For this year’s Teen Choice Awards, young people gathered and made their voices heard in the midst of one of the more socially and politically fraught years in America in recent memory. As surfboards were handed out for “Choice Movie Actor” and “Choice Movie Hissy Fit,” a few winners and presenters took the time to address the pressing issues facing the country. From Justin Timberlake to Jessica Alba, those topics were honored and addressed as fans took notice.
When presented with the Decade Award by retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, Timberlake gave audiences an inspirational speech about the power of compassion. “As a former teen, a while ago, who’s made a few choices along the way, I’m here to tell you that you and your choices matter,” he said, explaining how his parents raised him without prejudice. “I think it’s part of the reason why, to this day, I try to live my life working most closely with, making music with, and spending so much of my time with an amazing group of people – male, female, straight, gay, every walk of life.”
In one of the more powerful (and somber) moments of the awards show, Alba was joined onstage by friends and family members of victims of gun violence. “[They] share an unlikely bond that is hard to comprehend,” she said. “They’re the brothers, sisters, daughters, and family members of recent victims of gun violence. I’m talking about Aurora, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minneapolis, Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown. It keeps happening and it has to stop. Many of those impacted by these acts of violence are teens.” Among those onstage were a brother of a Sandy Hook elementary school victim, siblings of Jason Josaphat, who died during the Orlando, Florida, shooting at a gay nightclub and Alton Sterling’s son, Cameron. And Ne-Yo also took a stand against gun violence by performing a moving rendition of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic, “What’s Going On.”
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While the majority of the audience for the Teen Choice Awards cannot vote in the 2016 presidential election, they did make their voices heard. Hosts John Cena and Victoria Justice spoofed presidential hopefuls by appearing onstage in drag versions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Ultimately, Cena’s Clinton came out on top when Keegan-Michael Key announced the winner at the end of the night.
Jason Derulo did his part to balance out the seriousness of much of the show by performing a medley of his hit songs, including “Kiss the Sky.” “It’s really just an uplifting song,” Derulo explained. “It’s about not worrying about the haters in doing what you believe in. It’s just really funky.”