The two singers were honored last night at the annual gala in Hollywood along with Mary J. Blige, Camila Cabello, Kehlani, Grace VanderWaal and more.
Being named Billboard’s Woman of the Year is a lot to live up to.
Just ask Selena Gomez, who was crowned with that honor last night at the magazine’s Women In Music gala at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Hollywood.
Or maybe don’t ask, because the “Wolves” singer is way too modest to brag about her own achievements.
“I just try to do my best,” Gomez told The Hollywood Reporter shortly before she was presented with the award by Elle Fanning and her kidney donor, Francia Raisa. “I don’t know what that looks like, but I try.”
What that looks like, in part, is a 25-year-old former child star who is on the top of her game after a sometimes-rocky path in the spotlight. She has become a fierce inspiration for young girls who have found comfort in her frank talk about her battles with mental-health issues and more.
“I think women, especially today, have a stronger voice than ever,” Gomez said. “Our voices are so loud right now. I think, right now, it’s a time that women aren’t as afraid or hesitant. A lot of voices are being heard for the first time, and I think that’s so important.”
Asked if she could have ever imagined when she was growing up in Texas that she would one day be feted in such a big way by Billboard, Gomez paused and looked down. Raising her head, she cracked a small smile and said softly, “I don’t know if that little girl from Texas could ever believe that.”
Fellow honoree Kelly Clarkson, who was presented with this year’s Powerhouse Award by Kelly Rowland, is a true Selenator, a nickname adopted by Gomez fans.
“I’m a Texas girl and she’s a Texas girl, so obviously I love her,” Clarkson told THR with a big, yes, Texan laugh. “And also, I’m a fan of anybody who is unapologetically themselves and who’s honest. … It’s nice to be raw and real and honest.”
Speaking of real and honest, Rule Breaker honoree Kehlani came out as queer in August, and she couldn’t be happier. She hopes to serve as an inspiration to LGBT youth.
“I want them to know that they are the brightest, most colorful people on this planet, and people can be very scared of that, people who are not afraid to be themselves and not afraid of loving who you want to love,” she said. “Don’t let the hate discourage you. And don’t let anybody tell you that who you love can stop you from doing what you want to do in life. You can do anything. You can do absolutely anything.”
When THR caught up with Kehlani at the end of the night, she had just been introduced to Pharrell Williams, who bowed his head and placed his hands in the prayer position in praise of the “Already Won” singer. “It’s incredible because I have always looked up to this man,” she said. “He’s a cultural movement himself.”
Nearby, Solange was finishing up dinner before making a beeline for the exit, and Betty Who was snapping photos of Tori Kelly’s manicure.
Handlers for 13-year-old America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal were walking her through the crowd hoping to find her something to eat when a man tapped her on the shoulder. “Pharrell wants to say hi,” he said.
Her eyes widened as she was whisked to the “Happy” singer, who greeted her with a big hug before she complimented him on his bright orange-dyed hair.
Earlier in the evening, Breakthrough Artist winner Camila Cabello was introduced to VanderWaal on the pink carpet. “I am so, so happy to meet you,” Cabello said. “Seriously, I admire you so much. I really, really do. … You’re so incredible. I love your voice. I love your music. My sister loves you.”
VanderWaal, who was this year’s Rising Star honoree, doesn’t even turn 14 until January, but it sure looks like she’s already on her way to one day being named Billboard’s Woman of the Year.
“I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do because you’re so good now,” Cabello said to the ukulele-playing “Moonlight” singer. “You’re so amazing, and you’re so sweet!”
Taraji P. Henson, who was on hand to present the Icon Award to Mary J. Blige, said that the “No More Drama” hitmaker is one of the many female artists who have helped her “get through life.”
Henson’s list also includes Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. “It’s music that could get me through a broken heart,” the Empire star said. “It’s music that could get me through a bluesy Monday. It’s music that relates to my issues.”
“You name it,” Henson said. “Women rock.”
Usually held in New York City, this was the first year Billboard held the annual celebration in Hollywood. About 800 people sat at tables in the Ray Dolby Ballroom, which was bathed in pink and purple lighting. Pink, yellow and peach flower arrangements in gold vases accented the tables, which also featured bite-size desserts, including apple crumbles and blueberry tarts. Dinner was a mixed entree of beef and chicken, and glasses were filled with Wolfgang Puck wines and Fiji water. Before the festivities began, guests were invited to the back of the ballroom to have their pictures taken in an American Express photo booth decked out in pink fluorescent lights.