SZA, Janelle Monae honored at “Billboard”'s Women In Music event; Alicia Keys announces new initiative

(Janelle Monae; Tierra Whack) Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for BillboardSZA and Janelle Monae were honored Thursday night in New York City at Billboard‘s annual Women in Music Awards, while Alicia Keys announced a new way for women in the music business to make boss moves.

Rapper Tierra Whack presented Janelle Monae with the Trailblazer Award. The singer and actress told the crowd, “Being a trailblazer is about diving into spaces unseen and undiscovered. For me, that meant uncovering aspects of who I am in order to make spaces for others.” She then shared that being open about her sexuality on her acclaimed album Dirty Computer inspired a young female fan to do the same.

“She told me she had come out to her grandmother and her mother, because of the album,” said Janelle. “And I think moments like those, they remind you, no matter what’s going on in your life, how bad you’re feeling — that by us walking in our truths, it can sometimes give the next person courage to walk in theirs.”

Anderson.Paak, one of the few men to appear onstage Thursday night, presented SZA, who he toured with in the past, with the Rule Breaker Award. She told the crowd, “I guess when I was younger, I pictured a rule-breaker to be somebody who, like…has no fear, walking away from large explosions or whatever.”

As the crowd laughed, she added, “But as long as you end up here, this is the explosion, so it doesn’t matter how you feel on the way…I just want to thank everyone for having patience to watch someone grow.”

Patti LaBelle made a special appearance to present the Woman of the Year award to Ariana Grande, about whom she said, “I have shoes older than her — and taller than her — but she is a giant talent.”

A glamorous Alicia Keys was also on hand to announce a new initiative, She Is the Music. It’ll work to help women in the music biz discover and connect with one another, starting with the establishment of a database of every woman in the industry, including executives, songwriters, producers and engineers.

“If you’re a woman in music, you need to be a part of this,” Alicia told the crowd. “We can find each other, and we can hire each other.”

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