Brutally honest rankings of every Billboard Music Awards performance, including MGK, Travis Scott

·8 min read

It wasn't the most scintillating parade of performances, but the 2022 Billboard Music Awards should be commended for casting a truly diverse lineup.

From soul throwbacks Silk Sonic to Latin pop star Becky G to onetime country pariah Morgan Wallen, the show hopscotched genres for three hours, offering a breakout turn from Atlanta rapper Latto, a tribute to Michael Jackson delivered by the eternally poised Maxwell and a surprise performance from host Sean "Diddy" Combs.

This year’s edition of the show, which aired live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, also highlighted stage turns by Florence + The Machine; Megan Thee Stallion; Ed Sheeran (joining from his concert in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and, making his first award show appearance since the Astroworld tragedy last fall, Travis Scott.

Unlike its celebratory peers, the Billboard Music Awards aren’t based on subjective voting by music industry insiders or even fans, but are grounded in hard numbers – specifically, their showings on the Billboard charts, including album and digital song sales, streaming and radio airplay.

As for the performances, here's how they ranked from least inspiring to most memorable.

Billboard Music Awards: Travis Scott, Kylie Jenner step out on red carpet with daughter Stormi

Teyana Taylor (left) and Sean "Diddy" Combs kicked off the show.
Teyana Taylor (left) and Sean "Diddy" Combs kicked off the show.

15. Diddy featuring Bryson Tiller, Jack Harlow and Teyana Taylor, ‘She Don't Want It’ / ‘First Class’ / ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’

The opening segment featured host Diddy dancing on the main stage before clearing the way for Bryson Tiller gliding through “She Don’t Want It.” The R&B star shared a few verses and ceded the stage to Jack Harlow, who took over the spotlight with “First Class,” his latest single from new album “Come Home the Kids Miss You.” But Diddy isn’t one to stay on the sidelines and soon reappeared in the middle of the MGM Grand Garden Arena to bust a few lines – along with Teyana Taylor – of “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” the 1997 smash popularized by the late Notorious B.I.G., who would have turned 50 on May 21.

Shay Mooney (left) and Dan Smyers of Dan + Shay perform "You" at the Billboard Music Awards.
Shay Mooney (left) and Dan Smyers of Dan + Shay perform "You" at the Billboard Music Awards.

14. Dan + Shay, ‘You’

The country duo known for their sweet ballads and angelic harmonizing didn’t disappoint with a gently swaying rendition of the track from last year’s “Good Things” album. Dressed in matching red suits – along with the rest of their backing band – Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney didn’t ignite the stage, but offered a reliable performance of a soulful song.

13. Travis Scott, ‘Mafia’ and ‘Lost Forever’

With blizzard effects swirling around the structure where Scott lay in fuzzy wintry pants, the rapper unfurled a heavily edited “Mafia.” He buried his head against the bikini-clad chest of muse/model Jazzelle (because bikinis and snow – why not?) as the performance blurred between the stage design and black and white video. The attempt to be artsy was disorienting and, really, unnecessary. The performance was a rare sighting of Scott, as well as his first awards show performance since last November’s tragedy at his Astroworld festival in Houston.

Burna Boy closed the show with Afrobeat energy.
Burna Boy closed the show with Afrobeat energy.

12. Burna Boy, ‘Last Last’ and ‘Kilometre’

The Nigerian Afrobeat star closed the show with a pair of tracks that at least ended the bland ceremony on an uptempo groove. Strutting down the catwalk in shorts and shades, Burna Boy (aka Damini Ogulu) incited the crowd to sing along to “Last Last.” But it became apparent why he was chosen as the final performance when a drum line appeared, adding even more percussion to “Kilometre” with a fusion of world beat sounds.

Becky G (left) performed against a moon-lit backdrop.
Becky G (left) performed against a moon-lit backdrop.

11. Becky G, ‘Baile Con Mi Ex,’ ‘Mamiii’

Perched atop a boxy structure with a backdrop of the Earth rising behind her, the young singer with Mexican roots finger-snapped her way through the melodic “Baile Con Mi Ex” with notable assurance. As a platform lowered her back to the stage, Becky G (aka Rebecca Gomez) stripped off her jacket to reveal a sparkly black leotard with matching thigh-high stockings for “Mamiii,” her worldwide smash that she shares on record with Karol G (no relation).

Morgan Wallen sang a bare-bones "Don't Think Jesus."
Morgan Wallen sang a bare-bones "Don't Think Jesus."

10. Morgan Wallen, ‘Don’t Think Jesus’ and ‘Wasted on You’

Set up on a square stage in the middle of the arena, Wallen – seemingly forgiven for getting caught uttering a racial slur on video in 2021 – opted for a stripped-down approach and a lyrically pointed first song. Surrounded by his four-piece band, Wallen strummed an acoustic guitar and turned up the twang as he belted the chorus of “Don’t Think Jesus,” which includes the lyrics, “World likes to rear back and throw a few stones / So boy wants to throw a few stones of his own / But Lord knows I ain’t perfect.” Wallen leaned into the gritty qualities of his voice for his second offering, “Wasted on You,” a double-platinum hit from his “Dangerous: The Double Album,” which has led Billboard’s top country albums chart for a record-breaking 55 weeks.

Maxwell paid emotional tribute to Michael Jackson.
Maxwell paid emotional tribute to Michael Jackson.

