Just hours before ringing in her 30th birthday, Taylor Swift gave the awards show equivalent of the freedom-fighting Braveheart speech, passionately calling for less “toxic male privilege” in the music industry.
The energy and anticipation inside L.A.’s The Palladium was palpable as Swift took the stage —soundtracked by her own feminist anthem “The Man,” naturally — at Thursday night’s (December 12) Billboard Women in Music Awards. And, impressively, she held the crowd’s attention as she launched into a 14-minute acceptance speech for the first-ever Woman of the Decade Award. During it, she detailed the sexism she’s faced as a female artist, and then bluntly called out Scooter Braun, who she’s been feuding with over the past few months over the rights to her master recordings.
Swift recalled learning that her masters had been sold “without [her] approval, consultation, or consent,” and revealed, “Scooter never contacted me or my team to discuss it prior to the sale or even when it was announced. I’m fairly certain he knew exactly how I would feel about it, though.
“Let me just say that the definition of the toxic male privilege in our industry is people saying, ‘But he’s always been nice to me,’ when I’m raising valid concerns about artists and their rights to own their music,” she continued. “And of course he’s nice to you. If you’re in this room, you have something he needs.” (Cue some audible gasps from the crowd of industry players.)
“The fact is that private equity is what enabled this man to think, according to his own social media posts, that he could ‘buy me,'” Swift said. “But I’m obviously not going willingly.”
Swift’s speech wasn’t all doom, gloom, and shade, though — she also praised the people who have stuck up for her and who have defended artists’ rights to control their work.
“Yet the most amazing thing to discover was that it would be the women in this industry who would have my back, and show me the most vocal support at one of the most difficult times,” she shared. “And I will never, ever forget it. Like, ever.”
The Lover singer then rattled off a long list of up-and-coming artists who she thinks are pushing pop forward, despite being held to an “impossible standard” as women. Among them: Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Halsey, Normani, H.E.R., Becky G, King Princess, and Tayla Parx. She even praised Lana Del Rey as “the most influential artist in pop.”
Swift’s speech was the first one of the night, and it was a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, the rest of the evening’s honorees — including Eilish, Nicki Minaj, and Megan Thee Stallion — shined in their own ways. Here are the highlights.
Nicki Minaj beautifully paid tribute to Juice WRLD.
Despite earning the first-ever Game Changer Award, Minaj didn’t want her speech to be all about her. As she noted, “It doesn’t feel comfortable to talk about me when someone so important to our culture died.” The Queen MC then told a sweet story about Juice WRLD, who died last week at the age of 21. Recalling a night on tour together, she shared, “He held my hand and told me to stay calm and pray. I was shocked that he told me that, but right there in that moment, I did feel calm and wondered, ‘What am I actually worried about?'” She went on to call the late rapper a “kindred spirit,” and then called for more empathy for people who may be struggling from addiction or mental health issues.
Rosalía stunned the room with an a cappella performance.
After a sweet introduction from Lauren Jauregui — who noted that Rosalía’s “star power is rising so fast, it’s cosmic” — the Spanish singer took the stage for a transfixing medley of “Catalina” and “Di Mi Nombre.” She went completely a cappella, backed only by a few singers who contributed the occasional backing vocals and handclaps. She followed it up with an equally charismatic speech in which she vowed to “never stop until I see the same number of women as men in the studio.”
Kiyoko received the Rising Star award at last year’s ceremony, and she admitted that she was “just a hot sobbing mess” that night. “But this year, I am contractually obligated to keep it together,” she quipped. She certainly did just that, setting the tone for today’s female artists, whom she noted are “bolder, braver, and more exciting” than ever before.
Megan Thee Stallion had a post-finals party onstage.
While accepting the Powerhouse Award, the “Hot Girl Summer” rapper revealed that she was late to the show because she was taking a finals exam. Meg kept it short and sweet, promising, “I really like to grind. I really like to work. I’m just getting started. Y’all gonna see where I take it.” She later returned to the stage to close the show with “Cash Shit,” and we have to imagine DaBaby was smiling somewhere.
The Impact Award recipient encouraged the crowd to bask in “the genuine, real energy” of getting together to “celebrate each other’s badassness.” “You’re a little tight,” she joked to the room, before launching into a speech touting her own She Is the Music, a non-profit dedicated to giving women more opportunities in the music industry.
Rogers recalled how Carlile once “took [her] under her wing and brought out the best in [her],” and the Trailblazer Award recipient returned the love during her funny, heartfelt speech. “Your feminism and your artistry have inspired me to no end,” Carlile told the Grammy Best New Artist nominee. “You are absolutely one of my favorite new artists out there.”
The ’90s rock veteran used her Icon Award speech to admit that fame is an “isolating” experience and that she often found it hard to be vulnerable as a performer. “I just want to salute the women who go to work who are sensitive and terrified, and still go,” she said. Notably, she also capped her time onstage with a cheeky shoutout: “Thank you, patriarchy, for crumbling and falling.”
Billie Eilish thanked Swift and other women in the industry for taking care of her.
The 17-year-old must have known that the crowd was getting slightly restless after an almost three-hour show, because she joked about some of the evening’s earlier “long as fuck” speeches and vowed to keep hers short. But she made her time onstage count, accepting the Woman of the Year award by shouting out Ariana Grande’s “touching” acceptance speech from last year. She also quoted Swift’s speech from earlier in the evening, in which the 30-year-old noted the importance of taking care of budding young artists. “You took care of me,” Eilish said with a smile. And the ripple effect of women supporting women continues!