Unlike most of the ceremony's acts, Wallen, 29, received no introduction before he took the stage in the middle of the MGM Grand Garden Arena to give "Don't Think Jesus" — a song about a boy turning to religion following regrettable, shameful actions — its live television debut alongside a four-piece band.
Donning a white button-down, brown leather vest, blue jeans and brown loafers for the performance's entirety, Wallen thanked the audience before transitioning into "Wasted on You."
Amy Sussman/Getty Morgan Wallen
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight about the performance on the 2022 Billboard Music Awards red carpet, Wallen said "Don't Think Jesus" was inspired by his experiences over the last couple years.
"I think that kind of just speaks for my story — 10 years but especially the past couple. I feel like that song is really a big representation of a lot of things that I've been through and the attitude that I've approached it with," he told the outlet. "So, I hope that comes across."
Elsewhere in the interview, Wallen spoke about the support he's received from fellow musicians, including Eric Church and Jason Aldean, as well as Sean "Diddy" Combs, the award show's host, who has repeatedly said he wants to "uncancel" the country singer.
"Everybody tells you that they're your friends when everything's good, so it's really nice to have people who really mean that," Wallen told ET. "I have never, ever spoke to Diddy, but I would like to tell him thank you tonight, so, that means a lot."
The show, hosted by Combs at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena, marks Wallen's first awards show performance since he was caught on camera in February 2021 using the N-word.
MRC Live & Alternative, a division of MRC that produces the BBMAs and several other awards shows, said the decision to book Wallen followed a "thorough review."
"We oppose discrimination, harassment, or racism of any kind," MRC said in a statement to Billboard. "We believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect. After a thorough review and robust discussions internally and with the artist's team, in which we found a demonstrated and ongoing commitment to meaningful work and outreach, we extended an invitation to participate in this year's show."
Frazer Harrison/Getty Morgan Wallen
Be sure to check out PEOPLE's Billboard Music Awards coverage to get the latest news on music's big night.
After the video leak, Wallen had his music pulled from radio waves and his record label contract suspended. He was also deemed ineligible at both the ACM and CMT Awards in 2021. While he was also banned from participating in the Billboard Music Awards that year, he still won the awards for top country artist, top country male artist and top country album.
Wallen has since apologized on several different occasions, and he revealed to Good Morning America's Michael Strahan in July 2021 that he checked into a rehabilitation center after the incident.
"For 30 days, I spent some time out in San Diego, California, you know, just trying to figure it out ... Why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem?" he said. "Do I have a deeper issue?"
Wallen explained the situation in the controversial video, claiming that he and his friends would "say dumb stuff together" and "in our minds, it's playful. That sounds ignorant, but that's really where it came from, and it's wrong."
He added that he did not use the word frequently, and "didn't mean it in any derogatory manner at all."
Wallen has since won album of the year for Dangerous: The Double Album at April's ACM Awards.
Rich Polk/getty Morgan Wallen
At the Billboard Music Awards, the "7 Summers" singer — who is currently in the midst of a 46-city arena tour that will continue through September — is up for top country artist, top country male artist, top Billboard 200 artist and top Billboard 200 album for Dangerous: The Double Album.
Wallen took home top country male artist at the show.
"I'd like to say thank God, thank my fans. I've got the best damn fans. Thank you to my momma for being my date tonight. I wouldn't be here without you," he said. "Thank you to the Billboards for inviting me here. Thank you to my team. Thank you to my family, my friends. Thank you to my little boy for inspiring me every day. God bless you all."
— Billboard Music Awards (@BBMAs) May 16, 2022
Other performances at the show include Becky G, Ed Sheeran, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Travis Scott, Florence + the Machine, Maxwell, and Silk Sonic. More include Megan Thee Stallion, Latto, Rauw Alejandro, Machine Gun Kelly, Dan + Shay and Burna Boy, as well as this year's Icon Award recipient, Mary J. Blige.
The 2022 Billboard Music Awards are airing live from Las Vegas at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.