9. Maxwell, ‘Lady in My Life’

Of all the songs to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” leave it to soul king Maxwell to choose one of only two on the nine-track album to not be released as a single. But Maxwell brought his velvety voice and suave approach to the ballad written by frequent Jackson songwriter Rod Temperton. Dropping to his knees and pulling off his sunglasses, Maxwell, wearing studded fingerless gloves in perhaps another form of homage, paid ample tribute to the king of pop. “We love you, Michael Jackson!” he declared at song’s end, looking a bit overcome with emotion.

Machine Gun Kelly referred to Megan Fox as his wife during his Billboard Music Awards performance.
Machine Gun Kelly referred to Megan Fox as his wife during his Billboard Music Awards performance.

8. Machine Gun Kelly, ‘Twin Flame,’ ‘Born With Horns’

Sporting painted nails, ripped jeans and mussed hair with a light magenta hue, MGK started by quietly saying he wrote the song for “his wife.” Are he and girlfriend Megan Fox married? Only their lockets of blood hold the answer. MGK interrupted the romantic rock ballad to look into the crowd and say, “Happy birthday, my love,” before detouring into a few lines of “Born With Horns.” While his voice wasn’t always on point, there was no denying the authenticity of MGK’s performance, especially when he returned to “Twin Flame,” dedicated it to “our unborn child” and scooped up his electric guitar to crank out some serrated riffs.

Miranda Lambert (left) and Elle King gave a fiery performance in coordinating starry suits.
Miranda Lambert (left) and Elle King gave a fiery performance in coordinating starry suits.

7. Miranda Lambert and Elle King, ‘Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)’

The primal drumbeat that fuels this scorcher from a couple of vocal powerhouses set the tone, and Lambert and King rode its strutting force. Their performance survived a wobbly opening verse, but by the chorus, both women – coordinated in black pantsuits decorated in blue fringe, flames and stars – fell into the spirit of the song, singing full throttle like it was 2 a.m. in a grimy pool hall.

Rauw Alejandro performed in front of a light-up tree.
Rauw Alejandro performed in front of a light-up tree.

6. Rauw Alejandro, ‘Cúrame’ / ‘Museo’ / ‘Todo De Ti'

The Puerto Rican hitmaker known as the “king of modern reggaeton” eased into his trio of songs, sitting pensively during the ballad “Cúrame” in front of a tree with a lighted trunk. But within moments, a phalanx of dancers joined him to nimbly step through “Museo” and “Todo De Ti” around a jungle gym of steel cubes. Alejandro, who performed on the BBMAs for the first time, is not only a smooth singer, but also an impressively lithe dancer.

5. Silk Sonic, ‘Love’s Train’

In their now-trademark wide-lapel, rust-colored suits, Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak and the rest of Silk Sonic made their BBMAs debut with pelvic thrusts and Temptations-styled dancing with their backup singers. “Love’s Train” is another comfortable submission from their throwback project, filled with finger snaps, smooth grooves and enough room for Mars to engage in fist-clenching reaches for the sky – and his splendid high notes.

4. Ed Sheeran, ‘2Step’

Beaming in live from Belfast, Northern Ireland, the one-man ginger band utilized his rotating stage and hallmark looping technique for the latest single from last year’s “=” album. Performing for a massive outdoor crowd at Boucher Road Playing Fields, Sheeran demonstrated – especially for those who have never seen him live – how one unassuming guy with a guitar and versatile vocal skills can enchant a stadium-sized crowd.

Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine took the stage bathed in dramatic lighting for "My Love."
Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine took the stage bathed in dramatic lighting for "My Love."

3. Florence + The Machine, 'My Love'

The always enigmatic Florence Welch stepped onstage shrouded in dry ice, her waist-length auburn hair and flowing cream-colored dress as captivating as her dramatic unveiling of “My Love.” Twirling across a stage dotted with pieces of paper that looked like letters (love notes, perhaps?), Welch was a striking vision under a halo of red lighting as she performed a slightly rootsier version of the disco-inflected song from new album “Dance Fever.”

Megan Thee Stallion commanded the stage for "Plan B" and "Sweetest Pie."
Megan Thee Stallion commanded the stage for "Plan B" and "Sweetest Pie."

2. Megan Thee Stallion, ‘Plan B’ and ‘Sweetest Pie’

Looking sexy in a black leotard that showcased her sleek figure, Megan Thee Stallion self-censored herself as she unspooled her female empowerment anthem, “Plan B.” To support her lyrical theme, she turned her nearly bare booty toward the crowd while grinning over her shoulder. Megan Thee Stallion propelled her rhymes into overdrive for “Sweetest Pie,” which included a pack of dancers, fireworks and the rapper flicking her long black hair off her shoulder as she pitched unspoken attitude from the stage.

Latto dazzled with "Big Energy."
Latto dazzled with "Big Energy."

1. Latto, ‘Big Energy’

A noteworthy export from the hip-hop mecca of Atlanta, Latto, joined by a sextet of dancers, rap-sung her Tom Tom club-sampling No. 1 R&B-hip-hop hit with snarling assertivene. But there was no denying how much fun Latto was having as she twerked and twisted, headbanging her wavy mane of hair in rhythm with the pyro popping behind her. For those unfamiliar with the upstart born Alyssa Stephens, it was a star-making performance.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Billboard Music Awards 2022: Best (and worst) performances, ranked

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