The 2018 Billboard Music Awards

Every year, I consider not doing the Billboard awards. After all, there are two things going against it: 1) they are the kind of professionally-focused award that I tend to avoid 1, and 2) they’re actually based on sales and streaming data and whatnot, and so aren’t really the work of a body deciding award-worthiness so much as they are the result of an already-tabulated popularity contest 2.

But this year is different, this year I rebut both notions. For they are both televised and deeply silly, so whatever they’re subjecting themselves to, they are doing so via context and whatnot. Furthermore, they are chosen by the most ridiculous nominating body of them all: all of us. Even awards shows that allow for some kind of vote still have a self-selecting audience. Thanks to the fine people at Nielsen, every time we purchase/stream a song, we are voting for the Billboard awards.

The world is a vasty panoply of options, a smorgasbord of consumption for people who are looking for something. Even so, I feel it is fair to limit the options available to those that are here nominated. Obviously the kind of popularity that gets someone a Billboard award is the kind of popularity that one has to pay for and market toward, so while it was my initial impulse to declare the “rightful winner” the artist I think would most-justifiably be the most popular in a proper world, I am going to limit myself to the artists here nominated. It seems a reasonable position, and, after all, I’d hate to take the mantel of “arbiter of what is popular” from the shoulders of The People, after all.

In any event, this year the show will be hosted by Kelly Clarkson 3, and they’ll be presenting the Icon award to Janet Jackson, which is nice. Oh and there’s a thousand categories, so this’ll be presented speed-round style. To make the reading experience even easier, here’s a spoiler: I declared Kendrick Lamar the rightful winner in 26% of the categories. So here we go. 

Top Social Artist

This one is, y’know, explicitly fan-voted. As always with fan-voted it’s actually a weird Venn diagram of fans of the artist and, by the nature of these things, fans of the awards show. I have no idea how the two things would map onto each other, to be honest, but I also don’t know how one would take into account the totality of a popstar’s “social” presence, which is true for every single awards show with a “social” category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Demi Lovato, I guess?

Billboard Chart Achievement

This one is also fan-voted, and it’s even more baffling. What the hell does this mean? The artist whose chart performance most pleased the fans of that artist? This is crazy and weird, guys. Define your categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Top Soundtrack/Cast Album

As enjoyable as they are, I still don’t think the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks should be eligible, although, again, it’s sales that decide it. I suppose Moana deserves to have sold the most, given that it’s the most cohesive and that it operates partially 4 in a genre that isn’t represented here very often.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Moana

Top Gospel Song

So the Gospel categories 5 are among the reasons that I don’t just give a blanket “rightfulness” – I don’t know much about any of this. Upon listening, I like the Travis Greene song the most.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, “You Waited”

Top Gospel Album

There’s also very little deviation in these categories, which is a thing that tends to happen at the Billboard awards – an album is generally heard on the strength of its singles, and generally represents an artist’s entire output during the eligibility period, so there tends to be some repetition. They’re not completely identical, however, and so we’re left assuming that Tamela Mann (who is present in the song category but not the album) had a single that didn’t drive people to her album, or that Marvin Sapp had an album that didn’t move its single. This is interesting to me, and part of why I do this, but also that’s about all there is to say about it. Oh, and Gospel is one of those genres where a live album can really work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, Crossover: Live from Music City

Top Gospel Artist

One of the acts that is present in all three Gospel categories is Anthony Brown & group therAPy, and I have no idea why it’s capitalized like that, nor is information on said capitalization available easily to someone just encountering it. Maybe if I were more of a Gospel-head I’d know something. I guess it’ll remain a mystery.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene

Top Christian Song

True story: I did used to like Lecrae. I mean, I still like the stuff that I used to like, but it was awhile ago, and I haven’t checked back in with him in awhile. This new stuff seems fine. I can dig it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lecrae, “I’ll Find You” (f Tori Kelly)

Top Christian Album

One of these is an Alan Jackson album, and I still don’t like Alan Jackson.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not Alan Jackson, whatever else is fine I guess. I have no opinion here, this is all pretty awful.

