Janet Jackson does not make many television appearances — so when the reclusive pop legend strutted out unannounced in her top hat and tuxedo dress at Sunday’s 2022 Billboard Music Awards to present her friend Mary J. Blige with the lifetime-achievement Icon Award, she was greeted with a standing ovation of her own. Doja Cat, sitting in the BBMAs audience at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Garden Arena, looked particularly awestruck, and her reaction instantly became a meme.
It was a ladies’ night of mutual fandom and appreciation at the BBMAs, when Jackson, who received the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Awards, honored Blige this year. “What makes an icon?” she began. “Is it the ability to create, explore, and practically pioneer an entire musical genre? Is it the amassing of millions of dedicated fans that breathe your art daily, the same fans to whom you constantly show love? Is it a multi-decade career full of not only hits, but those songs that make you feel a certain way when you hear them and get a certain look on your face? You know, the look that says, ‘Girl, yes! I understand! Yes!’ The answer is all of the above. The answer is tonight’s recipient of the 2022 Billboard Icon Award, Mary J. Blige.”
Jackson continued, quoting some of Blige’s most iconic songs: “Mary J. Blige represents truth. Her work has always given us comfort because she sings me, she sings you. I reminisce, but I’m not gon’ cry, because even though sometimes it feels like every day it rains, I’ve got no more drama. I’m just fine with my life, my life, my life, my life. In the sunshine, Mary has made a commitment to her fans to always be her authentic self now — that’s real love.” When Blige then walked out to deliver her own speech, she returned the love, telling Jackson: “Speaking of icons, you were always one of our biggest inspirations growing up.”
While Blige quipped at the start of her speech, “I have a lot to say, so please don’t roll the ‘wrap it up’ music over my thing,” she seemed humbled in the presence of Jackson’s greatness and by the Icon honor itself. “The way the world is now, I think people think icons are born that way, that they become a legend overnight. But that is definitely not the case,” she stressed. “It takes a lot of time, hard work, and a lot of surviving, trial and error, to achieve greatness. What an icon means to me is overcoming obstacles to accomplish the unthinkable and be wildly admired for having influence over a multitude of people, and that is what I’ve always represented. I’ve been on this journey for a long time — one that didn’t always look the way you see me now, one that is filled with a lot of heartache and pain. But God helped me to channel those experiences and emotions into my music.”
Slightly less humbly, Blige continued, just moments after BBMAs host Puff Daddy (aka Diddy) had accompanied her to the podium: “When Andre Harrell and Puff Daddy of Uptown Records introduced the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul to the world, it was the beginning of a movement. Every inner-city girl was recognizing their own and could relate to everything I was saying. And every female artist that came into the game wanted to do everything I was doing, and still does to this day. I was ghetto-fabulous, and I still am. So ghetto, so fabulous — and people were threatened by that. And now everybody wants to be ghetto-fabulous.”
Blige concluded triumphantly, “The message of my music has always been that we are not alone in our struggles, and I’m not alone now. For so long I was searching for a real love, but I finally found my real love, and that real love is me. Who’s managing Mary J. Blige now? Me!” However, she did humbly add that “there’s no I in team” and thanked the friends, family, and industry power-players who have supported her throughout her long journey — including the late Harrell “for coming down to those Schlobohm Projects and giving us hope and pulling me out,” her “big brother” Diddy, and Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine “for inviting me to perform at the Super Bowl, because I’m beyond grateful.”
Jackson and Blige may have stolen the show at this year’s Billboard Music Awards without even singing, but the three-hour telecast did feature many A-list performers, including Silk Sonic, Megan Thee Stallion, Ed Sheeran, Dan + Shay, Machine Gun Kelly, Miranda Lambert and Elle King, Florence + the Machine, Latto, Becky G, Maxwell (covering the unusual choice of “Lady in My Life” to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the above-mentioned Janet Jackson’s brother Michael’s Thriller album)… and, controversially, Morgan Wallen and Travis Scott, in their first televised performances since their respective scandals. The night’s top winners in the regular categories were Olivia Rodrigo, who took home seven awards, and Drake, who won five.
For a full list of 2022 Billboard Music Award winners, click here.
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