There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Shawn Mendes and Khalid finished their performance of Mendes’s song “Youth” at Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards. Backing the musical duo in their Las Vegas performance was a choir of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and faculty were gunned down by 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz on February 14. Khalid wore a shirt that called for viewers to protect children not guns, and students all wore hoodies with “Youth” emblazoned across them. The performance brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation when it ended. The single was written by 19-year-old Mendes following the 2017 terror attacks in Manchester and at London Bridge. Sunday’s performance comes two days after ten people were killed by a shooter at Santa Fe High School in Texas. The single is part of the singer’s self-titled album is scheduled for release later this week.
The lyrics decry the frequent and painful news of school shootings and gun violence. None of the words directly address gun violence, but they do have a message of resilience and strength and a refusal to be defeated by difficult experiences. The performance ended with Mendes and Khalid embracing the high school students.
The musical performance wasn’t the only reference to gun violence in the award show. As reported by Mashable, host and Texan Kelly Clarkson opened the show with a “moment of action” instead of a moment of silence, saying that “we’re failing our communities.” She added that the Billboard Music Awards had asked her to pray for the people affected by Friday’s tragedy during Sunday’s broadcast and to include a moment of silence. But, she continued, moments of silence aren’t making a difference. It will take action to change things. She talked about the unimaginable pain that a parent must experience when they get the phone call that there was a shooting at their child’s school. The mother of four said parents should be able to let their children live their lives without fearing for their safety. Twitter responded immediately with words of support for Clarkson’s message and #momentofaction.