Has Bill Gates ever tried boba tea?
That was the question posed to the billionaire tech mogul and philanthropist on Tuesday night at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center by actor Simu Liu. Liu, the host of the 2022 TIME100 Gala, and an honoree on the TIME100 list himself, Liu approached Gates in front of 200-plus guests to gauge his interest in the specialty beverage after he’d finished dinner. “This is the best boba we could find in a three-block radius,” he joked, before offering him a drink. “Don’t forget to chew!”
Read more: See the Best Photos From the 2022 TIME100 Gala
It was one of the evening’s lighter moments. Returning after two years on pause, the TIME100 Gala is TIME’s annual celebration of the TIME100 list of the world’s most influential people, released this year on May 23. The Gala brought together many of the notable names on the list, from actors Zendaya, Andrew Garfield, and Amanda Seyfried to directors Taika Waititi and Quinta Brunson, activists including Brazil’s Sonia Guajajara and India’s Karuna Nundy, and scientists like the sequencers on the Human Genome Project and the brain behind the James Webb Space Telescope, Gregory Robinson. Perhaps the most notable moment: a ten-minute recorded video address from President Volodymyr Zelensky, who shared his thoughts on everything from the duties of fellow influential people to the duress of his country, comparing the current war to COVID-19 and calling it “COVID-22.”
TIME CEO and editor in chief Edward Felsenthal had set the tone earlier in the night, reminding the audience that the Gala wasn’t just a party, but also an opportunity. “Tonight is about honoring superheroes: superheroes across every field. Artists and athletes, icons and innovators, leaders of companies, countries, and movements. People who are blasting through closed doors and holding them open for others,” he said. “The TIME100 is a list of individuals, but true influence comes from how we as individuals stir our fellow humans to action.”
Read more: How We Chose the 2022 TIME100
Country star Miranda Lambert kicked off the event with a two-song set. And the night provided a unique chance for leaders across industries to mingle and hear from one another. Early in the evening, Salesforce co-CEO and TIME co-owner Marc Benioff helped honor former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the subject of a new TIME Studios documentary on the effects of gun violence, her advocacy, and her road to recovery after an assassination attempt in 2011. He noted she was also celebrating her birthday, and led the room in singing a heartfelt “Happy Birthday” to a smiling Giffords, who seemed genuinely touched.
Ariana DeBose, the triple-threat Oscar winner, shared an eloquent toast to the LGBTQIA+ community and the power of future generations. Quinta Brunson, meanwhile, shouted out all her favorite teachers. Questlove—introduced by his friend Dwyane Wade—elicited titters with his gesture to Josh Wardle, a fellow TIME100 list member, who created the game Wordle and helped bring him some levity in a dark time. Sevgil Musaieva, editor of Ukrainskya Pravda, spoke to the importance of certain words, like the simple texts we receive to confirm all is well, in a poignant speech honoring the experience of her fellow Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Indian women’s rights lawyer Karuna Nundy emphasized how patriarchal courts have enabled violence against women to continue unchecked.
To close things out Mary J. Blige lifted the energy with a set of songs that brought the audience to its feet. “Let’s have a little party here,” she said. Guests like Taika Waititi, Andrew Garfield, and Tarana Burke were spotted happily dancing to “Family Affair” as an amiable, energetic Blige joked about her allergies and asked her musicians to do exactly as she said.
Afterward, guests mingled in a foyer sipping champagne: there was Wade chatting with Brunson and Liu; maybe they were discussing Liu’s earlier joke that he and Wade could co-star in a buddy comedy. In another corner, authors Cathy Park Hong and Colson Whitehead mingled near artist Maya Lin and Waititi. Amazon labor organizers Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer posed for a photo with writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo. Succession‘s Jeremy Strong meandered through the crowd, stopping to reflect on the Ukrainian president’s address to the group. “I don’t know if I feel quite worthy of weighing in on that,” he said. “I’ll just say that it was incredible to be in this room, and I feel really humbled to be in this room with all these extraordinary people, him being one of them. I loved hearing what he had to say.”
Every year, the TIME100 Gala brings together icons, leaders, change-makers, and celebrities from across industries and nations for one lively evening of meaningful dialogue and celebration. This year’s Gala featured live performances from Miranda Lambert and Mary J. Blige, two honorees on the 2022 TIME100 list. Further attendees from this year’s list included musicians Jazmine Sullivan and Jon Batiste, athlete Eileen Gu, and activist Nadine Smith, along with honorees from years past like J Balvin who were not able to attend a Gala during COVID-19.
On June 12, TIME is teaming up with ABC to bring viewers inside the exclusive TIME100 Gala for the first time with a special television event. “TIME100: The World’s Most Influential People” airs Sunday, June 12 at 8:00 p.m. EDT on ABC, featuring host Simu Liu, director Quinta Brunson, Ukrainian journalist Sevgil Musaieva, and more.