Whether she was protesting in the streets or reaching her millions of followers via social media, Jessie Reyez made her voice heard in 2020. The Canadian pop and R&B sensation championed equality and decried institutional racism and sexism, lending her celebrity to issues that have long informed her music. For these reasons, she was a natural pick to win the American Express Impact Award at the 2020 Billboard Women In Music event.
Reyez accepted the award in a virtual ceremony held on December 10. Included was a tribute by Canadian actress, comedian and YouTube star Lilly Singh, who congratulated Reyez on this honor.
Born in Toronto to Colombian parents, Reyez rose to fame with her 2018 hit “Figures.” She’s since amassed more than 804 million streams and landed two songs on the Billboard Hot 100. In March 2020, she dropped her debut album, Before Love Came to Kill Us, which earned rave reviews and made the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
While her career reached new heights, the world fell to pieces. In the summer of 2020, as people across the globe braved a pandemic to protest the killing of George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police, Reyez joined the demonstrations and appealed to her fans on social media to get involved however they could.
“Since bursting on the music scene, Jessie has used her platform to empower us all to speak up against systematic inequality in order to create meaningful change,” said Brandy Sanders, Vice President, Global Entertainment Experiences & Partnerships for American Express. “Through this award, American Express looks to recognize a woman in the music industry who’s driving real impact and we’re honored to celebrate Jessie as she continues to amplify her message with courage.”
Sanders and Bess Spaeth — Senior Vice President, Global Brand Media and Experiences at American Express — were both among the executive honorees included in this year’s Billboard Women In Music issue. As a returning sponsor of the annual award show, Amex will continue to make a difference with the event’s official non-profit partner, She is the Music, as they launch their new College Ambassador Program. This program aims to address the lack of female creators in pop music by increasing opportunity and visibility for women currently working in music — and for the next generation.
Reyez opened her stirring acceptance speech by acknowledging the many “burdens and bags” that women must carry. They’re often forced to conform to society’s expectations of beauty and decorum, Reyez said, and they’re discouraged from taking credit for their accomplishments, lest they come across as “cocky.”
“Today, fearlessly, I am thankful and f*****g” proud,” Reyez said. “There have been moments where being a woman is delicately tiptoeing around the egos in the room in order to avoid offending other people with her strength and resolve. Today, I stand bold in my purpose.”
The singer-songwriter compares being a woman to walking uphill, and yet she continues moving purposefully toward the better world she knows is possible.
“Digging the land out from society’s imposed hill and making it an even playing field is not done, but we’re advancing.” Thanking Billboard Women in Music and American Express, Reyez said. “Thank you for recognizing my uphill walk as a young woman.”
This feature was created in paid partnership with American Express, check out more from Women in Music HERE.