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Diddy brings the party as Billboards return to MGM Grand

Machine Gun Kelly performed in a mini-forest fire and might well have announced both his marriage to Megan Fox and the couple’s first child.

Sean “Puffy” Combs went off script, saying at the top, “I hate awards shows! They’re boring!” while demanding a real Las Vegas party.

Travis Scott and Morgan Wallen capably returned to live performance. And Mari Copeny, the 14-year-old “Little Miss Flint” with braided hair, made a bold political statement, even while giggling as she botched her lines.

The Billboard Music Awards have always been more about performances and spectacle than the hardware handed out. Sunday was a return to that tradition as the show returned to Las Vegas and the MGM Grand for the first time since 2019.

The show was cut off at about 8:05, having gone over its three-hour time limit. “I want to thank our partners, who cut us off!” Diddy said to the Grand Garden crowd after the network feed halted. “We have a second chance at life! Show some love!”

Diddy set the stage for a freewheeling night (which would feature several changes of attire as he said he was also putting on a fashion show). He said he was charged (from above) to set a new standard of awards-show experience. He referred to himself, rightfully, as a multihyphenated professional who has learned his lessons over the past 25 years.

“I am now a total frequency, the vibe curator, the frequency elevator, the black-brother thunder, the chocolate boy wonder! They call me Diddy but y’all can call me loooove!” Diddy (or, Love) said as the crowd erupted.

Kelly performed “Twin Flame” immersed in a dazzling fire effect — the MGM Grand Twitter account actually posted a request to keep the set. He dedicated the song to “my wife,” and later, casually, to “my unborn child” — an evident reference to Megan Fox, seated and weeping in the audience. The couple has not announced they are married, nor have they said they are expecting. (Billboard officials have not issued a statement from the couple at this writing.)

Scott performed “Mafia” in a tightly constructed set, appearing on a simulated chunk of ice. He did not address the crowd in his first performance since headlining the Astroworld festival in November, at which 10 fans were killed in a crowd crush.

Wallen performed “Don’t Think Jesus” and “Wasted On You” in an acoustic, miniset from the auxiliary stage in the middle of the arena. He later won Top Male Country Artist.

“Thank God, thank my fans. … Thank you to my mama for being my date tonight. … Thank you to my little boy for inspiring me every day,” Wallen said in his acceptance speech. It was his first live performance since being caught on video using a racial slur outside his home in Nashville in January 2021; he has apologized for the incident.

Copeny won Billboard’s Change Maker award, for enacting social awareness. She is the award’s youngest recipient. “Little Miss Flint” has crusaded about her hometown’s tainted water supply.

“I don’t do the work I do for accolades and clout, I do it for the kids back home in Flint who are still dealing with the effects of being poisoned by water eight years later,” she said, at one point kicking her lines and saying, “That was embarrassing!”

But she went on, taking on the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade and imploring people to vote. “The individuals in this room have the power to reach the world and influence millions. I challenge you to do way more than just applaud this speech.”

Drake won Top Artist. Olivia Rodrigo won the most trophies (seven, including Top New Artist, Top Female Artist and Top Hot 100 Artist).

Dolby Live headliners Silk Sonic turned in another energized awards-show performance with “Love’s Train.” Illenium, who is in residency at Tao Group Hospitality (including a show Saturday at Tao Beach Club), won his first Billboard Award, and award of any kind, Top Dance/Electronic Album for “Fallen Embers.”

Miranda Lambert, set to open “Velvet Rodeo” at Zappos Theater in September, and Elle King performed “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home”).

Maxwell paid homage to the 40th anniversary of “Thriller,” the top-selling album of all time, with a cover that honored the late pop great Michael Jackson with a smooth rendition of “Lady in My Life.”

Mary J. Blige was honored as this year’s Billboard Icon Award winner, introduced by Janet Jackson. “What an icon means to me is overcoming obstacles to accomplish the unthinkable and be widely admired for having influence over a multitude of people,” Blige said. “That is what I’ve always represented,” the nine-time Grammy Award winner said, as the crowd cheered.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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