Shawn Mendes made a powerful statement in solidarity with gun violence victims at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday (May 20). The singer-songwriter performed his new single “Youth” with another rapidly rising star, Khalid — as well as members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School choir from Parkland, Fla.
Dressed in a t-shirt that read “Protect our guns” with a slash through the word “guns” and the word “children” replaced, Khalid harmonized with Mendes, who strummed an acoustic guitar as they delivered the song’s affecting lyrics. The song thematically champions keeping one’s spirit although times are difficult and heartbreaking.
When Khalid delivered the line “I won’t let it turn into hate,” the students filed on to the sides of the stage to join along in the song, all dressed in “Youth”-logo hoodies matching the one Mendes himself wore. The audience was visibly moved, with many caught on camera wiping away tears.
Mendes’s song, which is slated for his upcoming third album, was released several weeks after a former Stoneman Douglas student killed 17 people at the school.
This was not the first moment addressing gun violence at the awards show. At the opening, host Kelly Clarkson went off script to protest the idea of a “moment of silence” for the most recent gun tragedy, the Santa Fe school shooting on May 18. She pleaded for people to take action instead of staying quiet.
The show aired live on NBC from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and was set to host a variety of A-list music stars including BTS, Jennifer Lopez, Dua Lipa, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Kesha and Salt-N-Pepa. Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran were tied for the most nominations, with 15 each.