NEW YORK (AP) — It'll be hard for Taylor Swift top this as a birthday gift: A birthday serenade from none other than the Queen of Soul.
Aretha Franklin arguably had the best performance of the afternoon as the legend gave an impromptu performance of "Happy Birthday" to Taylor Swift, Billboard's new "Woman of the Year," at their annual Women in Music event on Friday. Swift swooned as Franklin sang and the pair embraced afterward and she was given a birthday cake.
Technically Swift doesn't turn 25 until Saturday but she was able to celebrate early with the honor; she was one of several women celebrated at the event, which featured some of the biggest names in music, including a surprise appearance by Beyonce.
Billboard's Women in Music awards honors the top women in the industry, from executives to artists like Franklin, who received the appropriately named "Icon" award.
Swift was named the top woman in music after her record-breaking year, in which her "1989" album debuted at No. 1 and sold more than 1 million copies — her third straight album to accomplish such a feat, setting a record. She also had chart-toppers with "Shake It Off" and "Blank Space" and recently saw the former song get nominated for record of the year at the Grammys.
Swift used her acceptance speech to underscore her decision this fall to remove all her music from the streaming site Spotify on the grounds that it doesn't equitably reimburse artists for the use of its material.
" I really believe we in the music industry can work together to find a way to bond technology with integrity and just really hope we can teach the younger generation the value of investment in music rather than the ephemeral consumption of it," Swift said.
Most of the other honorees spoke about the honor in a more personal nature. Idina Menzel, whose voice powered the "Frozen" soundtrack into the top-selling album of the year, spoke about reaching the apex of her career after some lean years, despite early success on Broadway.
"I'm 43 and I'm a breakthrough artist," she said of getting the "Breakthrough Artist of the Year" award.
Ariana Grande's brother, "Big Brother" contestant Frankie, gave his sister the "Rising Star" award in an emotional tribute.
"This is completely crazy and I'm going to try not to cry," she said as she accepted it.
Iggy Azalea did choke up when she received the "Chart Topper" award; the "Fancy" rapper thanked the women executives who pushed her career forward when she thought it was dead.
Charli XCX received the "Hitmaker" award; Jessie J was named "Powerhouse"; and Hayley Williams of Paramore was crowned "Trailblazer."
The event was star-studded; Beyonce sat in the audience to honor her general manager, one of 50 industry executives also honored; Sharon Osbourne gave a typically profane speech to honor Universal exec Michele Anthony; and Civil Wars singer Joy Williams, Colbie Caillat and Ingrid Michaelson were among those who performed.
Matt Lauer presided over a panel discussion at the end featuring all eight honorees, but by then, the event had approached three hours and more than half the audience had bolted.
But those who stayed got a treat with the Franklin performance — perhaps the highlight of the event.
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