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Drake has big night at Billboard Awards, wins top artist

The rapper encouraged other musicians to love and respect their peers "while we're all still here."
Image: Drake 2019 Billboard Music Awards
Drake accepts the Top Artist award onstage during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Drake won multiple honors at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday night and encouraged the audience of musicians to love and respect their peers "while we're all still here."

Drake could have been referring to a number of deaths in the music industry, from Nipsey Hussle to Aretha Franklin.

"We've obviously had like an unfortunate series of losses within our business, and I just want to encourage everybody to let other artists know how you feel about them," Drake said as he accepted top male artist Wednesday. "Let them know that you love them (and) respect them while we're all still here."

The rap star, who walked into Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena with 17 nominations, also won top Billboard 200 album, beating out Cardi B, Travis Scott, Post Malone and the late XXXTentacion.

"Shout-out to Arya Stark for putting in that work last week," he said of the "Game of Thrones" star who shined in last week's episode.

BTS was also having a major night. At the Billboard Awards and American Music Awards, the K-pop band had only previously won "social" awards based off their fanatic fan base, but on Wednesday BTS picked up top duo/group, besting Grammy-winning groups like Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons and Dan + Shay.

"I still can't believe we're here on this stage with so many great artists," RM said as fans screamed loudly. "We're still the same boys from six years ago, we still have the same dreams ... we still have the same thoughts. Let us keep dreaming."

Imagine Dragons did pick up top rock artist, and band leader Dan Reynolds used his speech to highlight the dangers of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth. He earned rousing applause. Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard followed suit, telling the audience after winning top country song: "In the spirt of so much truth being spoken tonight by so many talented artists, I think we should speak some truth."

"As artists we all get to experience so many unbelievable things, but in our opinion, at the end of the day, it's all for nothing if you're not using your platform for better ... to spread love, to help those in needs, to be a light to your community," he said.

The show was a family affair: Ciara's husband, NFL player Russell Wilson, and young son danced along while she worked the stage, and Nick and Joe Jonas gave kisses to Priyanka Chopra and Sophie Turner of "Game of Thrones" fame when they sang in the audience before hitting the stage.

Mariah Carey's twins cheered her on as she sang a medley of her hits and accepted the Icon award. She was in diva form before taking the award from Jennifer Hudson, throwing her napkin on the floor after dabbing her face with it.

"Icon? I really don't think of myself that way. I started making music out of a necessity to survive and to express myself and I just wanted to create something so I could feel worthy of existing," she said. "Without getting into all the drama, all the ups and downs of my career ... I guess I always felt like an outsider, someone who doesn't quite belong anywhere, and I still feel like that lost interracial child who had a lot of nerve to believe I could succeed at anything at all in this world. But, and this is the truth, I did believe because I had to. The truth is I dedicated my life to my music — my saving grace — and to my fans."

Cardi B, the night's top nominee with 21, locked lips with husband Offset on the red carpet and the couple sat closely inside the venue. She will compete for top artist along with Drake, Scott, Malone and Ariana Grande.

"I remember when I first hit the Billboard (chart) at No. 85 with 'Bodak Yellow' — I celebrated that the same way I celebrated all my No. 1s on the Hot 100," she said after winning the top rap song honor for "I Like It."

Taylor Swift kicked off the show when she brought her new music video to life with a colorful, eye-popping performance of her song "ME!" She was backed by dancers wearing bright, pastel colors and her featured guest — Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco — descended from the ceiling holding an umbrella

A marching band kicked off Swift's performance — like most of the world, maybe Swift was inspired by Beyonce's new Coachella film? Dancers also spun in the air holding umbrellas.

Swift is the most decorated winner in the history of the Billboard Awards with 23 wins. She is nominated for two awards at the show airing live on NBC — top female artist and top touring artist.

Kelly Clarkson is hosting the show for a second time — and sang a medley of hits following Swift's performance, from Cardi B's "I Like It" to "Boo'd Up" by Ella Mai, who won the first award of the evening, top R&B artist.

Grammy-winning Christian artist Lauren Daigle had one of the night's best performances when she sang "You Say," giving the audience a calm, yet strong and powerful performance. She was backed by three background singers and a pianist.