Top Christian Artist

Another true story: Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Worship are two different outfits from two different megachurches called Hillsong on two different continents (a third megachurch band, Elevation Worship, is also in the offing). Whatever else is happening in the nightmare hellscape that we call this world, it took two different Hillsongs to get us there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: uh…MercyMe I guess? But I’m not happy about this, either.

Top Dance/Electronic Song

Kygo from the Rio Olympics is still around, guys! Here he is! I don’t exactly hate this Zedd song, although I think I’ve had it foisted upon me in public too often to really enjoy it. It’s still the best option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zedd, “Stay” (f Alessia Cara)

Top Dance/Electronic Album

Avicii died, and that is sad, because he was very young. Since I don’t like any of this, I feel it’s fitting to call this category a memorial for Avicii.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Avicii, Avīci (01)

Top Dance/Electronic Artist

I mean, it would be more fair to give this one to Avicii, but what do I know. The answer to that question is: I know that everywhere I look, Marshmello is there. So I guess it’s him. He’s worn me down. I do like his headpiece.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marshmello

Top Latin Song

I like the Bad Bunny part of “Mejores,” but I like all of “Mi Gente”. So that made this very easy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin and Willy William, “Mi Gente” (f. Beyonce)

Top Latin Album

Some albums have an accretive power that gets you into the album as it flows from one moment to the next. Those albums are not any of these albums. I only ever listen to “Latin” music 6 when I’m researching one of these things, but I’m starting to get the idea that it might not be an “albums” genre, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christian Nodal, Me Deje Llevar. I like mariachi.

Top Latin Artist

Bachata, a genre that I have discovered only recently, is a kind of Dominican country-blues, but not like that at all. It has some sameyness problems, but for the most part is better than the other genres here represented, and it’s therefore easier for me to like Romeo Santos, the practitioner of Bachata in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Romeo Santos

Top Rock Tour

The best of the old farts that still sell enormous amount of tickets on tour is a tough call to make. Rock music, as a touring economy at a small scale, is the healthiest it’s been within my lifetime. It’s easier – as it has been for a long time now – for bands to have fans anywhere they go, and play shows that are well-attended and profitable, provided the band has some kind of head on their shoulders. But only one of them would have even possibly found me in attendance, and that’s U2 7. So I guess they’re the winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: U2

Top Rock Song

I have, in the past, had nice things to say about Portugal, the Man. I may even still, but the sight of the animated Peter Rabbit bouncing around to the chorus of “Feel it Still” haunts my nightmares. It still isn’t as bad as Imagine Dragons. The Revivalists are  a pleasing-enough (if slight) old-style outfit that I don’t mind. I could try fainter praise, but not without expending more effort on it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You”

Top Rock Album

Oh also Portugal, the Man’s album is called Woodstock, and that annoys me, although I couldn’t tell you why. Chart-rock just doesn’t do it for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I mean, it’s still mostly Woodstock, I’m just mad about the name.

Top Rock Artist

This is another one where there’s a surge of sales because of someone’s death, in this case Tom Petty’s. I suppose that’s nice for the estate and family of Tom Petty, as well as for whatever it brings in for the surviving Heartbreakers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Top Country Tour

I think the real winner he is not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

Top Country Song

The recent ACM awards showed that Country is finally heading out of its years-long bro-country wilderness, and that’s great, but the signs of its forward progress have not gone as far as the top of the Billboard charts yet, so this category is still full of execrable music.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dustin Lynch is ok, I guess. “Small Town Boy” is the least-execrable song here.

