Next, Usher, Garth Win Big At 1998 Billboard Music Awards

R & B trio Next were the big winners at the 1998 Billboard Music Awards, presented last night at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, taking home no less than 8 awards -- including New Artist of the Year, R & B Group of the Year and Hot 100 Single of the Year for "Too Close."

Usher was also feted at last night's event, being named the Artist of the Year and picking up a pair of other awards, for R & B Artist of the Year and Hot 100 Singles Artist of the Year. Other notable hip-hop names who were honored included Lauryn Hill, whose "Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" won R&B Album of the Year, and Jay-Z for R & B Albums Artist of the Year.

Puffy's rapping protégé, Mase, received a nod for Rap Artist of the Year, while Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's Steely Dan-influenced track, "Déjà Vu," was named Rap Single of the Year. Mariah Carey, who has just released a new compilation album entitled "#1's," was honored with a special award for having the most

number one songs ever from a female solo artist.

Aside from Next, numerically speaking the Billboard show was dominated by such country acts as Garth Brooks, who received six awards, as did French siren Celine Dion. Leann Rimes was next in line, taking five trips to the podium to accept statuettes in several Country and Contemporary Christian categories.

Rock and pop artists winning at the ceremony included Everclear for Modern Rock Artist of the Year, Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy" was named Modern Rock Track of the Year and Natalie Imbruglia's Torn won Adult Top 40 Track of the Year. Rounding out the awards were the Backstreet Boys, whose 1997 self-titled debut was selected Group Album of the Year, while Creed was named Rock Artist of the Year, and youthful bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd bagged two awards, including Rock Track of the Year for "Blue on Black."

Hosted by comedian Kathy Griffin and actor Andy Dick, highlights from the show included music performances by

Lauryn Hill, the Backstreet Boys, Hole, 'N Sync and Semisonic, who ended the show with its appropriately-themed single, "Closing Time."

In the media room, Courtney Love told the press that she was excited about meeting Garth Brooks, since he's director Milos Forman's favorite artist. Forman having directed Love in "The People vs. Larry Flynt," as well as the upcoming Andy Kaufman biopic, "Man on the Moon."