By Leah Greenblatt
Updated May 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Ethan Miller/
  • Music

Duets in the air, do you care—do you love the smell of it? (This post is written in real time; refresh for updates.)

Rihanna’s show-opening performance of her recent no. 1 single “S&M” became an R&B—yes, Rihanna and Britney: wordplay!—production when Spears joined a white-vinyl-clad RiRi onstage in her own black vinyl naughty-bunny gear for panting, pole-dancing, and a (semi)climactic pillow fight. Also, an endearingly un-vixenish song-closing collapse into giggles.

Host and Hangover star Ken Jeong kept his bits relatively covered in a sequin-lapeled tux for his own song-and-dance opener, with assists from Nicki Minaj and Train frontman Pat Monahan. The demurely suited, platinum-bobbed Minaj, working a sort of lady-executive “I just got my MBA in fabu” look, first teased Jeong before becoming his piano-writhing muse on a riffy runthrough of … Coldplay’s “Clocks?” Why not. Welcome to the 2011 Billboard Awards.

Two prizes later (Taylor, Biebs, the uzhe), we’re back to performances—and look! Fergie brought her best Tron dress. LEDs for everyone! And a group running man., Fergs, and the Our Time Other Two jump and party-pump as Peas do to “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “I Gotta Feeling.”

Time then, to dial down the party for a little Zen-garden reflection with Pitbull and Ne-Yo. Just kidding! Time for showgirls and lazers and “Give Me Everything.” It’s like the Cuban Copacabana up there.

A stately black-and-white video tribute to Beyoncé (Michele Obama, Babs, and Bono—all in the fan club) leads to the real thing: Queen B, in a Beyond Thunderdome spiderweb thread of a dress, is first her own army of backup dancers on “Run the World (Girls),” via fractal magic, and then the leader of a real-life tribe of silver-and-black clad fembot warriors.

I’m not totally sure what the Millenium Award is (you survived Y2k?), but it gives Beyoncé the chance to give one of the classiest acceptance speeches in recent memory—she thanks Destiny’s Child, yes, though not just Michelle and Kelly; a sincere shout-out to original members LaToya and LaTavia, too. And a sweet nod to her notoriously private husband: “I don’t want to put you on the spot because I know they’re probably putting the camera in your face right now, but I love me some Jay-Z.” He tries to keep Jigga-cool; then he just gives up and grins.

Is Cee-Lo the new, has-sex-with-ladies Liberace? Not since the latter went on to the Great Spangle in the Sky has Las Vegas seen a man and a piano simultaneously that sequinned. Cee runs through Gnarls Barkley oldie “Crazy” and his own recent solo single “Bright Lights, Big City” in normal-person earthbound gravity, before suddenly becoming a glitterball astronaut, floating up to the rafters on wires and spinning at his piano like a bedazzled rotisserie bird for “Forget You.”

Lady Antebellum follow Ken Jeong and Keith Urban’s dueling-banjo showdown (spoiler alert: Keith wins). What to say about Lady A? They sing “Just a Kiss” like they mean it; it is classy and very sincere and nobody humps a pole or has a pillow fight.

Does it break your heart that Taio Cruz keeps his clothes on for “Break Your Heart” and “Dynamite,” too? Well, throw your hands up in the air anyway. But you know, only sometimes.

After Justin Bieber says the word “amazing” an amazing number of times while accepting his Top Newmazing Artist Amazeward, it is time for OneRepublic to do “Good Life” solo (Ryan Tedder: having a pitchy night, dawg) before being joined by Far East Movement and then Snoop on a “Rockateer/Like a G-6” twofer. With, like, Slutty Marie Antoinette backup dancers? Thematically confusing.

Apparently nobody told Mary J. Blige that this evening is not really about singing, because she’s kind of killing it on the a cappella intro to her snaky, soulful “Somebody to Love Me (Naked).” Somebody sure got the memo (and their trigger finger) on the blasphemy button though, because half of Lil Wayne’s words are not even making it to air.

Am I the only one who thinks Ke$ha is sounding unusually Lilith fairy tonight? She’s throwing some serious Sarah McLachlan/Alanis warble-growl vibes into “Animal.” Oh wait—now she’s doing “Blow,” and she sounds like a yelling Fraggle in a garbage bag again. Welcome back!

High-concept ahoy—it’s the S.S. Minaj, with some kind of furry mascot thing and stripey-leotarded sailor girls and tied-up slave guys and a boat and I don’t know if I get it, but “Super Bass” sounds super good.

Just because the Rapture didn’t happen doesn’t mean Nicki can’t sniff sniff cryyyyy Britney back to the stage so they can dance “Till the World Ends”; or at least till the next commercial break, which comes in approximately 35 seconds. You cameo like the wind, Brit.

Soon enough: hands, touching hands; touching me, touching you. Neil Diamond is giving Caroline and America their due, and frankly the kids should take a lesson: He’s sincerely entertaining in the most charming, get-the-whole-crowd-on-its-feet, thrill-the-elastic-waist-pants-off-your-Aunt-Gilda kind of way. No props, no porny costumes; just classic crazy, shining Diamond.

And with that—a good night. What did you think readers? Leave your comments below.

Read more:

Black Eyed Peas

  • Music