the past year. “There’s one more person to share this with,” Liam Payne said, wrapping up the first acceptance speech of the night, “and that’s our brother Zayn.”
4. Taylor Swift’s Big Night
Taylor Swift didn’t just premiere the “Bad Blood” video featuring a new Kendrick Lamar verse. The much-hyped unveiling was merely a hint at the big things to come from Taylor as the night wore on. Swift had plenty of reasons to share some PDA with Calvin Harris as she went onstage to accept awards for Top Artist, Top Female Artist, Top Billboard 200 Album, and the fan-voted Billboard Chart Achievement Award.
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3. Empire Comes to Life
Empire‘s first season is in the books, but the hit show briefly came to life onstage at the Billboard Music Awards. Three artists/actors performed a medley of their Empire hits: Bryshere “Yazz” Gray and Jussie Smollett performed “You’re So Beautiful,” but not before Smollett and Estelle killed their duet “Conqueror.”
2. The “Bad Blood” Video Premieres… Finally!
After a week’s worth of buildup and superstar announcement after superstar announcement, Taylor Swift finally unveiled her video for “Bad Blood.” As promised, Taylor played a Katniss Everdeen-inspired assassin, backed by a star-studded crew that included Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, and more. But of all the co-stars, Kendrick Lamar stole the show, adding a never-before-heard guest verse while giving “Bad Blood” a gritty remix treatment.
1. Kanye West Goes Hard… Despite the Censors
Yes, it’s true: much of Kanye’s BBMA performance (about 20 percent) went unheard, as a fiery, shriek-laden dual performance of “All Day” and “Black Skinhead” was cut out from the broadcast. But when was the last time an awards show performance got so… raw? As ‘Ye stepped into Yeezus mode amongst a sea of sparks and flames, he pushed anticipation for his new album even higher, television guidelines be damned. Call it hip-hop, call it punk, call it rock n’ roll — whatever it was, it shook us up and left us wanting more.