What can be said about this year? We lost some of music’s most important innovators, including David Bowie and Prince. We watched modern music mavens meld genres that normally wouldn’t sit next to each other and challenge what pop can be, and we watched them do it in unlikely places — like awards shows.
From the Emmys to the Grammys to the BET Awards and the BRITs, here are the most memorable awards show moments of the year.
10. Stranger Things Kids Go “Uptown Funk!” at the Emmys
The most adorable thing to happen to pop culture in recent history is the success of the Stranger Things’ kid actors. Their hit show might teeter a line between science-fiction and thriller, but the tweenage stars of the program are all smiles all the time — especially when covering “Uptown Funk!” at the Emmys. Watch it. You won’t regret it.
9. Gucci Mane’s Return at the BET Awards
In 2014, Gucci Mane pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, acquiring a plea deal that would result in two years at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. After he was released — on Sept. 20 of this year — he made a very public comeback at the BET Awards on Oct. 3, opening the show alongside Travis Scott, Young Thug and Migos, reminding us what we’re always known: we missed you, Mane!
8. Kesha’s Powerful Return at the Billboard Music Awards
For a while there, it was unclear if Kesha would take the stage at the Billboard Music Awards — due to her legal battle with producer Dr. Luke in which she claims he raped and psychologically abused her. Instead of giving in, she made a triumphant return to the limelight, delivering a truly heart-wrenching rendition of the 1964 Bob Dylan classic “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” There were no dry eyes in the house.
7. Rihanna Swerves Drake’s Kiss at the VMAs
Are they or aren’t they? At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Drake presented Rihanna with the Vanguard Award. He used the speech to confess his love to the Anti starlet and, while actually handing her the trophy, leans in for a kiss. She swerves him… hard. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.
6. The Dixie Chicks & Beyoncé Join Forces at the CMAs
One of the most surprising songs from one of the most revered albums of the year, “Daddy Lessons” from Beyoncé’s massive Lemonade, has the pop powerhouse revisiting her down and dirty Texas roots — if you’re from the state, country music is part of the atmosphere. Bey teamed up with the Dixie Chicks at this year’s Country Music Awards to breathe new life into the track. The result was a high-energy, soulful take on the beloved ballad that serves to highlight just how universal B’s art can be.
5. Green Day’s Anti-Trump Rhetoric at AMAs
There’s a certain trope in punk music: when things are terrifying in the political arena, the music gets better. While that has yet to be proven, Green Day lived up to it with 2004’s American Idiot. They did it again with “Bang Bang” from their latest album, Revolution Radio, but brought it to a new level at the American Music Awards, launching into a chant of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” grabbed from the MDC song “Born to Die.”
4. Celine Dion’s Pays Tribute To Her Late Husband with a Queen Cover at the Billboard Music Awards
This year has been especially rough, but Celine Dion has seen the real brunt of it. At the beginning of the year she lost her husband, Rene Angélil, to cancer. Two days later, her brother, Daniel, faced the same fate. Not one to go out without a fight, Dion gave a truly moving performance of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards because, as she knows, everything gets better if you allow it to.
3. Lorde’s David Bowie Tribute at the BRIT Awards
Things have been quite quiet on the Lorde front this year, but she had to make a public appearance to honor one of her heroes who passed in January — the ineffable David Bowie. Joining the Starman’s band, Lorde covered “Life On Mars” the way DB would’ve liked to see it — inventive, passionate, otherworldly.
2. Prince Tribute at BET Awards
This year the BET Awards honored the late Prince with multiple performances. Erykah Badu tackled “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” from the 1987 classic Sign O’ the Times LP. Bilal mastered “The Beautiful Ones” and Stevie Wonder, with some help from Tori Kelly, did a wonderful duet of “Take Me With U,” both tracks from the iconic Purple Rain album. Jennifer Hudson somberly covered the album’s title track, Maxwell segued into “Nothing Compares To You,” and perhaps most memorable was Janelle Monae’s take on “Delirious.” If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is a lot — and Prince deserves nothing less.
1. Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Performance
It feels rare these days that a massively popular album can have a distinctly sociopolitical message, the kind that truly has the power to inspire change. Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the 2016 Grammys accomplished just that, both with the songs’ message, and how they were presented. In “The Blacker the Berry,” Lamar performed in chains as a commentary on police brutality. In “Alright,” the stage burns with a fiery rage — both literally and figuratively — while Kendrick struggles but eventually finds optimism in a cultural climate not inviting those of a certain race. At times, rewatching his set can feel frustrating — and it’s up to the listener, alongside Lamar, to do something about it.