“Thank you so much. Billboard Woman of the Year for the second time is kind of an early birthday present.” That’s what Taylor Swift told the crowd in New York City Friday afternoon at the publication’s annual Women in Music gala, which took place the day before her 25th birthday. And she got a pretty amazing extra present as well: fellow honoree Aretha Franklin sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Her reaction? She tweeted, “It will take me decades to recover.”
Taylor also spoke about the importance of encouraging and supporting girls’ interests in the arts, noting, “Somewhere right now, your future Woman of the Year is sitting at a piano lesson & we need to take care of her.”
Taylor’s friend Ingrid Michaelson was on hand to perform a tribute to her, performing “Clean,” a song from Taylor’s new album 1989. Another of Taylor’s friends, Colbie Caillat, who won the Rising Star award at the same event five years ago, told ABC News Radio on the red carpet why Taylor deserved to win the top honor two times in three years.
“She works so hard and she’s so talented. And y’know, not only the music she creates, but the business side of it, she really knows what she’s doing and she’s leading the way for so many women and artists in general, so she deserves it,” Colbie said.
Paramore‘s Hayley Williams, whose band scored their first top 10 hit this year with “Ain’t It Fun,” was given the Trailblazer Award, and told the crowd, “It’s an amazing and powerful thing to be celebrated for who you are. There are a lot of girls who never feel that way, and I want to spend my life making them seen and heard.”
Hayley is also a friend of fellow nominee Taylor Swift’s, and on the red carpet, she told ABC News Radio, “It’s very cool and very exciting for me to watch: the way that she’s carrying herself and the confidence she exudes on stage, it’s a whole new Taylor. I mean, it’s still Taylor….[but] it’s so genuine, her growth, it’s so exciting to watch, and she completely deserves this.”
“I just can’t imagine the pride that her mom must have,” adds Hayley. “I think I would explode!”
Charli XCX was given the Hitmaker Award at the event, and the outspoken British singer told the crowd, “It’s really cool to be at a music industry event where over half the people in the room have vaginas.”
On the red carpet beforehand, Charli told ABC News Radio, “It’s amazing to be here with such incredible women in the room and I think it’s amazing that Billboard takes time to honor females. And to receive an award for something I’m doing behind the scenes as a songwriter, that’s really incredible.”
One of the songs Charli co-wrote, of course, was “Fancy,” the smash hit by Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who received the Charttopper Award at the event. She told the crowd that she never could have imagined her current success, noting, “I thought I was going to get this massive record deal, and then I didn’t. And I thought my life and career was over — no one would return my phone calls.”
Ariana Grande was honored with the Billboard Rising Star Award, and told the crowd, “I want to thank my mama for teaching me to work hard, and that behind every successful woman is herself.” On the red carpet, her brother, reality TV star Frankie Grande, told ABC News Radio why his sister was deserving of the award.
“Because she has worked very hard against a lot of push back in the music industry,” he said. “They didn’t believe that she would make it to this level…but she said, ‘No, no no. I want to sing this way. I want real instruments on my music.’ And she had to stand up for herself. And that’s why her being here and being honored is so full circle for her, because she stuck to her guns and now it’s paying off.”
The event’s other honorees included Idina Menzel, the Breakthrough Artist of the Year, who told the crowd, “I was given this amazing song ['Let It Go'] at such a crossroads in my life. Thank you for noticing me…I finally had my breakthrough!” Asked on the red carpet what the award meant to her, she told reporters, “It’s hard for me to put into words. I’ve been wanting something like this my whole career.”
Jessie J was given the Powerhouse award, and she noted that it was her “first-ever” U.S. award. Referring to the success of her hit “Bang Bang” and her album Sweet Talker, Jessie said, “I never thought I would have this moment in America. This is one of the most incredible moments of my career so far. And thank you for listening to me sing. It’s all I want to do.”
Everyone woman in the room, though, owed a debt to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who received the Icon Award. Among her achievements this year was becoming the first woman to score 100 hits on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Asked what the award, and the event, means to her, the music legend, sporting blonde hair, told ABC News Radio on the red carpet, “It’s wonderful. It’s a first, as they said, and I’m an avid reader of Billboard and have been for many years now, checking my records and other records.”
“I don’t get a chance to come to New York that often, so it’s really nice to be with other [music] industry people and spend some time with them,” she added, and named “Bang Bang” and “Shake It Off” as two of her current favorite hits.
One surprise on the Billboard Women in Music red carpet: the appearance of Beyonce, whose manager was being honored at the event.
— billboard (@billboard) December 12, 2014
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio