After debuting her new “Commander in Chief” song earlier in the day, Demi Lovato delivered an emotive version of the protest song Wednesday night on the Billboard Music Awards telecast — a powerful anti-Trump message for NBC to be putting on the air, especially the night before the network is to host a controversial town hall with the president.
But after the telecast aired, it seemed to be stirring more controversy among the left than the right, surprisingly, as a result of a TMZ report about edits made to the performance by the network. The website published what it said was the original edit of Lovato’s performance, in which a large electronic backdrop was to have lit up at the end, revealing the word “VOTE” in huge white letters. This was not the version seen on the telecast, which had Lovato’s performance ending with an awkward closeup of the singer looking down, and no sign of the “VOTE” visual.
A source confirms to Variety that NBC did step in to remove the “VOTE” visual from Lovato’s performance after the initial edit.
TMZ’s story claimed: “Sources say the network pulled the plug on the ‘VOTE’ message because the song itself was a slam on Trump and the ‘VOTE’ message was a call to vote against him.”
If the idea was to keep the “VOTE” signage from being seen, the message may not have gotten to NBC’s social media team. Before the show ended, NBC Entertainment’s account tweeted out a photo in which the “VOTE” backdrop was by far the dominant part of the image, even though it was never seen on the airwaves. Lovato retweeted NBC’s image without comment.
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) October 15, 2020
Variety has reached out to NBC, Dick Clark Productions and Lovato’s reps for comment.
Any developing controversy over the network’s move to nix the “VOTE” image lands on top of heat NBC was already taking from the left. Earlier Wednesday, some Democrats were pushing a #boycottNBC hashtag as a result of the network scheduling a town hall with Donald Trump on Thursday night as direct competition to a similar town hall ABC already had scheduled with opponent Joe Biden. Some Biden partisans additionally pointed out that NBC was the network that gave Trump his biggest platform with “The Apprentice.” Trump and Biden had been slated to directly face off Thursday night before the president said he would not participate in a virtual debate, leading to Biden and then Trump booking separate town halls with the respective networks.
Some of the performances on the Billboard Awards telecast were live and some were pre-recorded. Lovato’s obviously fell into the latter camp, with TMZ able to obtain and publish an edit that had her original vision for the finale intact.
The telecast was not without other calls to vote, although most were made during live acceptance speeches by Billie Eilish, Lizzo and other stars. Lizzo also wore a dress emblazoned with a “vote” message, suggesting that the network was okay with a general vote message as long as it wasn’t directly associated with or against a specific candidate.
Boldest was Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who wore a glitzy “Biden/Harris” shirt — partly obscured by her jacket — as she introduced an honorary award for Atlanta native Killer Mike.
Still open to question is why the network would sign off on as controversial a song as Lovato’s in the first place, then get skittish over the “vote” message, arguably by far its least controversial aspect. Some have wondered if Lovato might have been originally booked to sing a less polarizing track, like “OK Not to Be OK,” which came out a month ago, before switching to the newer and more urgent song.
Among the lyrics of Lovato’s ballad: “We’re in a state of crisis, people are dyin’ / While you line your pockets deep / Commander in Chief, how does it feel / To still ber able to breathe? / … We were taught when we were young / If we fight for what’s right, there won’t be justice for just some / Won’t give up, stand our ground / We’ll be in the streets while you’re bunkering down / Loud and proud, best believe / We’ll still take a knee while you’re Commander in Chief.”