Billboard’s 2019 Women In Music event began with Taylor Swift advocating for the importance of inspiring the next generation of women artists, and ended with Billie Eilish confirming that she was part of that next generation.
“Somewhere, right now, your future Woman of the Year is probably sitting in a piano lesson, or in a girls’ choir, and today, right now, we need to take care of her,” Swift, Billboard’s Woman of the Decade, told the star-studded crowd at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles on Thursday night (Dec. 12). Hours later, 2019 Woman of the Year Eilish declared that, when Swift was winning the same honor in 2014, she was an 11-year-old in a choir, and had just started taking piano lessons.
Over the course of the empowering evening, a slew of the most impactful women in music shared their stories from their own unique perspectives, yet more than ever, the community fostered by women in the industry was showcased and championed. Along with recalling the adversity she faced throughout the 2010s and calling out those who recently attempted to wrest away her creative property, Swift used her moving speech to name-check several artists whose work inspires her, from Lizzo to King Princess, to fellow nominees Megan Thee Stallion and Rosalia, to host Hayley Kiyoko.
Later, Rosalia and Alanis Morissette each shouted out the dynamic female vocalists that helped them find their own voices, from Janis Joplin to Whitney Houston. And Alicia Keys, who received the American Express impact award, acknowledged the women behind the scenes who helped amplify her music, from BET Networks’ Debra L. Lee to Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson.
Although the 2019 Women In Music event included plenty of familiar faces — including Swift, Kiyoko (last year’s Rising Star honoree) and Keys (who unfurled her She Is The Music initiative at the 2018 ceremony) — the evening featured just as many groundbreaking moments. Rosalia became the first artist who performs primarily in Spanish to win the Rising Star, and demonstrated her singular vision with a show-stopping performance. Powerhouse winner Megan Thee Stallion offered a boisterous performance of “Cash S–t,” and her award presentation, followed by Nicki Minaj earning the Game-Changer Award, all of which nodded to a landmark year for women in hip-hop. For her part, Minaj gave one of the most emotional speeches of the event that included an extended tribute to Juice WRLD, the hip-hop star who had passed away days prior.
Earlier in the evening, Roc Nation leader Desiree Perez thanked Jay-Z, who was seated smiling in the wings, during a rare public speech in acceptance of Executive of the Year (Keys later joked that she was positive Perez wasn’t actually in the building). And Morissette likely became the first Women In Music recipient ever to thank the patriarchy in a speech — for “crumbling,” natch.
When Eilish finally took the stage to accept the Woman of the Year honor from Cyndi Lauper, she did so to cap off a dazzling professional year, as well as a night of impassioned speeches focused on inherent feminine power. Eilish shouted out the words of Swift, Minaj and Keys after bemoaning the lengths of their respective speeches; still, her gratitude toward the women who had paved the way for her artistic originality resonated.
The ethos of the night was perhaps best summed up by Lauper’s advice to Eilish: “This is just the beginning. It’s a long journey.” Every honoree at Women In Music 2019 acknowledged that there is important work ahead for women in the music industry, yet the hope vibrating through the Hollywood Palladium made the event feel like a true beginning.