Lorde, Justin Timberlake early winners at Billboard Music Awards

Singer Lorde accepts the top new artist award onstage at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Lorde accepts the top new artist award onstage at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Justin Timberlake, New Zealand singer Lorde and hometown alternative rock group Imagine Dragons were the early winners at the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday in Las Vegas, while a computer-generated Michael Jackson danced and sang a new song.

The annual awards show, a key showcase event for the music industry, honoured Timberlake with the top Billboard 200 album for last year's The 20/20 Experience, the highest prize for an album at the show.

The 33-year-old pop singer, who is on tour in Europe and not in attendance, accepted the award in a taped speech with his touring band, leading them in a gospel and blues-tinged song of Thank You.

But the top moment of the show so far was a performance of Slave To The Rhythm by late pop star Michael Jackson, whose likeness and dancing was rendered by a computer-generated imaging, prompting an emotional standing ovation from the crowd.

Seventeen-year-old pop sensation Lorde, dressed all in black with black feather fringes, captured the award for top new artist and top rock song for the hit Royals, which already landed her two Grammy Awards earlier this year.

The teen, who has also won fans with her thoughtfulness and defiance towards traditional standards of Hollywood beauty, said she was grateful to be able to mature in the spotlight and for the "dialogue around my work and myself."

Imagine Dragons, who also performed their song Tiptoe, won for top rock album while country singer Luke Bryan won for top country artist.

The Billboard Music Awards - which measures honours by sales, radio airplay, touring, streaming and other metrics - is a top venue for artists to unveil new songs in time for the summer.

The show's first hour featured eight performances, including from pop stars Katy Perry, Shakira, country duo Florida Georgia Line with country singer Luke Bryan, and Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea.

Rapper Pitbull kicked off the show alongside Jennifer Lopez and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte from the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a performance of We Are One (Ole Ola), the theme to next month's football World Cup in Brazil.

Lorde and Imagine Dragons are finalists in a leading 12 categories. Bruno Mars and Timberlake will go up against Imagine Dragons, Miley Cyrus and Perry for the top artist prize. Beyonce, Timberlake, Bryan and rappers Eminem and Drake are all finalists for album of the year.

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