Madonna's Prince tribute criticised at Billboard Music Awards

Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.PHOTO: AFP

LAS VEGAS (AFP/Reuters)- Madonna came under fire late on Sunday (May 22) for her tribute to Prince during the Billboard Music Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, which critics saw as too distant from the late artist himself.

Madonna took to the Las Vegas stage at the end of the evening and sang Prince's songs Nothing Compares 2 U and Purple Rain as she held the hand of surprise guest Stevie Wonder.

Despite the tangible emotion, critics said her performance was disappointing, panning it on social media. Her interpretation was full of languor and devoid of any solo guitar - a key element of Prince's repertoire - and far removed from a typical Prince performance and its unique brand of danceable funk.

Wonder was spared the criticism, with most commentators saying he had saved the performance from even worse failure. Writing on Twitter, British singer Dave Stewart of Eurythmics set the tone: "Please don't have Madonna attempt a Prince song." And shortly afterwards: "Too late."

Others who paid tribute to Prince included Wiz Khalifa, Seal and Canadian singer The Weeknd, who dedicated his first prize - for Top Hot 100 Artist - to Prince, who died last month, aged 57.

"I don't know him. But he was very close to me. And he will always be an inspiration. And, of course, helped me push the envelope forever, and every artist I hope," said the visibly emotional singer, who took home eight trophies. At his last televised appearance, Prince had given The Weeknd a prize at the American Music Awards in November.

"That was the greatest experience of my entire life," the Canadian singer said.

Another highlight was a performance by Celine Dion, who was making her return to the stage since the death of her husband Rene Angelil in January. The Quebecer, who received the Billboard Icon Award honouring her illustrious career, sang Queen's The Show Must Go On in tribute to her late husband.

Rene Angelil "will continue to watch over me from above", she said tearfully after receiving the prize from her first-born son, Rene-Charles.

Earlier, Kesha delivered an emotional rendition of Bob Dylan's classic It Ain't Me Babe in a performance that was nearly cancelled by her label in a legal dispute.

Kemosabe Records relented, saying Kesha had assured it that she would not use her time as a platform to address her failed legal bid against Sony Corp's Sony Music and producer Dr Luke. Kemosabe, founded by Dr Luke, is a unit of Sony Music. Kesha stood by her word.

With the awards based on commercial results and popularity, the evening was dominated by a string of dramatic performances rather than any suspense over the winners.

Adele won five trophies, for Top Artist, Top Female Artist, Top-selling Song, Top Billboard 200 Artist and Top Billboard 200 Album.