In a ceremony that honored some of the biggest female artists of all time, Madonna left the last impression at Billboard‘s Women in Music 2016. The Woman of the Year ended the star-studded event Friday (Dec. 9) with a moving, career-spanning speech that demonstrated her power as an artist, woman and human.
“I stand before you… as a doormat. Oh, I mean, a female entertainer,” Madge stated, before diving headfirst into an account of the “misogyny, sexism” and double standards she has faced as an outspoken female superstar. Madonna touched on David Bowie‘s influence, her failed marriage to Sean Penn, the impact of motherhood and her audacious nature, before concluding, “I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones, and every day I count my blessings.”
Yet Madonna — who was honored by British R&B star Labrinth‘s medley of “Frozen” and “Like a Prayer” — was hardly the only female artist to affect the audience at the annual event. Breakthrough Star recipient Maren Morris crooned her Grammy-nominated “My Church” in front of a cornfield backdrop, while Hoda Kotb honored Chart Topper Meghan Trainor, who could not attend the ceremony due to vocal issues but had her Epic Records pals Fifth Harmony fill in with a performance of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.”
Prior to Andra Day‘s soaring performance of “Rise Up” alongside the Harlem Boys and Girls’ Choir, Idina Menzel described the breakthrough hit as “one of the most inspiring, truly uplifting songs in recent memory.” Later, Blondie’s Debbie Harry honored Rising Star Halsey, who performed her hit “Colors,” and Wrabel, a close collaborator of Kesha‘s, honored the Trailblazer with an emotional take on her “Warrior” on grand piano. Then, Kesha herself took the stage to deliver an overwhelmingly powerful speech on her struggles and self-love.
“I’ve decided to stay confident in my ever-changing, totally imperfect body,” Kesha said after referencing her fights against anxiety and an eating disorder. “Thank you so much for reminding me that what I’m doing is worth it. … If I can’t give up, then neither can anyone else with big dreams.” She ended with a message to all women: “You are worth it, and thank you for reminding me that I’m worth it too.”
Nick Jonas presented Shania Twain with the Icon award, and the country-pop phenom reflected on becoming a superstar in a genre once dominated (and still too often defined) by male performers. “Behind every great woman, there’s a greater man,” she said, “but behind him, there’s an even greater woman.” And Alessia Cara, an inspiring figure for a new generation, played her uplifting new single “Scars to Your Beautiful” to a rapturous response.
The ceremony began with a hopeful message from Apple’s Bozoma Saint John, who was named 2016 Executive of the Year. “Don’t let the myths make you believe that women don’t support other women,” the 39-year-old told younger female onlookers. “You’re going to walk into your destiny unapologetically.”
Billboard’s Women In Music airs Dec. 12 on Lifetime at 9 p.m. ET.