Top Country Album

If you read the ACM awards, you saw this category in a basically-identical form. It was Chris Stapleton then, it’s Chris Stapleton now.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, Songs From a Room, Vol. 1

Top Country Duo/Group Artist

Once again, country music is the only category (other than the “general” or “overall” awards, see below) to have a duo/group category in addition to the individual categories. I do not know why this is. I do not know what this means.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Zac Brown Band

Top Country Female Artist

On the one hand, I do appreciate that Kelsey Ballerini is forthright and upfront about the fact that she is a pop singer who performs in a country idiom. It hadn’t really been a done thing 8, so it’s refreshing. It doesn’t make her music any better, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maren Morris

Top Country Male Artist

I think we all know where this is going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton

Top Country Artist

None of these people are the top of anything, and I’m going to set the whole thing on fire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The flames of righteous indignation

Top Rap Tour

Once again, the only one of these people I would go see is Kendrick.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Rap Song

Bodak Yellow” was a #1 hit, which is unlikely enough, and it ushered in the delightful public career of Cardi B., which is great, but it isn’t, y’know, actually that good a song. Not really. I mean, it’s fun and all. This is my stance, I guess.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Rap Album

Migos are here for Culture, not the far-inferior Culture 2, which may come up next year, since it did still sell like hotcakes, and Culture is genuinely great, but, for probably the last time in this space, I must say that it is less-great than DAMN. I mean, DAMN. won a Pulitzer. How would it win a Pulitzer and not a Billboard award, you know?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Rap Female Artist

Look, I know that it’s A Thing to decry that Bhad Bhabie has parlayed what should have been a single annoying appearance on a talk show into a “career” as a “rapper.” I know that it’s also A Thing to point out that, such as it is, she’s not a terrible rapper. Both of those things are true. Furthermore, since the Billboard awards is about sales, and not about the Whole Moral Point of it All, it can be excused that she’s here – she wasn’t specifically chosen. She was, in any way that matters, nonspecifically chosen. And I’m not some stick in the mud about all this: Cardi B came from a reality show, which isn’t much better, and she’s just fine. What I’m saying is, we are concerned, to an admittedly-amorphous standard, with what’s “rightful” here, and is there anyone among you who can say, genuinely, that Bhad Bhabie deserves to rightfully be in this position? Because I do not always know what “Rightful” is, but I know that this isn’t. And any of you who disagree are, of course, welcome to catch me outside. How about that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj

Top Rap Male Artist

Oh, and fuck Post Malone, also.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Rap Artist

It’s obviously going to be Kendrick, but I feel I should also say: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top R&B Tour

Aw, Lionel Richie. What a thing there. Suppose we can chalk that one up to anticipation about American Idol or something? Since he hasn’t toured since the show started or whatever. I dont’ know. I can’t find myself in the headspace of someone who would go see Lionel Richie live. Ew.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Weeknd

Top R&B Song

There are, in fact, two Bruno Mars songs in this category. That seems excessive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid, “Young Dumb and Broke”

Top R&B Album

SZA famously doesn’t think Ctrl is very good. She is, literally, the only person that thinks this. She is a silly goose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, Ctrl

Top R&B Female Artist

Any of these folks would be fine winners and all that, but I think SZA really did have the best year, all things considered.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA

Top R&B Male Artist

I still like The Weeknd pretty well, and I liked Starboy a lot, but Khalid is really growing on me in a way that I did not expect, so I feel like it should be him, even though I wouldn’t be too put out either way.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid

Top R&B Artist

I do, however, have no trouble deciding between Khalid and SZA.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA

Top Touring Artist

Adding Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran to the list does not make this any more difficult, or any more interesting, or change my answer in any way whatsoever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: U2

Top Collaboration

God help me, I do not mind “Havana” as a song, and it is weird and gratifying that Young Thug is a full-on pop star.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camila Cabella, “Havana” (f Young Thug)

Top Streaming Song (Video)

On the one hand, there are probably several perfectly good reasons why Cardi B’s video is here, but some of them are more obvious than others. On the other hand, it is actually a pretty cool video, as far as all that goes. However, since it’s probably the last time I’ll get to declare it so, “The Shape of You” remains the only video on this list in which Ed Sheeran gets punched, so it’s a great video.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ed Sheeran, “The Shape of You”

Top Streaming Song (Audio)

I’ll be sad next year, when, in all likelihood, nothing as good as “Humble” will be noinated for every award all year. Sigh. Oh, additionally, so that it doesn’t go unsaid: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Streaming Artist

I don’t want to give you guys the wrong impression here. I mean, it’s true that I have very little use for the whole entire crop of face-tatted mumble-rappers 9, but I do mean: fuck Post Malone in particular.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Radio Song

Is this really what’s played on the radio? When I’m hearing the radio – which is largely at the gym or whatever – it seems like it’s a lot more lady-heavy. There are no women here. This is weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”

Top Radio Songs Artist

The name of this category is super-unwieldy! But this category does have a woman in it. And while it’s not true that she won because she is a woman, it is also true that…well, this whole category bites the big one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Halsey

Top Selling Song

The people that spend their money on pop music have spoken, and they would like you to know that they quite like Imagine Dragons. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Uh….pass.

