Taking the stage for the second time on Sunday night (May 20) at the Billboard Music Awards, Shawn Mendes paid emotional tribute to the victims of gun violence with a moving performance of his track “Youth” featuring Khalid and the show choir from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The song, from Mendes’ upcoming self-titled album, features the heartbreaking refrain, “You can’t take my youth away/This soul of mine will never break/As long as I wake up today/You can’t take my youth away,” a plea to stand strong in the face of hopelessness and violence.
The poignancy of the moment was heightened by 2018 BBMA host Kelly Clarkson‘s show-opening tearful plea for action in the wake of Friday’s (May 18) shooting massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas and by the presence of the students from the Florida school, where 14 students and three teachers were killed in a mass shooting in February, spawning the #NeverAgain movement and March’s massive March For Our Lives.
Khalid, wearing a blue t-shirt with the message “Protect our Guns,” with the guns part crossed out and the world “children” written underneath, stood beside Mendes, who was wearing all black, including a hoodie with “Youth” written in white letters. As Mendes strummed his acoustic guitar on the plaintive R&B ballad, audience members including Halsey got emotional, with the impact of the soul-stirring chorus going through the roof as the dozen students in “Youth” hoodies flanked the men and raised their voices.
The crowd rose to its feet when the choir’s voices leaned into the refrain, with the students directly impacted by gun violence vowing to stay strong and crowding onto the stage around Mendes and Khalid as they soaked in the love from the star-packed arena.
The performance was introduced by Bebe Rexha, who said, “Last Friday, we experienced another tragedy, this time at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Just a few weeks, ago many students from the very high school joined the protest against gun violence. And they’re no different than tens of thousands of young adults across this nation who took a stand and are raising their voices to say: things must change. They inspire me with their hope, with their compassion and with their determination to make a difference and build a better world.”
Watch Mendes and Khalid’s performance above.