The 2021 iHeart Radio Music Awards promised from the beginning to be big. In front of a live audience for the first time in a year for some, artists were thrilled to return to the stage and celebrate a year of music that helped sustain a troubled world. Among those recognized were the Weeknd, Elton John, Taylor Swift, and more. 90’s hip-hop sensation Usher Raymond IV hosted, proving he’s just as relevant and beloved as ever. CELEB watched to bring you some of the highlights from the celebratory show that captured the majesty of the golden era of Hollywood. 

Big Winners

iHeart Radio Elton John

After a big snub at the Grammys, the Weeknd entered the night the favorite with the top nods at 8. But who won the biggest? Here are some of the biggest categories with their winners:

  • Male artist of the year: despite being up against four huge competitors in Roddy Ricch, Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, and Post Malone, the Weeknd won this category and accepted it with an acknowledgement for the joy of being in front of a live audience again. 
  • Hip-Hop artist of the year: Roddy Ricch won this category at only 22 years of age, beating out Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Lil Baby, and Pop Smoke
  • Alternative rock song of the year: although Machine Gun Kelly‘s alternative debut met with critical acclaim he, AJR, Billie Eilish, and All Time Low (ft. Blackbear) were beaten in this category by twenty one pilots‘ “Level of concern.” Twenty one pilots also won Alternative rock artist of the year. 
  • Best new artist awards: presented in rapid-fire sequence, Gabby Barrett won for country, Powfu won for alternative, Rauw Alejandro won for Latin artist, Roddy Ricch won for hip-hop, Snoh Aalegra won for R&B, and Doja Cat won for pop. 
  • Female artist of the year: Dua Lipa took this award for her mid-pandemic album. Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion and Taylor Swift were also nominated. Lipa accepted the award remotely, as did Taylor Swift who won Pop Album of the year. 
  • Song of the year: after a tumultuous year including being snubbed for Grammy nominations, the Weeknd came away with the biggest award of the night for “Blinding Lights.” 

An Ode to Elton

One of the artists given the most attention tonight was none other than Sir Elton John, one of the greatest performers in rock/pop history. John’s introduction was playfully acted out by Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, who pretended to have fought with the teleprompter writer and said he hoped the words on the screen were true. What he read off was a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of John’s life including that John was partnered with Bernie Sanders and wrote “Uptown Girl,” with a NSFW joke about John’s hit song, “Don’t let the sun go down on me,” having a raunchier title. After Martin’s well-received playful introduction, a video played that more seriously highlighted John’s career and his work for charity and support for AIDs awareness. 

Lil Nas X took the stage after the video, wearing a show-stopping oversized metallic suit and matching eyeshadow. Nas introduced H.E.R.( R&B artist of the year winner), Brandi Carlile and Demi Lovato. H.E.R. absolutely slayed a rendition of “Bennie and the Jets,” playing first piano, then guitar, with flawless vocals. Carlile took the stage next to rock “Don’t let the sun go down on me,” crooning the hit flawlessly. Then Lovato appeared on stage for the first time since revealing that their pronouns are they/them and they identify as nonbinary. Lovato performed the iconic hit “I’m still standing,” a perfect song for the struggles they have faced in the public eye recently between substance abuse issues and fighting for gender identity acceptance. 

Martin wrapped it up with a more honest ode to John, acknowledging John’s husband David Furnish and giving a nod to Lil Nas X. John took the stage in a signature blue suit with a stunning flower on his lapel, greeting the singers who honored him. John took some time to appreciate the role radio played in his life and career. Humble and grateful, John stirred the audience, before acknowledging Lil Nas X’s “balls of steel,” due to his boundary- and genre-pushing bravery. 

The Show Sounded like Relief

iHeart Radio Usher

The performances were on-point and you could almost hear the relief flowing from artists happy to be in front of a live audience again. Usher later took the stage in a silvery half-suit with matching combat boots. Usher revisited some of his best hits, seemingly stepping from the stage into a music video in different locations before returning to earth in his futuristic suit. The mega-star hasn’t lost a step, sounding and looking exactly as he did in his prime. Lil John took the stage with Usher to throw money from the hood of a car on stage as the audience lost their collective minds. 

The smiles were easy if a little sad, and the audience was energized every time an artist mentioned their presence. As the show wrapped up, the audience was on their feet giving the artists their due jubilation.