It was certainly an effective way to promote the Billboard Music Awards: Last week, host and executive producer Sean “Diddy” Combs declared he was “un-canceling the canceled” and ensured that country singer Morgan Wallen and rapper Travis Scott would perform at the show on NBC on Sunday night.
Scott is the subject of lawsuits after a crowd surge at his Astroworld Festival in Houston killed 10 concertgoers and injured hundreds more in November; he recently launched a charity initiative that involves plans to fund an event safety task force. He has started promoting a new album, and although he was removed from the Coachella lineup, he is playing concerts again.
During an interview with Billboard published several days before the award show, a reporter asked Combs why it was important to him that Wallen and Scott perform. “The mood of the show is about love and forgiveness. As a musical family, none of us are saints; none of us are without things that happen to them in life,” he said. “So one of the things I’m doing directly is un-canceling the canceled. That’s breaking news because people haven’t been about un-canceling. But canceling is a trend that needs to stop.”
“Travis went through a tragedy; Morgan [used the n-word] while talking to his boy. People make mistakes,” Combs added. “Now we’re moving on with love and respect for everybody that was hurt or affected. It’s time to forgive. To have Morgan and Travis be able to come back and touch the stage again with the mind-set of getting a second chance at life.” Combs made similar comments in an interview with Revolt Black News (he’s a co-founder of the Revolt TV network) and stated on Instagram that he made both a “request” and “demand” to NBC that Scott in particular be allowed to perform.
On Sunday, Wallen and Scott were given their moments in the spotlight. Wallen showed up about halfway through the show on a platform in the middle of the audience and sang “Don’t Think Jesus” as well as “Wasted On You.” Later, he received the trophy for top country male artist. “Thank you to my mama for being my date tonight,” he said, as the camera panned to his mother in the crowd. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
Scott did not win any awards, though he also performed two songs: “Mafia” and “Lost Forever,” with an elaborate set and backup dancers dressed in fur, before the backdrop faded to black and all sorts of special effects took over on the screen. The rapper’s family was a focal point, as well: He arrived with reality star Kylie Jenner and their 4-year-old daughter, Stormi.
At the top of the show, Combs didn’t address either singer but alluded to the “un-canceling” theme by talking about second chances.
“Tonight is special, though, very, very special, because we all got a second chance at life,” Combs said. “That’s the message I really came here to bring y’all. … I think that now, because the world is open, sometimes we take things for granted. And so tonight we’re going to celebrate like we got a second chance at life up in here, and we’re going to celebrate a chance to be able to do it better and do it bigger and celebrate each other.”