A who’s who of the music industry gathered at Pier 36 in lower Manhattan on Thursday night (Dec. 6) to honor this year’s best and brightest female artists at the 2018 Billboard Women in Music event. Presenters included Alicia Keys, Dua Lipa, Anderson .Paak and Patti Labelle, while honorees included Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Cyndi Lauper and Woman of the Year recipient Ariana Grande.
Host Ellie Goulding began the event discussing the way female artists inspired her throughout her life, including Björk, Beyoncé and Joni Mitchell. She then introduced radio DJ Zane Lowe, who presented the Innovator award to country star Kacey Musgraves. Lowe raved about how Musgraves’ third album Golden Hour “completely changed the course of my year… I just started listening to it for about three or four days non stop, and shared it to everyone I knew, and everyone I shared it with felt exactly the same way.”
Musgraves appeared to lead an acoustic performance of her Golden Hour highlight “Butterflies,” accompanied by banjo and cello. “This is crazy — I mean, women are fucking awesome,” she began her acceptance speech. “She then reflected on the nature of being an “innovator”: “That’s a heavy word. Innovator to me means having the courage to take risks, knowing that it could completely fail, and doing it anyway. I mean, what’s the point of any of this if you’re not able to be who you are?”
Then, after a short shoutout to Billboard’s recently announced editorial director Hannah Karp, Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack introduced Janelle Monae, winner of this year’s Trailblazer award. Monae shared a story that impacted her, following the release of her acclaimed 2018 album Dirty Computer. “Last night I was in DC and I met a young teenager,” she shared. “And she told me she had come out to her grandmother and her mother, because of the album. And I think moments like those, they remind you, no matter what’s going on in your life, how bad you’re feeling — that by us walking in our truths, it can sometimes give the next person courage to walk in theirs.”
Next, Fifth Harmony solo star Lauren Jauregui introduced “the thoroughly magnificent and incredibly cool Hayley Kiyoko,” who blazed through an energetic rendition of Expectations single “Curious,” flanked by two backup dancers. “I’m gonna be crying the whole time — this is my first time getting an award on the stage,” Kiyoko warned at the beginning of her acceptance speech for the Rising Star award. She went on to thank her parents, jokingly sharing that “my mom told me that you’re only a rising star once, and then you’re old news. So I’m really gonna sink in this moment, because this is it for me.” (She also mentioned that she had been flirting with Grande earlier in the evening.)
Jauregui came back on stage to introduce the night’s executives of the year honorees: Danielle Aguirre, Jacqueline Charlesworth, Susan Genco and her “badass lawyer” Dina Lapolt. Honored in large part for their work in getting the Music Modernization Act passed earlier this year, Lapolt took the mic to accept the award on behalf of the group to discuss the importance of the act, saying that United States copyright law was “badly in need of a facelift.” She closed her speech by declaring that “Our courage to imagine something greater makes us fucking unstoppable.”
Alicia Keys then took center stage, raving about the energy in the room: “We’ve all been to a lot of shows, and not all of them have this kind of heart and spirit.” Keys introduced the recently formed She Is the Music Foundation, a non-profit devoted to increasing the number of women working in the music industry, which she co-founded with execs Jody Gerson and Sam Kirby Yoh and her longtime engineer Ann Mincieli. “If you’re a woman in music, you need to be a part of this,” Keys insisted. “We can find each other, and we can hire each other.”
Then, in tribute to award recipient Cyndi Lauper, singer/actor Tituss Burgess gave a powerhouse performance of Lauper’s 1984 Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Time After Time,” earning a standing ovation for his emotional rendition. “People always say, ‘What’s it like to be an icon?'” she related, before taking her statue from presenter Dua Lipa. “Now, I can hand ‘em this and say ‘Here, hold this.’” She then gave a long speech about her history as a feminist, explaining, “I come from a generation where you do an interview, and someone would say, ‘Eh, what are you, some kind of feminist?’ And I watched my colleagues say ‘Whoa, I’m a humanist!’ And then when it was my turn, I said, ‘Hell yeah [I’m a feminist]! I burned my training bra at the first demonstration at the Alice in Wonderland statue [in Central Park].’”
Janelle Monae was then welcomed back to the stage by Deborah Curtis, vice president, head of global brand experiences and partnerships for American Express, to present the American Express impact award to her Wondaland collective-mates, St. Beauty. “This is our very first award, and we’re just so honored and grateful,” Alex Belle gushed, before she and bandmate Isis Valentino went on to rave about Monae, and how they used to listen to her as fans before she discovered them while they were working in a vintage shop.
Janelle Monáe Accepts Trailblazer Award at WIM 2018 | Billboard
“I just wanted to say how honored I am to be invited into the building,” began R&B singer Anderson .Paak as he introduced his former tourmate SZA: “I never got to tell you this in person, but I really appreciate you, SZA — you taught me so much on that tour.” SZA stipulated that she was gonna “keep this short” upon accepting her rule breaker award, but still gave an emotional and revealing speech. “I’m just thankful for everybody for having patience with me — because I guessed when I was younger I pictured a rule-breaker to be somebody, who like… actively has no fear, walking away from large explosions or whatever,” she said. “But as long as you end up here, this is the explosion, so it doesn’t matter how you feel on the way.”
.Paak returned to stage to introduce soul legend Patti Labelle, even quoting a little bit of the “Lady Marmalade” chorus. “I’m here for my girl!” exclaimed Labelle, before introducing the woman of the year honoree Ariana Grande, “a young woman who has it all… she’s all that and a bag of chips.” After an emotional video tribute that ended with her One Love Manchester performance, Grande delivered a soaring rendition of her current Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Thank U, Next.”
“Thank you so much for coming to my quinceañera,” she joked to the audience to begin her speech, which largely focused on the disparity between her recent professional success and her own personal chaos. “This has been one of the best years of my career and one of the worst years in my life,” she explained. “A lot of people would look at someone in my position right now… and think, ‘She’s really got her shit together, she’s really on it, she’s got it all.’ And I do. But as far as my personal life, I really have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.”
“I just wanna say — if you’re someone out there who has no idea what the next chapter is gonna bring, you’re not alone in that,” she continued, beginning to tear up — before cutting her own emotions off (“that’s really gross, I’m not gonna do that”). She then thanked the people who helped her on her album, saying she’s really excited for everyone to hear it, and comparing it to an obvious favorite ’90s comedy of hers: “If The First Wives Club was an album, that’s the album.” She ended by extending herself some of the forgiveness she’s previously offered to her exes, and wishing everyone: “Happy Hanukkah.”
Cyndi Lauper Accepts Icon Award at WIM 2018 | Billboard