Top Selling Album

It’s easy enough to look up sales figures and know how to be right about this, but I want, just for a few more days, to live in a world I can declare it rightful that DAMN. outsold [cosecant] or whatever the fuck Ed Sheeran’s bullshit album is called 10, reputation, which is uncapitalized and unlistenable.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Song Sales Artist

While we’re on the subject: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Hot 100 Song

Presumably this is “the song that sold the most or whatever out of all of the songs on the Hot 100,” which I’m sure is more complicated than I think, but also is dumb when you’ve already got so many other distinctions in play. This is why these are all so short: there are TOO MANY CATEGORIES. Also, fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Hot 100 Artist

This year is so abysmal for the artists in most of these categories that I’m basically one step away from just opening a goddamn Church of Kendrick. Fuck Post Malone for real, tho.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Billboard 200 Album

So the Billboard 200 is the totality of all things considered in the streaming/sales divide, rather than just one or the other as in previous categories, which means that…honestly, it means it’s going to be the same person in all three places, because that’s probably how things work. Once again, I could look up the numbers to corroborate this, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Billboard 200 Artist

I don’t know what deity intervened to make it so that only difference between this category and the last was the substitution of Chris Stapleton for Post Malone, but I’m (obviously) very happy about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Duo/Group

Hey look! It’s a category that I can’t just give over to Kendrick Lamar and be done with by definition! He’s not a duo OR a group! Huzzah!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos

Top Female Artist

Seriously, though. This is an indictment of the public: none of these women, except Taylor Swift, appear very often in these awards. And maybe they should. Apparently we’re in a “nobody listens to music made by women” phase of the world. That’s terrible. We should stop doing that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Top Male Artist

For the last time in this piece, and with as much gusto as I can muster: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top New Artist

I like Cardi B more than Khalid in the main, although I probably listen to Khalid’s music more. I suppose I am part of the “not listening to music made by women” problem in this one regard. Ah, my own petard. There it is. Hoisting me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid

Top Artist

I bet it would be really funny if I got all the way down here and then gave it to Post Malone, but no. He’s not even up for it. Once again, I choose to take this as a sign that there is tonnes of justice in the world, and we just haven’t seen it all meted out yet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, of course.


  1.  Sort of like the WGA awards or whatever 
  2.  there’s also the problem of it happening – and this is the second year in a row now – the same weekend as the Nebulas, which is why this is going up a week early. Last year I pushed the Nebulas up, but why should I respect the Billboard awards time slot? Those dudes suck. 
  3.   who, for whatever else, seems to really be taking this pivot into the world of television quite seriously. 
  4.  I mean, it’s an ineluctably Disney-ish version 
  5.  actually, all faith-based categories, I don’t really listen to any of it 
  6.  as defined by the people that make categories at awards shows 
  7.  they were touring behind The Joshua Tree, which is fine, and I only considered it for long enough to realize that I did not want to pay the price of a plane ticket to go to a football stadium to listen to a band play half a mile away while I watched them on a screen. Admittedly, the large-scale rock-star thing pretty much misses me entirely. 
  8.  remember that Taylor Swift “switched” and made some sort of kabuki of abandoning country music for pop, despite having straddled both charts, and didn’t acknowledge her pop background prior to that fact. 
  9.   who’d’ve thought that I would someday pine for a world in which they were only as bad as Lil Yachty. Ah, simpler times. 
  10.  True story: I’m looking right at the title, and I hate it so much that I still won’t type it here. 

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