The biggest and boldest names in music turned out Sunday for the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, replaying favorite hits and coolest collaborations while celebrating the hot talent that made them happen. A recap of the night's most memorable moments:
An emotional, eerie 'performance' by Michael Jackson
Expectations ran the gamut when word leaked of a Michael Jackson "performance" at the BMAs. Would his hologram be horribly cheesy or a compelling technical triumph? Could the new material live up to tried-and-true Jackson favorites? Is it possible to blend nostalgia and current music into a multidimensional production when the star is no longer with us? Slave to the Rhythm didn't exactly answer any of these questions, but it did present the elaborate, complicated performance it promised. Equal parts eerie and fascinating, Slave broke the fourth wall. Dancers in gilt costumes interacted with Hologram Michael as though he really were reclaiming his throne as the King of Pop, one flourish and crotch-grab at a time. Though the illusion's movements were very much that of a two-dimensional being and the vocals were recorded long ago, many in the audience were overcome with emotion and rapturously applauded Jackson's return. Host Ludacris introduced Slave as "magic you'd have to see for yourself." Maybe there was a benefit to watching it up close at the MGM Grand, because there was an undeniable disconnect seeing it on television.
A 'Fancy' 'Problem' for Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX and Ariana Grande
Iggy Azalea's got the golden touch: Her Fancy duet with Charli XCX is sitting pretty at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100, while Problem, her joint effort with pop's reigning girl crush next door, Ariana Grande, follows it at No. 4. Azalea's insatiable rhymes, Charli's cool confidence and Grande's untouchable high notes made their split performance one of the evening's most adored.
John Legend stuns with 'All of Me'/'You & I'
Sometimes, less is more: John Legend would have captivated the crowd with his velvet voice and the echo of the piano on All of Me alone, and then he had to go and up the ante with a gorgeous orchestral arrangement for You & I (Nobody in the World). The camera cut to his wife, Chrissy Teigen, as she mouthed the words to Legend's scorching hits, and the flawless performance made for the show's most intimate, inimitable set. He wasn't nominated, but the crowd (and viewers at home) wanted all of Legend — piano, orchestra and all.
Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips team up for a Beatles cover
They're loud, they love sticking their tongues out, they make questionable fashion choices, and now Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips can add one more thing to the list of things they share in common: They both love Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. The Flaming Lips have perfected their cover of the psychedelic Beatles standard and worked it into their elaborate live show, but Miley brought it to another level when she and Wayne Coyne joined forces for a tinsel-strewn, barefoot performance of Lucy in Manchester. It was a bit low-key by Miley/Flaming Lips standards, but the earnest duet made for a refreshing change from their shock-and-awe tactics.
Robin Thicke attempts to 'Get (Paula Patton) Back' with brand new song
Ever since his infamous twerking incident with Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Robin Thicke has been trying to put his skeevier days behind him — and he took one giant leap forward with the live premiere of Get Her Back at the BMAs. Thicke and actress Paula Patton separated earlier this year, but that didn't stop the Blurred Lines crooner from thanking her upon receiving his award for top R&B song before his performance. Get Her Back was a sincere, albeit brief, song from the heart that had Thicke proclaiming "I should've kissed you longer/ I should've held you stronger" while getting up close and personal with the front row. We don't know if Patton's open to hearing his message, but the crowd at the BMAs received it loud and clear.
A World Cup preview from Pitbull, J. Lo and Ricky Martin
It was a huge night for Jennifer Lopez: In addition to taking home the coveted Icon Award, J. Lo kicked off the night with a sizzling, samba-ready performance of World Cup anthem We Are One (Ole Ola) alongside Pitbull and Claudia Leitte. Later, Ricky Martin reacquainted viewers with his ability to live La Vida Loca (and his hip-shaking!) while belting his way through his contribution to the World Cup soundtrack, Vida. Between the two, dance floor — and World Cup — fever spiked, and it brought an inclusive, international vibe to the awards.
Most cringeworthy moments
The BMAs didn't go off without a hitch — we're still not entirely sure how we feel about the MJ hologram — and a few moments were way too awkward to ignore.
Mark Cuban's awful "Beatdown by Solange" dig: It's one thing to reference hot topics at a major cultural event, but the diss Cuban threw Solange's way in the wake of the infamous Jay Z elevator incident didn't go over so well with the crowd. (We're sure Mr. and Mrs. Carter aren't too thrilled about it, either.)
Kendall Jenner's cue card flub: Yes, Kendall, we know that reading is hard, but don't they write the words you're supposed to say in super-huge lettering? You'd think that a girl who spends her life in front of the cameras for her reality TV show would be used to improvising under pressure, but nope: Kendall could barely get out an introduction for Five Seconds of Summer (very nearly introducing them as One Direction) before they hit the stage.
Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood's failed bad-girl duet: In what should have been one of the evening's high points, two of country's favorite talents took the name of their duet, Something Bad, a bit too literally. (We're not even going to go there with the hair.)