There was camaraderie and reverence in the air at this year’s 2018 Billboard Women In Music Awards — a sense that celebrating women was essential to the current moment. There were a range of awards given by industry peers. There were empowering speeches and galvanizing performances. There were calls for diversity in every recording studio and board room. There were moments spotlighting philanthropy, mentorship, and the watershed of the Music Modernization Act, including the women who were essential to its success.
The night began with the magenta carpet, followed by host Ellie Goulding taking the stage. Goulding spoke about the life-changing power of women’s music before bringing out Beats 1’s Zane Lowe. Lowe introduced the first performer of the night, Kacey Musgraves, and stated, “She is now making country music, and music in general, a more honest and meaningful place.” After singing “Butterflies” from her 2018 album, Golden Hour, Musgraves accepted the Innovator award. During a powerful speech, she declared, “The female perspective is so important.”
Next, Goulding spotlighted Billboard’s first female editorial director, Hannah Karp, followed by Tierra Whack introducing the night’s Trailblazer award winner, Janelle Monáe. A montage of Monáe showed her on stage at last year’s Women’s March, where she said, “You must always remember to choose freedom over fear.” When Monáe hit the stage, she thanked Whack, her mostly-female team, and encouraged the artists in the room, saying, “By us walking in our truths, it can give someone else the courage to walk in theirs.”
Goulding came back to bring out Lauren Jauregui, who introduced the night’s Rising Star award winner, Hayley Kiyoko. Kiyoko performed her hit song, “Curious,” before accepting the award and attributing her tears to this being the first time she’s accepted an award on stage. She thanked her fans, her parents, and her team of “boss women” before saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention. I am the artist I am because of necessity.”
Jauregui returned to introduce four female executives who were essential to the passing of the Music Modernization Act — Danielle Aguirre, Jacqueline Charlesworth, Susan Genco, and Dina Lapolt. Lapolt made it clear that the groundbreaking legislation “would not have been done without the three women standing on this stage right now,” she said. She added, “Our courage to imagine something better, our courage to imagine something different, our courage to imagine something greater, makes us f**king unstoppable…with music and imagination, we may just have the recipe to change the world.”
Then, Goulding brought out Alicia Keys, who summed up the night as “honoring sisterhood.” She thanked the women on her team, including her engineer, Ann Mincieli, and explained how they’ve founded She Is The Music, in partnership with Billboard, and have a goal of increasing the number of women working in the global music industry. She announced a forthcoming mentorship program that includes artists like St. Vincent and executives like Julie Greenwald.
Goulding then had fellow Brit Dua Lipa introduce the night’s Icon award winner, Cyndi Lauper. Emmy-nominated actor and singer Tituss Burgess hit the stage to cover Lauper’s “Time After Time,” before Lipa and Lauper came onstage. Lauper thanked Billboard, saying, “I’ve been working with you guys all my life,” and explained how she’s hopeful for a more diverse and inclusive music industry. To the women in the room, she said, “You guys are kicking down doors!” She ended her speech by thanking “the secretaries in 1983,” including the late Polly Anthony, who got “True Colors” on the radio with her persistent phone calls to stations.
Goulding came back to introduce Deborah Curtis, Vice President, Head of Global Brand Experiences & Partnerships at American Express. Curtis presented the Impact Award to singing duo St. Beauty, who were selected by Janelle Monáe. Alex Belle of St. Beauty noted that it was their first award and told a story about first meeting Monáe in a Target parking lot (four years later, Monáe became their mentor). Isis Valentino said, “Let your light shine and wear joy as your crown.”
Next, Goulding brought out Anderson .Paak, who came out milly rocking, and said he was “honored to even be in the building.” He introduced SZA, the night’s Rule Breaker award winner, as “a gutsy woman who is already in control.” SZA thanked everyone for having patience with her and said to the crowd that, despite these hard times, “The love is important, and I love you.”
Paak returned to introduce Patti LaBelle, who said she was “here for my babygirl,” Ariana Grande. She mentioned having “shoes older and taller” than Grande and reminisced about singing together at the White House for President Obama. “She can sing her face off,” LaBelle noted of Grande, and humorously added, “‘thank u, next’ went so viral, and I know, because I have a flip phone.”
Grande ended the night with a performance of “thank u, next” and a heartwarming acceptance speech for Woman Of The Year. She said, “If you don’t know what the next chapter of your life is gonna bring, you’re not alone.” To conclude the inspiring evening, LaBelle and Grande wished everyone a good night.