May 21, 2018, 1:51 AM ET

Janet Jackson steals show at Billboard Music Awards; Sheeran takes top honor

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The 2018 Billboard Music Awards were packed with big performances and peppered with some heavier moments Sunday night, kicking off with an emotional cold open from host Kelly Clarkson.

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The show, which aired live on NBC from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, began on a serious note with a tearful call to action from Clarkson in the wake of the latest school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

She refused to lead the audience in a moment of silence, instead saying, “Why don’t we do a moment of action? Why don’t we do a moment of change? Why don’t we change what’s happening? Because it’s horrible.”

Fittingly, following Clarkson’s emotional message, Ariana Grande opened the show with a performance of “No Tears Left to Cry.” And indeed when Clarkson returned to the stage, she was dry-eyed and ready to lighten things up a bit.

Host Kelly Clarkson performs a medley during the opening of the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.The Associated Press
Host Kelly Clarkson performs a medley during the opening of the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.

Kelly launched into an energetic medley of other artists’ songs, including “Too Good at Goodbyes” by Sam Smith, “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift and “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran.

Shawn Mendes and Khalid later picked up Kelly’s call to action. After Mendes first took the stage to perform his new single “In My Blood,” he returned with Khalid to perform their powerful duet “Youth” as a tribute to victims of gun violence with the help of the show choir from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Female empowerment was also a running theme of the night, with Janet Jackson becoming the first black woman to receive the Billboard Icon Award and paying tribute to strong women in her speech.

Icon award winner Janet Jackson performs a medley at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.The Associated Press
Icon award winner Janet Jackson performs a medley at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.

"Women have made it clear that we no longer will be controlled, manipulated or abused,” Jackson said in her speech, during which she also urged people to turn back to God as a source of calmness and love.

Prior to accepting the award, she took the stage and performed a choreography-heavy medley of some of her classics, including “Nasty,” “If” and “Throb.” It was her first TV performance in nine years.

Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato also took the stage together for the first time to perform their new feminist anthem, “Fall in Line.” They traded soaring vocal acrobatics and held their own amidst a menacing mob of authoritative male figures.

Taylor Swift arrives at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.The Associated Press
Taylor Swift arrives at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas.

Taylor Swift used her win for Top Female Artist to shout out other female artists, in particular her tour mates Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. She also took home the prize for Top Selling Album for “Reputation” and thanked her fans for “making me feel understood again.”

Before presenting the award for Top Hot 100 Song to Luis Fonsi for “Despacito,” The Chainsmokers and Halsey paid tribute to EDM artist Avicii, who died last month at age 28. The Chainsmokers also dedicated their award for Top Dance/Electronic Artist to the late DJ and producer.

Other winners presented during the broadcast included Khalid for Top New Artist, BTS for Top Social Artist, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt for Top Country Song, “Rock Star” by Post Malone featuring 21 Savage for Top Rap Song, and Camilla Cabello for Billboard Chart Achievement Award.

The show closed out with Ed Sheeran taking home the prize of Top Artist and a 1990s throwback performance by Salt N Pepa, DJ Spinderella and En Vogue.

The two biggest winners of the night with six awards each were Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar.

The night’s other performances included:

-Dua Lipa performing “New Rules” with the help of a girl squad and a giant flamingo.

-Khalid and Normani performing their steamy duet “Love Lies.”

-New dad John Legend singing his new single, “A Good Night.”

-Jennifer Lopez and DJ Khaled making it rain dollar bills with their new track, “Dinero.”

-Ed Sheeran performing a rousing rendition of “Galway Girl” from his tour in Dublin, Ireland.

-Maren Morris, Zedd and Grey joining forces to perform their hit “The Middle.”

-Soon-to-be tourmates Macklemore and Kesha singing “Good Old Days” from a faux campsite at Vegas' T-Mobile Arena.

-Kelly Clarkson belting her sassy tune “Whole Lotta Woman.”

-K-pop boy band BTS drawing the loudest cheers for their performance of “Fake Love.”

-Camila Cabello performing “Havana” and her new duet with Pharrell Williams, “Sangria Wine.”

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