Following Madonna’s heartfelt Instagram tribute to fellow music legend Prince after his death in April, the Queen of Pop took the stage at Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards to honor her friend and collaborator.
Questlove introduced the performance and called Prince’s death “an earthquake.” “We can be fierce, we can be uncompromising, we can be experimental,” Questlove said. “We can listen to all the songs he left us. He was very generous in that regard.” He then called for a moment of silence and said, “I want to take a moment to remember the great Prince Rogers Nelson. It can be a moment of silence here in the air but in our heads it should be anything but silent.”
Madonna then took the stage as the arena turned purple. Dressed in white lace and purple sequins, Madonna sat in a purple throne and began singing Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
As she finished the song, Stevie Wonder joined her on stage to perform “Purple Rain.” Together they sang and swayed as the crowd waved their hands, adorned with purple light-up bracelets.
“Most of all, thank you Prince Rogers Nelson for all that you have given us,” Madonna said as they finished.
Madonna teased the performance on Wednesday, posting a throwback photo of herself with the caption “Looking ahead…………i see Rain in the forecast” along with the purple umbrella, praying hands, and crown emojis, which many fans interpreted as a hint that the “Ray of Light” singer would cover Prince’s “Purple Rain” at the Billboard Music Awards.
Shortly after the announcement that Madonna would honor Prince at the Billboard Music Awards, fans protested. A petition was created as a means to “stop Madonna from being the only artist tributing Prince,” and has since garnered nearly 8,000 digital signatures.
On Thursday, Billboard Music Awards producer Mark Bracco defended the decision to enlist Madonna for the event. “I think everybody is entitled to their opinion and everyone can have their own opinion, but I will say that we are honored and could not be more excited for Madonna to be on the show and to pay tribute to someone that was her friend and her peer and her colleague,” he told the New York Daily News. “It’s going to be very, very intimate and very respectful, and I think it’s something that is really going to pay tribute to Prince as the incredible, groundbreaking artist that he was and the influence that he had on music.”
The pair previously collaborated on Madonna’s 1989 album Like a Prayer, writing, producing, and performing the track “Love Song” together. While the song was never officially released as a single, Like a Prayer went on to sell over 4 million copies in the United States, earning quadruple-platinum certification from the RIAA in 1997.
Since Prince’s death, numerous celebrities have paid tribute to the icon with performances at live events, including Bruce Springsteen, who performed “Purple Rain” while on tour in Brooklyn, New York, and Ellie Goulding, whose vocals soared through a touching rendition of “When Doves Cry” at an April performance during Coachella.